Hard work and an accepting community can be key to rehabilitation

Kati Gardella, Crier staff

One of my strongest interests in the field of Criminal Justice is rehabilitation. Many different factors lead certain individuals to offend, and therefore spend time in the corrections system, but what becomes of them after their sentence has ended?

An abundant amount of research has shown that simply punishing an inmate for wrongdoings is not a significant method of preventing future offenses.

Also, reformative strategies in the institution that they are in can only be as helpful as the former inmate’s outside environment allows. If one gains an education and employee skills while detained, they are only useful if the former inmate has a stable environment when he or she is released to the outside, as well as the opportunity to be hired in desirable employment.

Stigma, however, stacks the odds against their success in society, hence the high rates of recidivism.

Homelessness is a huge obstacle for those who have left prison. Many former-inmates were in sparse and problematic living situations before their offense occurred, and it is difficult to arrange a better living situation while detained.

For some inmates, their families and friends have ostracized them completely because of their crimes. Again, positive post-release outcomes become less likely.

Yet another quality that I greatly admire about Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, is that those with a criminal record are welcome to live in and be part of the community.

At the village, residents are provided with a home, food, support, and employment opportunities. Those who are fighting with addictions are also provided with psychological and physical health services to help overcome them.

When all of these resources are provided, it becomes less and less likely that re-offending will occur, as the former-inmate would basically have no societal reason or need to re-offend.

Perhaps more important than the implication of one less person committing crimes is one more person feeling accepted and happy in a community.

When I interacted with the neighbors at the village, I had no idea that some had a criminal record until they disclosed it.
Of course, it was irrelevant to how I perceived them, as the crimes had occurred years (maybe even decades) before and it was crystal clear that the neighbors in the village were completely different people from when the crimes occurred. Community

First was a key part in this transformative process.

Life is not hopeless for someone with a criminal record. Although this may cause skepticism, there are so many positive stories for how a former inmate’s life has improved post-release.

This was the case for Tracy, one of the neighbors in the village who I had the honor of meeting.

Tracy had a normal, socially-desirable life until depression and a relentless drug addiction caused her to become homeless in 1992. She lost her husband, as well as custody of her son. The harsh reality of living on the streets drove her into criminal activity, and consequently jail. After her release, Tracy was determined to fight her addiction, as she wanted more than anything to reconnect with her son.

After finishing a rehab program, she learned about Community First! Village and applied for a residence there. Her request was successful, and it is clear that she has flourished there.

She not only has been able to see her son again, but is also a valued member of the community. Tracy is currently studying social work. As she states on her online testimonial, “I’m living proof that the struggle is real, but change is possible.”

While volunteering at the community’s Mobile Loaves and Fishes food truck, Tracy and another resident, Charlie, met. They quickly became friends, and are now engaged. They will be married on May 3rd of this year.

While volunteering at the village, my group went to a pancake breakfast that Tracy and Charlie hosted. They were evidently grateful for the opportunities provided to them, and only wished to spread the goodness that they experienced to others.

Charlie was also in one of my volunteer groups, and I asked him for more details about how he and Tracy met and became connected. He said “I saw her, and thought ‘wow, she’s a really cool girl.”

Charlie has endured many hardships in life and was previously homeless. Although he has experienced many struggles, he acknowledges that he would never have met Tracy if not for his situation and how it led him to live at the village.

He also did not care about her past, instead focusing on how strong Tracy has become. Those who have lived through terrible situations tend to be the least judgmental of others.

Thanks to the resources of Community First, Charlie and Tracy are living happy and fulfilling lives. If you are interested in reading more about Charlie and Tracy, their stories, as well as those of other residents, are available on the Mobile Loaves and Fishes website.