So, I guess I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I grew up in Milwaukee on the south side. I grew up in a single parent home in the “hood.” My mother was physically and verbally abusive. It had a big impact on my self-esteem and my emotional state. I was very angry as a child and teen. We were pretty poor. We often went to sleep hungry because although my mother worked hard to provide for us she only made enough to pay for rent or food. She chose rent.
I began to act out in like the 6th or 7th grade and it progressed. I had some juvenile cases and began my adult criminal history at 17. As a young teen I turned to drugs and alcohol socially, but it soon became a crutch and I basically used them as an escape. I began selling drugs at 17 and carrying guns, stealing cars, robbing people, etc. By the time I was 23 I served 5 ½ years in prison and jail for various crimes. It was troubling because I was incarcerated for 1 ½ years at one point and as I sat I just thought about how when I got out I was going to sell drugs and do all manner of illegal and unethical things. And when I was released I did. I was then incarcerated for 2 ½ years and all I thought about was never ever being locked up again. I had enough. Since being released I enrolled at UWM and am now a 3.9 student with hopes of pursing my PhD. I am active in the community doing toys for tots and habitat for humanities. I participate in political rallies, marches, etc. And maybe most importantly I’m happy.
When I was released from prison I lived with my mother for a short while until getting my own apt. using financial aid money. Maybe you have inferred but I’m not really that close to my family and school has been a big part of my ability to stay out of trouble. A big part of recidivism is not only money but contentedness or happiness and being in school has allowed me to make money (through financial aid, scholarships, and student research) and to make money in such a way that makes me happy. I don’t bust my ass 8-12 hours a day for minimum wage. I have done factory work, home construction, etc. and I know how difficult, painful, and unappreciative it can be. I really enjoy school and learning and I take a lot of heart in the knowledge that I’m building a better future.
If I can make a suggestion, a lot of times people come out of prison with the idea of family and religion helping them stay out of trouble and that’s great. But, if the family you are relying on are poor, resentful, users (alcohol or drugs) this might not be that good of an idea. And if you are committed to religion but still struggling in your day-to-day life that may also lead to failure. I found that there is a lot of opportunity for people who are ready to work hard and, in many ways, rely on themselves. I have found that in school. There is so much money out there for education for us (minorities and returning students) if we are only willing to work for it. We like to think family and religion will hold us up but until we are ready to work hard for our own future we will always be in danger of back sliding.
P.S. If you have or know of anyone who has a true story of reentry success to share please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Knowledge of what you have achieved can be powerful fuel for others’ ambitions.