Congratulations to me, yes it’s a bit self-serving but I feel that I deserve that “pat on the back.” Tomorrow (April 1st) I will mark my one-year anniversary of returning to the community (I will not call it freedom since I am still on parole) and it’s no April Fool’s Joke – I am home, trying to be productive, doing tons of volunteer work until I can secure paid employment and I have to be honest, it has been hell, it has not been easy, I face almost daily struggles and road blocks. Some days I simply want to go to my parole officer and ask him to revoke me, let me “max out.” It gets bad, really bad.
Fortunately I have been surrounded by family and some dear friends who have been very supportive in more ways than one and I thank them dearly for it. However, in the volunteer re-entry work I do I see that there are some who are not as fortunate as I am, some in fact I was actually trying to help who have unfortunately been violated and returned. They do not have a family or home to return to, they do not have that solid foundation upon which to build a successful reentry. These individuals have so many needs that have to be addressed and there simply is no one available to help them or guide them, navigate for them, to take that panicked phone call at 9 PM because they are afraid they are missing their curfew or because they simply cannot spend another night in the shelter that parole has sent them to, they desperately need housing but because of their crime are continually refused, some who simply need an address of an AA or NA meeting, most important of these phone calls are from those who just want someone to talk to who is going through the same struggles. These are individuals who are out there looking for work, like myself and cannot seem to find anything available to support themselves even with the most basic of needs. These are individuals who have no clothing, money, health insurance, no family and they are being released each and every day. We as a society need to focus on bringing reentry to the forefront of the topics being discussed within criminal justice and social justice circles. Reentry work should ideally start the moment that someone is incarcerated not weeks before their scheduled release. Some of these people are leaving with only the state provided khaki uniform and state shoes they have on, a bus or train ticket, hopefully some money but not much, and most importantly (the State seems to think) a packet from the state health department providing information on STDs and birth control. How is this helping them? How is this providing them with the necessary foundation upon which to build a successful reentry back to the community? I am not sure but it seems to me that this is really skewed thinking and more needs to be done.
I am trying I truly am, but sometimes I feel as if I am a “one-man army.” Add to that the fact that I have constant pressure from my parole officer to find a paying job and maybe you can understand why I feel I deserve that celebratory “pat on the back.” It has not been easy, but I have made it. I have proved to myself that I am someone that I am giving back to my community in a positive way. I am proud of the fact that I am a member of various reentry organizations, I even sit on the board of some social justice not for profit organizations, combined with all the volunteer work that I do and it makes me feel better about myself. It helps heal the almost 5 years of humiliation, being told that you are worth nothing, having all your dignity stripped from you, the inhumane and barbaric treatment that one is subjected to when incarcerated, the constant mental and sometimes physical beating you receive, the isolation. I welcome the opportunity to bring my story to various groups and individuals, take them “inside” through my words and vivid descriptions of what I experienced, witnessed, survived. This is my “self-care” I have come to realize, although a steady pay check would surely help.
I invite you to get involved with reentry work, volunteer through the various organizations that are out in the community. There are plenty of them or if you want to help simply inbox message me, I can provide you with plenty of referrals. More importantly, if you are a returning citizen I welcome you to inbox message me, I will gladly talk with you, laugh with you and yes even cry with you, because at the end of the day we are all human and we all deserve to be treated that way. And yes I am still actively pursuing “paid” employment, so any suggestions on that I will gladly accept as well!
The author Kathy Morse was just elected to the Board of Directors for NY Cure. Ms. Morse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org