Getting out of jail is a fresh breath of air, a chance to restart your life and become the man you want to be. However, until recently, there was little focus on preparing soon-to-be-ex-prisoners for their reentry into society. Those who served their time were simply released into the community and left to fend for themselves.
Luckily, the tide is turning in this respect. People are realizing that the sudden shift from jail life to freedom lays the groundwork for a return to crime and substance abuse, a fact that benefits no one. As a result, there are now many resources for those who are leaving jail and interested in starting their life anew.
As you prepare for this next stage of your life, use these resources to build the life you want.
Books That Prepare You for Re-Entry
In the final days of your incarceration and the early days of your freedom, take advantage of the time you have and read. A number of books can help you adjust your mindset and prepare for life out in the community. Some of our recommendations include:
Some newly released ex-prisoners make the mistake of waiting too long to build a support network. You need a support network before you slip up or feel lost, not when you are already slipping. This helps you avoid common slip-ups and build connections with those in the same boat as you. In-person groups are an excellent option, as are online groups.
4. Prison Fellowship: This organization connects individuals leaving jail with mentorships, training in life skills, family support, and help adjusting to freedom. In some areas, they also have faith-based programs for those interested in incorporating Christianity into their recovery.
5. NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness supports adults reentering society after incarceration. Those struggling with mental health issues can find their local NAMI branch on this page and get connected to local support groups.
6. Returning Citizens Network: Supported by Restore Justice, the RCN helps individuals explore their feelings, learn coping strategies, and discuss reentry challenges. While the organization is based in Chicago, they are opening support groups across the country.
Job Search Assistance
For many people reentering society, the job search is the most stressful and high-stakes part of building a new life. Too many employers are still judgmental about those with criminal records, leaving individuals who are eager to work without gainful employment. A number of national and local organizations provide ongoing support to ex-prisoners and connect them to employers.
7. Hope for Prisoners: At Hope for Prisoners, those leaving jail can get intensive training in life skills and job searching, financial health, leadership skills, and professional development.
8. Project H.O.P.E.: The government has started to take notice of the issues facing ex-prisoners. At Project H.O.P.E., you can attend job-seeking programs, learn more about companies that hire ex-prisoners, and work opportunity tax credits.
9. CareerOneStop: CareerOneStop maintains a database of local resources for ex-offenders, divided by state. This can get you connected to employers in your area that are willing to look beyond your past.
10. Jails to Jobs: In response to the systemic discrimination against those with criminal records, Jails to Jobs was created. This nonprofit organization offers step-by-step guides that help those who have just been released from jail or prison. It also connects former prisoners with other job search resources, such as free clothing for job interviews, tattoo removal programs, and workshops for those who need trade skills.
Safe and Affordable Housing
Finding a place to live is a challenge that goes hand-in-hand with the job search. It’s difficult to get a job without a permanent address, and it’s difficult to get a place to live without a job. Programs that assist those with criminal records during the housing search can break this cycle and get them back on their feet.
11. Reentry and Housing Coalition: This organization provides a range of services to those who have been in the criminal justice system, from information on different types of housing to webinars on affordable housing options.
12. National Housing Law Project: At the NHLP, those who have been in jail can learn more about their rights. The website includes guidance on finding housing, the use of arrest records, webinars, and reports.
Legal Rights Protection
Going to jail or prison doesn’t mean you have no rights, but many private companies and government organizations still violate prisoners’ and former prisoners’ rights in the name of public safety. Instead of accepting this as inevitable, connect with organizations and individuals who can help you with your criminal defense needs or protect your rights.
13. ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union has long championed the rights of prisoners and former prisoners, making them an invaluable resource as you navigate reentry. Their Campaign for Smart Justice strives to protect the rights of those who have been released. They routinely assist prisoners and former prisoners who have had their rights violated.
The road ahead of you may seem long and uncertain, but it is not impossible. With the support of the groups and resources listed here, you can begin the hard work of healing, getting established in your community, finding gainful employment, and rebuilding relationships with family members and loved ones. There is an entire community of people who are going through and have gone through what you are currently experiencing, so do not be afraid to reach out and learn from them. Hard work yields meaningful results.
This content is brought to you by Jeffrey Sheridan.