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Re-entry in the times of COVID

When someone leaves prison there have always been hurdles to overcome to re-enter society successfully. That individual needs shelter, food, income, valid ID, access to needed medical/psych care and help meeting all their requirements for parole. Have those needs been more difficult to get during the COVID pandemic? Yes. Imagine trying to get a valid ID when the DMV is closed, a job when so many businesses are not open or have gone under, accessing needed medical/psych care in a pandemic and help from organizations that have shifted their interactions to zoom and you don’t have a computer or a phone. As a prison doctor who spent 30 years taking care of the inmate population I saw many fail at re-entering society successfully. Now that I’ve been out of the system for 3 years I have had the opportunity to interact and observe the formerly incarcerated and see who, what and why they did not return to prison. Every individual leaving the prison is different, the hurdles they have to overcome are different and even their why is different. I’m not that interested in how they differ, what I’m interested in is what they share in common that keeps them from coming back to prison.

This is what the successful tend to share in common:

  1. When they are in prison they make the decision that they are responsible for the outcome of their life.

  2. They do not lose hope, even if they have a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

  3. They make the decision to take advantage of every opportunity that increases their chance for parole/success when they leave the prison. ie education, work, programs, therapy, service

  4. They avoid individuals/groups/activities that can get them in trouble.

  5. They reach out to others that want the best for them and hold them accountable.

  6. They ask for forgiveness in order to go forward with their lives vs. psychologically beating themselves up and staying stuck in the past.

Re-entry of the formerly incarcerated into society has always been difficult and doing it in the times of COVID with all its challenges makes it even more difficult. When dealing with a challenging situation the first step is having a good foundation to start with and that’s a function of what the individual chooses to do behind bars with what is available in the prison . The second step is what we all do in the outside world to help individuals navigate these difficult times which are made worse by the changes that have occurred with COVID. Act with pragmatic compassion. A different type of PC.

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