We continue today to follow the StoryCorps challenge from David Isay to record stories from those whose voices are often not heard. Here's an interview with Tracy, one of the leaders in our Successful Returning Citizens Mentoring Support Group, sharing the wisdom she's gained in her 54 years of life so far about overcoming adversity, living with stigma, not letting your past define you, and being grateful.
People returning to the community after being in prison face numerous barriers to becoming productive, law-abiding citizens: unemployment, lack of education, addiction, mental health issues, family problems, difficulty finding landlords who will rent to them or employers who will hire them. Yet, without resources to address these barriers, they may wind up committing more crimes and returning to prison. And that's bad for ALL of us.
This is where the RMO comes in. We're all about ensuring that people returning to our neighborhoods after being in prison have the Resources, Mentoring and Opportunities they need to get their lives on track and remain crime-free. That's the ultimate definition of "success" for the people we serve.
Last year, 85% of the people in our RMO Intensive program remained crime-free.
But that's only one of many definitions of "success" for our RMO program participants. Here are some recent other successes they've achieved . . .
For James and Tracy, leaders in the RMO's Successful Returning Citizens Mentoring Support Group, one recent success was being featured speakers at a community-wide forum in September on the criminal justice system and the challenges of re-entering society after being in prison.
One of Jill's latest successes was being invited to go on a leadership development trip to Washington, DC to hear Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, speak to an audience of over 500 community leaders. She also recently earned her 16-week certificate in the Successful Returning Citizens Mentoring Support Group, and just moved into her own apartment, after being in the RMO's transitional housing at TLC.
At this week's Successful Returning Citizens Mentoring Support Group meetings, participants reported these other successes:
"I finally got a job and started working this week!" ~ Tina
"I'm starting to really understand how my actions have affected my family. I'm working on making amends." ~ Mike
"I stayed out of jail and been doing right for a whole year now!" ~ Craig
"I'm pursuing my GED after being out of school for forty years." ~ Julius
"I've been talking with my 14 year-old son about doing the right things, not following in the path I took when I was his age." ~ William
The RMO is participating in the ExtraOrdinary Give and we're asking for YOUR SUPPORT by making a donation to the RMO during the ExtraGive. You'll be investing in the success of the people we serve.
Here's what President Obama said recently about the importance of investing in reentry:
"There are people who have gone through tough times, they've made mistakes. But with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path. And that's what we have to invest in. That's what we have to believe. That's what we have to promote." ~ President Barack Obama, November 2, 2015
We're doing a series of interviews with people who have been involved in the RMO, through StoryCorps, the national project that "provides people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone's story matters."
Here's one of our interviews, with Keisha, who talks about listening to mentors, overcoming adversity, defying expectations, raising her children, what it means to have a "rich life", and giving back to the community she once harmed.
Here's the link to Keisha's interview:
This past Wednesday, the Lancaster County Successful Returning Citizens’ Mentoring Support Group celebrated their 1 year anniversary. During the first year, the weekly group meetings have been attended by 134 people at various stages in their transitions back into the community after incarceration. The meetings continue to grow, attracting more people who are seeking the support and positive encouragement the group offers.
What is the Successful Returning Citizens Mentoring Support Group, you may ask? It's a peer-led support group that offers encouragement and motivation for those seeking inspiration from people who have been in their shoes at one time or another. The purpose of the group is to take away any excuse to go back to jail through positive role models, a focus on success, connecting people with resources, and strategies for how to pursue a positive future.
The groups are based on a model program developed in Dauphin County six years ago. An independent study of the Dauphin County RC group showed that an individual has a 96% success rate when they attend 16 or more weekly meetings.
The RMO partners with community mentors from "Bridge to Community" to provide additional support and resources to the group.
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center recently published an article that reinforces the importance of peer-led support groups, like the Lancaster Successful RC group. These peer mentors are unlike any other mentor one can find; they have lived the life many returning citizens are struggling to overcome. Not only do people feel more comfortable opening up to a peer mentor, but the mentor offers a positive example of what they can become. The CSG Justice Center article points out that peer-mentors who are successful and have secured housing, employment, and sobriety are able to give advice and insight only someone who has had to reintegrate themselves into society can give. Mentoring others also serves as a way for those individuals to give back to their community and gives a purpose to the path they chose, according to the CSG article.
During the first year, the Lancaster Successful RC group has had some special guests, including Lancaster City Mayor Rick Gray, who said, "Attending this support group meeting was both inspirational and encouraging. These returning citizens show a commitment to achieving success -- no matter how difficult, -- that is nothing short of inspirational. Just as the support group members encouraged one another, I too am encouraged that returning citizens have access to this very powerful and positive resource to help support their reentry into the community."
The Lancaster Successful RC Mentoring Support Group always welcomes new members with open arms. Meetings are held:
* every Wednesday at 7:00pm to 8:30pm at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 701 N. Lime Street, Lancaster, and
* every Friday from 1:00pm to 2:30pm at Lancaster CareerLink, 1016 N. Charlotte Street, Lancaster.
The Justice Center article is available at: