Imagine you have awakened from a deep sleep that lasted 5 years or more. Your home is gone because the rent or the mortgage was unpaid. Your job is gone because your employer couldn't wait for you. Your career is gone because technology has taken it. Your family has separated from you. Your friends have moved on. You have no one to go to. You are in the same location as you were when you fell asleep, but the landscape has changed. You have not changed. You have not advanced sufficiently in knowledge, skill or experience to compete in the world. You have nothing.
What do you do? You are here . . . Now What?
As I learned over the weekend, men and women exiting from lengthy prison sentences often experience the reality described above. As a result, 50% or more of former offenders are recidivists: they offend again, and they are returned to that deep sleep. Of the former offenders who do find employment after release from prison, 80% of them don't last in the job. Why? They lack the soft skills. They don't know how to work with others, they don't respond well to authority, they communicate poorly. They return to their former life, they commit crime, they return to prison.
It costs you and me, the taxpayers, approximately $35,000 annually to house an inmate. One inmate. And there are millions of inmates. Very few inmates are rehabilitated in prison. One reason is because the prisons are dominated by gangs that control inmates, and sometimes the prison employees as well. To be fair, there are programs in the prison system that do attempt to educate the prison population. There are also programs in the community that support offenders upon their release. But the programs only scratch the surface of the need.
The disturbing bottom line is that nonviolent offenders are incarcerated with violent offenders and they, too, become violent. Then they are released back into society and their impact on our neighborhoods is worse than it was before they were incarcerated. It is an endless cycle of human carnage and community pain.
Fortunately, in Maryland, there is a light beginning to shine ever so faintly at the end of the tunnel. A program called Day-Reporting is being developed. It recently was funded and it has the support of Maryland's Governor Hogan. Many eyes around the state and beyond are on this program. Here is my understanding of how it will work: offenders who are convicted of a nonviolent crime and are sentenced to 18 months or less of incarceration will be sent, or have the option to be sent, to the Day-Reporting program where they will report every day for 12 hours of skills training and education and employment. The remainder of the day, the offender will be on his own. He will have to arrange for housing and meals and essentially create a home life. The time on his own will be challenging because at this point in his life he is starting over with nothing - no money, no experience, few if any friends, very little if any family support.
A program called Gatekeepers is located in Hagerstown, Maryland. Its Founder and Director, Bill Gaertner, a former offender, recognized the need for someone to be waiting at the prison gate to support men and women after they have paid their debt to society and are searching for a way to transition back into society successfully. Mr. Gaertner is doing remarkable work and Outfluence is exploring ways to help him.
Everybody deserves a legitimate second chance.
(Outfluence, LLC, is a professional training organization headquartered near Washington, D.C.)