Life After Incarceration: Stories From RCP Students
Updated: Nov 27
Tommy Harmon, Reentry Campus Program Pathway Coordinator, and RCP graduate, wants you to know we need to build a more welcoming world for citizens coming out of prison. He knows this because he's experienced it, and now he's dedicated his life to making it happen.
All too often, our society doesn't listen to the experiences of those reentering their communities, so we're asking them what they want us to know. Read more about Tommy, including what education means to him and why he's made service to others in his life's work.
What does the reentry campus program mean to you?
The Reentry Campus Program is an example of what can happen when someone who’s fallen victim to the traps of life, but has bounced back and experienced the varieties of freedom that higher education brings, but then reaches back to offer guidance to and to serve as a living example for the others faced with those same challenges.
What do you think would prevent people from wanting to pursue a degree?
A person may be discouraged thinking about all the years spent away from actual class learning. A negative self-image or not thinking of yourself as capable or smart enough may be a factor. Difficulties with time management can be an issue as well. You're an adult now, and you have kids, a job, and many other obligations. A person may think that they don’t have the time to pursue a degree.
Why did you decide to take classes and pursue a degree?
I started with independent study and quickly realized that understanding the subject matter wouldn't be hard at all. The hardest part is dedicating my time. Commitment.
And that’s true for other aspects of life as well. I took a couple of courses and passed them. I understood that there was more than just "book" learning. My life experiences have given me information that was valuable, and I can utilize that towards my future goals.
What were the classes that you liked the most?
I enjoyed Psychology and Crisis Intervention. At the time, I was working with the city’s youth doing gang intervention work. I was constantly wondering why these kids were acting this way and trying to figure out what were some of the contributing factors that led to their behavior. I'm dealing with these kids while observing the topics we would discuss in class play out in real-time. The coincidences just proved to me that I was on the right track.
Why case management and not something else?
Because there are lives at stake, and there's definitely a redemptive nature to this work that I appreciate. And, to simply help people because they need the help seems like a no-brainer. When people talk about the latter part of my life, I want them to be like, "Hey man, even though he did a lot of damage, he used his talents, resources, and abilities to help a lot of people."
What do you feel like education has given you?
Above all, it continues to give me confidence and the ability to trust in what I already know—for example, the term “epigenetics.” I wasn’t familiar with the term until I learned about it in class, and then it made perfect sense. I was a kid who grew up with a lot of trauma. When I became an adult and had kids, I could see, over time, how some of that trauma got passed on. It wasn’t because they experienced the traumatic events themselves, they got it by the passing of my genes. So, I knew the concept without knowing the term used to describe it.
What should people know about those who are formerly incarcerated?
We're coming back to society to contribute and be part of it. How well that happens will be determined by how we’re received. It'll improve everything for everyone if we are treated with respect and dignity and welcomed rather than ostracized.
Why do you think the reentry campus program's work is essential?
It provides hope, and it’s a reminder that there's a life after incarceration. You can have a good life, a productive life and make a meaningful contribution to society.
It’s an invitation to help the next person come along because I don't think there's going to be any shortage of people going to jail. But there's definitely a shortage of people willing to provide hope and guidance for those people.