Too often the previously incarcerated become wholly defined by their criminal justice involvement. Even long after they have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society, our previously incarcerated neighbors have to prove their worth, capabilities, and trustworthiness to skeptics and the uninformed at every other turn.
In an effort to help our previously incarcerated brothers and sisters walk about the world prejudice-free, with the same freedoms as someone who has never seen the inside of a cell, we would like to share some really special conversations with you. The transcripts shared in this series will be interviews with previously incarcerated individuals who are/were Reentry Campus clients and dedicated students. Some will be from anonymous sources and some will specify a name. Some have graduated, some are still working on their degrees, some have gone on to start successful businesses, and there are plenty of stories in between. Each conversation shared in this series will feature unique, personal stories that accurately illustrates the challenges of healthy reentry.
It is our hope that the perspectives and experiences shared in this series will help to evolve your understanding of the realities of the previously incarcerated and the urgency of investing in correctional education in Rhode Island, and beyond.
- So do you want to give a brief description of yourself?
Previously Incarcerated Student: Yeah, hmm, how do I give a BRIEF explanation of myself? Well, I just came home a few months ago. I came home September 3rd from doing a 2 year bit. It’s January now so it's been a few months since I've been home. So basically I got incarcerated for selling drugs and uh, making all the wrong choices pretty much. It was everything I knew, it was just the lifestyle I was living.
- What led you to make those decisions that got you incarcerated?
Previously Incarcerated Student: I felt like I really didn’t have no other way. Because that was the environment I grew up in that's all I saw. They were my role models, the drug dealers and gang bangers. So naturally my next move growing up was to do what they did. I did what I saw, I became a product of my environment.
- So would you say that you felt like your options were limited?
Previously Incarcerated Student: Oh yeah. I had limited options because I really didn't have that positive role model in my life. And maybe if I did, they didn’t come around too often. I was living with my cousins and that was the lifestyle they lived so that's all I knew. I probably saw a ‘positive role model’ maybe once a month, you know? But I was living that lifestyle everyday so that's what I became after a while.
- When I say the phrase, “Successful Reentry,” what definitions come to mind?
Previously Incarcerated Student: Basically to me “Successful Reentry” means reentering society with a different mind set than you had before, a more positive mindset. Just basically doing EVERYTHING different. From the people you used to hang around with, from the habits you had, everything really. In order to re-enter into a successful space you have to change everything.
- So based on that definition, do you think YOU had a successful reentry process?
Previously Incarcerated Student: Definitely, I think I did. But it was rough in the beginning because I came out to the same situations that made me have to leave.
- So how did you overcome that?
Previously Incarcerated Student: Well, while I was incarcerated I read a lot and changed my whole mentality. I also started connecting with different people, James Monteiro was definitely there for me the whole time. While I was incarcerated I was on work release, so I was taking classes from prison, preparing myself for society. Two days out of the week I would get let out to take the bus from the prison to the Institute to take my classes and then take the bus right back. So I was preparing myself in that sense. At the same time I was just meeting positive people and creating a positive outlet, staying in contact with my councilors and things like that too. There were some old friends I had to push away… even some family members I had to cut off.
- Looking back now, is there anything you would have done differently?
Previously Incarcerated Student: No to be honest, I wouldn’t change anything. Because if I hadn’t done what I done then I wouldn't be the man I am today, or met the people I had met.
- Do you think your reentry experience was better, worse, or the same as the average person’s experience?
Previously Incarcerated Student: I would say my experience was better than average because I had family waiting for me- a lot of people don't have family waiting for them when they come out of jail… they only have the streets.
- So what are you up to right now? What are you passionate about these days?
Previously Incarcerated Student: So I just recently got a job at Anchor Recovery as a Peer Support Specialist. That was always my passion, helping people. No matter what I was doing back then I was still always just trying to help people. Except now I’m doing that in a different way helping people with drug addictions and just helping them change their life.
- Tell me about what your new job entails?
Previously Incarcerated Student: ‘Peer Recovery Coach’ is the popular, proper term. And basically, it’s being there for someone who has addiction problems or is just generally going through things. You’re basically a case manager, helping them get to counseling and all that just being there for them every step of the way. The date or time they may call you doesn’t matter, you gotta be there for them to support them through whatever they're going through, to keep them on that positive road.
- What is the hardest part of your job, you think?
Previously Incarcerated Student: The hardest part is that you’re reliving that everyday. Because I also had a drug addiction before, I was on opiates for a while so you’re reliving that. You definitely have to be a strong individual and have a strong mind because they kind of transfer their trauma over to you and you gotta help them through that.
- Do you have any advice for people coming home?
Previously Incarcerated Student: To anyone coming home, just stay in touch with the positive outlets. Stay connected to those people who are trying to help you. DEFINITELY stay away from the people you used to hang with, and the environments you were in, and the habits you had too. It helps that you gotta just go out there and get it. Sometimes life comes to you, and sometimes it doesn't and you gotta be strong enough to get out there and get that help yourself.
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