John Railey: Put yourself in the shoes of released offenders | Columnists

John Railey Guest Columnist

“You never truly understand a person until you look at things from their perspective…until you climb into their skin and walk around in them.”

– Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Getting out of prison is difficult and frustrating. Each complex turn is difficult and can lead to failure, a costly return to prison in financial and human terms.

“A lot of these men and women are so devoid of role models and mentors,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lang of Winston-Salem said. “They lack internet skills. Some can barely read or have reading deficits. Some have nothing to eat and are hungry. They need a little help.

Lang’s job as a prosecutor is to send people convicted of crimes to jail. But he has long understood that released offenders need a way back home and has worked toward that end as the Safe Neighborhoods and Reintegration Project Coordinator for his office. That effort continues Tuesday in Winston-Salem, when Lang’s office will partner with Rebecca Sauter’s Reentry Project, which she leads, and other community partners on a reintegration simulation to help those who work with offenders. released – or who want to do this work – better understand the maze faced by released offenders.

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This event is absolutely necessary.

The Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) at Winston-Salem State University is hosting the event. The work of reintegration is a base for the CSEM, which realizes the heavy financial and human costs of recidivism. Douglas Bates, CSEM researcher and assistant professor in WSSU’s Department of Social Work, is developing a survey that will help employers and released offenders better adjust to the workplace. CSEM’s partner organizations include the Do School, whose participants may include released offenders learning the construction trade, and the MOORE Project, which helps at-risk youth and is run by David Moore, who has done prison decades ago before changing his life.

CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson worked with Lang on reintegration efforts when Atkinson was at WSSU’s Center for Community Safety in the early 2000s.

The simulation event is part of a national initiative and is the latest of several to be held in our state and region. At the event here, participants, assuming the role of released offenders, will address challenges related to medical care, mental health, substance abuse, child support and employment. “We create different scenarios,” Lang said. “It’s modeled after real-life experiences and the obstacles these guys have. We show chaos.

Transportation is another big challenge. “Again and again, transportation is one of the biggest hurdles,” Lang said. For example, he says, an offender released without a driver’s license might depend on a colleague to get to work. But the colleague loses his job and the released offender relies on taxis to get to work. “So he’s spending $18 to get an $8-an-hour job,” Lang said.

CSEM research has documented similar challenges among those in the general population, including that commuters who use city buses to get to work spend an average of 12 hours a week on buses, helping lead the Winston- Salem and Forsyth Technical Community College to tackle the problem. Reforming the public transport system can particularly help released offenders. In other parts of the state, Lang said, a factory, realizing problems with public transportation, launched shuttle services for released offenders and a city changed its bus routes to help them get away. get to work. In Forsyth County, Lang encourages released offenders to use the Driver’s License Restoration Project offered by the District Attorney’s Office.

Released offenders often turn out to be good workers, Lang said. “They’re driven by not wanting to go back.”

The Reentry Project makes a difference. The statewide recidivism rate is 32 percent, according to Project Reentry, but for released offenders who participate in their programs, that rate is 10.7 percent.

The Reentry Simulation event can help. “People who have been through the system talk about who helped them and how,” he said, and participants learn how to better help released offenders, including through better coordination among everyone from probation officers food bank operators.

“We can do our job better,” Lang said. “A lot of released offenders want to change, if we can just help a little.”


John Railey ([email protected]) is the writer-in-residence at the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility,

The Journal welcomes original submissions for guest columns. The length should not exceed 700 words. Writers must have some authority over their subject.

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