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.
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 Monday from Noon to 1:00pm at Lancaster CareerLink, 1016 N. Charlotte Street, Lancaster.
The Justice Center article is available at:
The Huffington Post recently released an article titled “Five Bottom Line Reasons Why Employers Should Hire Ex-Felons”. The article brings to light the relationship between recidivism and employment, statistics from the Bureau of Justice regarding returning ex-offenders, and the new movement for The National Hire Ex-Felons Campaign. The article reinforces the idea that the longer an ex-offender stays unemployed, the more likely they are to seek other means of income, often leading them to reoffend.
There is a stigma of risk attached to hiring ex-felons. However, hiring members of this vast population returning to society brings with it opportunities to pay back debts to society, provide for families, and reduce the rates of recidivism. The article states 5 main reasons employers should hire these returning citizens:
Hiring incentives for employers such as tax credits, subsidies, and bonds.
Employee reliability with lower turnover rates.
Hiring opportunity due to a massive pool of employable ex-felons that are often already undergoing drug testing and supervision.
Economic impact in turning a “criminal liability into a community asset”.
Crime market disruption by providing acceptable means of income to individuals that are at risk of reoffending.
At the Lancaster County CareerLink, the staff of the Reentry Employment program specialize in helping clients overcome barriers to employment when they have a criminal background. CareerLink is a resource where these individuals can go to receive education, skills training, employment counseling, and job hunting assistance.
The original Huffington Post article is available at: