Tag Archives: reentry

Reducing Recidivism, Part 2: Barriers Beyond Bars

By SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Jacob Meyers

Last week, I published Reducing Recidivism, Part 1: Why Forgiveness is Key. I chronicled the minor hurdle of putting pen to paper and writing a blog, and how this led to some deeper insight into the challenges of combating recidivism. What follows are more or less my original thoughts on recidivism after attending a summit to address this glaring issue:

On September 21st, five Evergreen students piled into a Prius and slowly started making their way through the traffic on I-5. Normally they would be working in various prisons on various programs, but today they were on their way to Seattle for a shared activity.

Along with two others who would join them at the Jackson Federal Building, this group of individuals work for Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). They were in Seattle to attend a summit on recidivism. Breaking the Chain: Addressing Recidivism was an event sponsored by the Seattle Federal Executive Board to bring together providers, federal, state, and local agencies working in the reentry field.

The first speaker was the Vice Chair of the Seattle Federal Executive Board, Pritz Navaratnasingam. After some thanks and a short welcome, the second keynote speaker was introduced: Steve Sinclair. Sinclair, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections, also serves as Co-Director of SPP. According to him, 31.4% of offenders released in 2013 were readmitted within 3 years. Individuals releasing after their 1st incarceration recidivate at half the rate compared to those releasing after multiple prison terms. Too many people are returning to prison, and the more times a person is in prison, the more likely they are to keep coming back.

Steve Sinclair addressing the summit on September 21, 2017. Photo taken from the Washington State Department of Corrections Facebook Page.

Looking at the national picture, the numbers become even more startling. A study by the National Institute of Justice tracked the release of 404,638 individuals from 30 states found the following:

  • Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
  • Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
  • Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year.

Additionally, about half (49.7%) of prisoners released violated parole or probation or were arrested for a new offense that led to imprisonment within 3 years of release.

If you’re like me, you might be shaking your head, left wondering how these numbers can be true. Fortunately, the Community Services Panel at the Recidivism Summit helped to shed some light on the difficulties one faces upon re-entry. One major factor is mental health. Out of 3.5 million people currently on parole, half of them have substance abuse problems or a mental health diagnosis according to the panel. To compound the problem, oftentimes men and women are not given enough medication upon release – frequently only having a few days or a week supply of potentially critical medication. Transportation can also be a problem. 30 days of bus passes can fly by very quickly when meeting regularly with parole officers, trying to find a job, healthcare, or acquire identification.

One of the biggest obstacles of all can be the stigma surrounding incarceration. Many employers simply won’t hire previously-incarcerated individuals, and many landlords won’t offer housing to people with criminal records. The stigma of incarceration by itself can probably go a long ways to explaining why some people resort back to their old ways of crime and drug use. Mr. Sinclair summed it up succinctly, “It’s not what you do in prison, but how you transition out of prison.”

Finally, during the Employment Panel, John Page offered this insight:

“You can’t have conversations about employment or re-entry without having conversations about race and education.”

Page, a community facilitator at the Fair Work Center (a non-profit dedicated to helping workers achieve fair employment), has over 20 years of experience working on issues of race and social justice, stressed that education is a major factor in determining who ends up in prison in the first place. Unfortunately, U.S. public schools have been failing minority students for quite sometime. And recent research shows that in many school districts, the gap between white students and their black peers is significant (Reardon et al., 2017). In Seattle Public Schools, black students test more than 3-and-a-half grade levels behind white students (Seattle Times).

With all of these challenges, it becomes a little more apparent as to why recidivism rates are so high. Upon leaving Breaking the Chain: Addressing Recidivism, I was left with several thoughts circulating through my head:

  1. As a society, we’re still not doing enough to mitigate recidivism.
  2. There is a critical window upon initial release from incarceration, a short time in which most people “make it or break it”.
  3. With more than 50 organizations and well over 100 individuals attending, Breaking the Chain: Addressing Recidivism was inspirational mainly in showing that there are countless individuals working tirelessly to reshape how we as a society think about incarnation and re-entry.
  4. The work we do at SPP is extremely important in not only providing technical skills and job experience before release, but also by imparting the value of education, curiosity, and critical thinking.

It’s a daunting situation, but it’s a challenge that must be met. Thankfully, I have great company and inspiring allies. I am sticking with it.

On December 13th, 2017, Conservation Nursery technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and I are preparing 70 some trays for sowing. Photo Credit: Bethany Shepler

Technicians Shabazz Malekk, Terral Lewis, Aaron Bander, Bui Hung (left to right) and I are discussing our sowing plan for the day on December 13th, 2017. Photo Credit: Bethany Shepler

Shabazz Malekk, Aaron Bander, and I are determining the number of seeds to sow in each plug on December 13, 2017. Photo Credit: Bethany Shepler

SPP Graduate Research Assistants outside of the Jackson Federal Building in Seattle, WA on September 21, 2017. From left to right: Amanda Mintz, Keegan Curry, Bethany Shepler, Sadie Gilliom, Jessica Brown, Alexandra James, and Jacob Meyers.

Reducing Recidivism, Part 1: Why Forgiveness is Key

by SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Jacob Meyers

Jackson Federal Building ballroom. Photo taken from Washington Department of Corrections Facebook Page.

Many months ago, I attended eye-opening summit on recidivism. At the time, I was inspired. I was inspired by my coworkers, whom I was just getting to know and learning how much we had in common. I was inspired by all of the individuals from many different communities and counties, countless organizations and government agencies, and all working in some shape or capacity to reduce recidivism. And I was inspired by a formally incarcerated individual, Tarra Simmons, who had recently learned she was not going to be allowed to take the BAR despite graduating with honors from Seattle University’s law school, but was determined to continue fighting for that right. (She would subsequently get that right a few months later in November, 2017)

As a part of being a program coordinator for SPP, we are asked to write a few blogs every year. Writing about the summit, I thought, was the perfect opportunity. So I did. It took me a while, but I came up with a draft and shared it with my supervisor. He gave me some feedback.

At SPP’s Climate Symposium on October 18, 2017, I am facilitating a workshop with inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. My original blog still a work in process… Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

I never followed up to make the corrections or move the process forward. I kept putting it off and prioritizing other things. Before I knew it, it was January and I was meeting with my supervisor to review how I am doing in the position. The blog came up, and I couldn’t deny I had dropped the proverbial ball. I felt bad about it, like I was a somewhat of failure. Pretty much every one of my coworkers had written a blog in that time. A few wrote multiple!

However, to my supervisor’s credit, he didn’t overly lambast me or make me feel worse. He acknowledged that I had dropped the ball, and I could tell he was disappointed. But, he told me, “Well, we’re here now. What are you going to do about it? How are you going to move forward?”

Since then, a few things came in focus for me. This journey—while humbling—pales in comparison to the journeys and hardships our post-release incarcerated population must traverse. Additionally, redemption of any kind must involve some type of forgiveness. Usually when we make a mistake it costs other people something and we must ask forgiveness from them. Yet, often even more challenging, we must forgive ourselves to be able to move forward. My supervisor forgave my shortcoming and in turn afforded me redemption through a second chance and new strategy to get this blog done. In turn, I was able to put my own insecurities aside – my feelings of failure and inadequacy – and find the modicum of courage to get this done.

Overall, when reflecting on my time at SPP, the recidivism summit back in September, and the minor challenges of writing this blog, I know we as a society must do better to truly forgive our incarcerated population. To forgive their transgressions and shortcomings and allow them the possibility of redemption. I know it may seem silly to compare writing a blog to a criminal offense. But if I can attach so much worth and self-value to something so small (as many of us do), imagine the emotional and psychological journey incarcerated people might go through during their stay in prison and upon reentry?

Very methodically compacting soil during a day of sowing on December 13th, 2017. Photo Credit: Bethany Shepler

On December 13th, 2017, Aaron Bander (left) and I are discussing how the sowing process is going or possibly upcoming college football games. Photo Credit: Bethany Shepler

Next week, I will post my original reflections on the recidivism summit.

The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.

A Master of Training

by Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Trainer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
& Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos provided by DOC staff

Timing + Action = Success

I once read:

The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.

The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.

The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.

The right action at the right time results in success.

The Roots of Success program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) is more than just environmental literacy; more than facts, figures, data, and information. Roots of Success is the first definitive action step for those who are caring, thinking, men on the cusp of change. If indeed the right action at the right time results in success, the men here at CRCC who have taken the Roots of Success course have taken the first step in the direction of positive change.

We are in the midst of a revision (addition) to our Roots of Success program where we are going to provide students with “hands on training,” resume writing, cover letter production, and other essential requirements for green employment. And with the full support of the administration we are finally able to not only fulfill our commitment as instructors but provide essential tools needed for effective reentry. Hopefully, this will culminate in a “green” mock interview fair.

When all is said and done; we want to make sure that more is done than said… because we know actions speak louder than words.

group-shot

New Roots of Success instructors and staff sponsors at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with Master Trainer Eugene Youngblood, far left.

Instructor Training at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Eugene Youngblood has taught the environmental literacy curriculum, Roots of Success, for more than two years now. Since September, 2014, he has led students through the 50 hour curriculum ten times, and also taught Correctional Industries’ condensed version of the course. His writing about the Roots of Success curriculum (above) shows his enthusiasm for the program and investment in its students.

Mr. Youngblood also is a Master Trainer for the curriculum. Last month, he left his “home” facility, Coyote Ridge, and visited Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) to certify 18 new instructors for the facility. He spent two days with the class of instructor candidates, well-supported by Roots’ training script and multi-media presentations. Consultation with Dr. Pinderhughes, the curriculum’s creator, proceeded and followed the session.

students

Future Roots of Success Instructors listen intently to a presentation during the 2-day training.

By all accounts, the instructor training was a success. From Dawnel Southwick, one of the program’s staff sponsors at AHCC, in a message to program partners:

Mr. Youngblood was consistently professional as the facilitator, and set a high standard for participants in the Roots Instructor class.
Each student participated and was given practical and effective feedback about their strengths and weaknesses in the process.  The feedback was applicable and easy to understand.  No one was left out or neglected. Each student was treated with the highest respect, and responded positively to the facilitator, curriculum and presentation. I noticed all the students were engaged, interested, and eager to hear and learn from Mr. Youngblood.

Thank you for allowing and making this amazing opportunity happen here at AHCC.

practice

An instructor candidate takes his turn practicing leading the class.

classroom

Productive small-group work punctuates presentations during the instructor training.

SPP Internship on Reentry

by Carolina Landa

June 6, 2016

This semester has been very amazing for me working with SPP, an organization that I respect and owe a lot to. One of the most self-inspiring moments was going back into a prison after almost two years of being released. I was able to go with Marcenia Milligan and Misty Liles who are working on a DOC pilot program for reentry. The work they are doing is amazing, first off. They are really dedicated at helping incarcerated people succeed on their reentry back into the community. The 1.5 million grant is only being used for incarcerated people and the reentry services offered to them—none is going to DOC staff salaries. The reentry team made this decision at the beginning, which is humbling to think of and shows heart in the work they are doing.

As I entered Monroe Correctional Complex I became overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry—there was no way around this and I anticipated it would happen. There was just something about hearing those doors and gates lock that immediately took me back to 5 years ago when I first became incarcerated. I don’t think that will ever go away. But the feeling I was able to feel while I was able to interact with the men was priceless, and it affirmed very much for me that I was and am following exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

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A slide from the reentry presentation Carolina created as an SPP intern. Photo in top left is by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

People incarcerated are truly some of the most amazing people I have met. Society might not view it that way but I do. There is a bond with them that I immediately have because I know the struggle and I understand their story.

I decided to focus my time around reentry because I feel it is something where SPP could help a lot of the people in the programs in the prisons and after release, as they have helped me.  What I ended up learning about reentry is that it is very complex. Being able to come up with, let’s say, a list of resources is complex because that list is always changing.  I also realized that a semester is not enough time to dedicate to reentry, especially for SPP, as this is all new to them.  The only story, advice and resources I can give are what I have used myself in reentry.  I agree that there are some good organizations out there, but what happens is that a lot of the time the funding is only available for maybe a year, and then is gone.

Successful reentry has to be all focused around networking: I really believe that is what reentry means. Who you know is an important factor and also using what others have used before you.  I will continue to dedicate my time to reentry with SPP as I feel very passionate about helping others who have been where I once was. This list of resources will take a while to conduct and in the end it will most likely be some organizations, but I believe most will be names of persons that I will pick up along the way.

I very much am grateful for this opportunity to work with SPP. Thank you; it has helped me be the person I am today, by continuously believing and encouraging me. I only want to help others succeed as well.  We are well on our way to making reentry focus a bit more stronger for SPP.

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