|The Way Back Home: The transition factor|
|By Berkeley Harris, MSW|
Editor’s note: In his new column, The Way Back Home, Berkeley Harris applies his social justice and parole and probation experiences to re-entry and other corrections matters.
Berkeley Harris is a program manager of Families in Transition Community Services Inc., an organization that provides technical assistance to youth-based educational and mentoring programs, 21st century emotional intelligence skills, Transitions Management training, workshops for adult and seniors transitions, and project evaluation.
I have been in and out of prisons for more than 15 years of my adult life. From minimum institutions, to super-max institutions. Yes, I have done them all, from being face-to-face with shoplifters to murderers. Yet, I’ve never had to worry about “transitioning” into the community, until one of those fateful days, when a prominent member of the community saw me leaving a “halfway house” and refused to acknowledge my presence.
I later learned from some of my colleagues that word had got around that I had been concealing my debt to society, and that I had blown my cover having been caught by this person as I was leaving a place of rogues and vagabonds. It was soon after this circumspect was revealed, that I could bear stronger witness to the feelings of being an inmate. Of course I’d studied all about “labeling theory,” “rehabilitation process,” “Merton’s Theory of Anomie,” and more. But to be framed in a reverse role-set, is a significant experience.
Prisoner reentry to communities continues to pose very complex and conflicting challenges to society. The debt of re-entry is ever with the person who has done his/her time. There’s not much review on the matter of the transitioning factor in the life of the returning offender.
I reference William Bridges’ (1991) framework of understanding change and transition. He defines “change” as an event that is situational and external to us, and “transition” as the gradual, psychological reorientation process that happens inside us. He targets three phases of the transition process:
Endings: Feelings of loss for things important to you, of things familiar to you, which are now ending; Neutral Zone: A sense of confusion and disorientation in the Neutral Zone; and New Beginnings: The risk of uncertainty, not knowing what to expect; the risk of failing in the new situation. While these paths may appear to be rather simple, Bridges rightly cautions that, “it’s not a simple, straight line between two points.” Each transition in our lives starts with an ending, or loss.
What’s ending for the released one? Release from jail, never mind how frightening it is on the inside, has its losses: forged relationships, predictability, daily routine, even status among peers have taken place.
Leaving, and hearing those doors closed behind you, often puts “an eerie feeling in the pit of the stomach,” say several offenders, “I wanted to rush back before the doors banged!”
Doing business all of a sudden has taken new meaning in a different world. Scary stuff! Often difficulties in the housing market, labor market, uncertain family reunions, outstanding child support, socially acceptable interaction and the old gang further compound the view of a social reject.
I believe the reentry process should be one of “No Offender Left Behind.” If ever there’s a time for non-traditional programs and resources; prisoner reentry programs require it! Mainstream cultures fail to incorporate the prisoner reentry culture in its planning, development and implementation.
There’s a strong need to review and reconstruct programming to meet the systemic barriers facing the re-socialization process of this population. Granted, pre-release and post-release programs have come a long way, but the opportunities to support new beginnings are far from adequate, such as rebuilding control, understanding and purpose!
Harris has a lengthy career in the areas of social justice; community development; community policing; cultural competence; crime prevention; organizational behavior and change management. He piloted the first Federal and Provincial evaluated Police Youth Mentoring Program in Canada, which has been used as a case study for Federal Provincial Partnership Building. Harris also designed and piloted a Campus Peer Mentoring project for Foster Youth, as part of their emancipation process, at Mt. San Antonio Community College in the San Gabriel Valley, and Los Angeles City College. He also is an adjunct counselor at Mt San Antonio College. He can be contacted atBerkeley@tstonramp.com.
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