JFF took part in National Reentry Week last week, when we highlighted the ongoing work of entities providing reentry education to young people and adults in communities across the country as part of the Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov’s Improved Reentry Education Demonstration Project.
In the course of highlighting the reentry education programs, we heard from the individuals they work with. Their voices remind us why it is critical to stay focused on this important work.
These individuals, some of whom are still incarcerated, told us in their own words that reentry education is not just about education, but about self-esteem, hope for the future, and hope for their families.
A woman incarcerated at the Topeka Corrections Facility said:"Before Washburn Tech I felt like the window of opportunity had closed on me. Because of Washburn I am now trained and certified in a trade I never, in a million years, thought I would enjoy so much. Washburn gave me hope and a second chance at being successful, and for that I am forever thankful."
The participants in the reentry programs acknowledge the mistakes they made and that the crimes they committed have significant consequences for their future—they have a hard time finding jobs, and they have hurt and alienated friends and family. But these men and women also take advantage of the second (or third) chances they have been offered. After participating in the reentry education programs, the men and women change their perceptions and change their lives. As one alumna shared:"Out of everything I did while I was [in prison], the [technical education] classes offered have helped me the most. Not just financially, but with rebuilding relationships with my family. They now believe that I'm capable of finishing something that isn't easy."
Even after a frightening descent into schizophrenia, unemployment, alcoholism and finally prison, a resident of the Lorain/Medina Community Based Corrections Facility found hope through Lorain County Community College’s reentry education programming:"In just a few days of this program I notice a change, a new outlook…maybe, just maybe, I can be a success in some way. I have decided to take my first step to success in the completion of this course. And that is also hope."
We also heard from a couple, Jaysin and Renae, who both ended up in jail and both changed their lives with the help of Western Technical College’s Project Proven.
Jaysin took advantage of the offer to take a course that would allow him to start school at Western Technical College when he left prison. He says:"It can be done. There's a lot of help and there's a lot of good people that want to help. I think for me it was about repairing my soul."
Second chances are important, and education is the passport individuals need to get from convict to citizen. National Reentry Week put a spotlight on the importance of continued investment in reentry education long after the week of acknowledgment is over.
Visit the Department of Education’s website for more about their resources for reentry education.
Follow the work of the individual Improved Reentry Education Demonstration Project grantees at their websites:
- Washburn University of Topeka (KS)
- Barton County Community College (KS)
- Essex County College (NJ)
- Miami-Dade County (FL)
- Lorain County Community College (OH)
- Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 (PA)
- Western Technical College (WI)
- Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA)
- United Teen Equality Center, Inc. (MA)