ILNews

Re-entry program offers support, services to inmates

Rebecca Berfanger
March 17, 2010
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share


It's not a secret this is a tough economy. Jobs are scarce, everything is more expensive than it used to be, and even things like health care aren't guaranteed.

That goes for everyone regardless of income level, education, job skills, or experience. Add in a criminal record and time served, and that only complicates one's situation when looking for a job, housing, treatment, or other services.

The Thresholds & Transitions program that started last year at the Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility offers information and tools to help residents prepare to leave the prison system. The facility has since moved to the former Indiana Women's Prison on Indianapolis' near east side.

The program includes weekly "Healthy @ Re-Entry" classes that cover various issues, such as HIV/STD education, job placement, substance-abuse treatment, and advice for residents about how to maintain healthy relationships.

Tommy Chittenden, the program director for Thresholds & Transitions, facilitates the classes. The program is part of Step Up Inc., an Indianapolis-based organization that also works with incarcerated women and youth with similar programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking closely at the Thresholds & Transitions program as something that could be emulated in other states.

For most of the courses, Chittenden will spend the first hour on that week's issue. The second hour he gives the men a chance to work on their specific issues.

"Health education is only a part of it," Chittenden said. "The bigger picture is looking at behavior."

He'll then ask the residents a seemingly simple question: "Who are you? Not who do you live with or what do you do? That question can bring the mind to a screeching halt."

He added in many cases the residents tell him no one has ever asked them to think about that before.

By working backwards, they can sometimes recall something as simple as a childhood memory of someone who told them, "'You'll never amount to anything.' Even if it's said in passing, it can become real at the subconscious level," he said.

Chittenden invited Indiana Lawyer to observe the March 6 session , which included Pamela Pyles, a job counselor from Work One; and Keith Sneed, an adult substance-abuse counselor at EmberWood Center in Indianapolis. Both work specifically with men who've recently been released from detention centers.

"We're working on breaking down stigmas," Chittenden told the residents at the start of the program. "We're looking forward to tomorrows, and you have a lot of tomorrows."

He also summed up the work done in previous classes.

"We're trying to change your behavior by changing your thoughts. I can give you all the information in the world, but if the mind isn't processing that information, it won't make any difference," he said.

He then took a moment for the residents to talk about how they'd been doing since the last time he saw them. Most used words like "blessed" and "excited" about the positive opportunities they had to face their problems, including substance abuse and other issues.

Pyles told her personal story of being unemployed for a few years after leaving a job in advertising she had for almost 20 years, and how her story wasn't uncommon.

She described a number of programs available to the residents despite their criminal convictions. She compared the popularity of employers looking to hire former prisoners to that of green jobs because of available tax breaks and grants, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

She focused on the Apollo 13 program, "named after the most successful re-entry in history," according to that program's information sheet handed out at the session. Apollo 13 is a new program for 18- to 29-year-olds who recently have left incarceration at an Indiana state prison and are looking for work in Marion County.

While it's currently available only in Marion County, she said it was a pilot program that would likely eventually be available in other parts of the state.

Pyles had a positive outlook for the men - at least if they were willing to do the work.

"It is hard out there. You are going to get a lot of no's, but you will learn from the process," she said.

She and Sneed also suggested the residents rethink their relationships with friends and family members on the outside.

"I don't mean don't talk to them," Sneed said, "but you have to keep moving forward and they might be holding you back."

The residents seemed surprised at the number of opportunities available to them and wondered why they hadn't heard about them before.

As one of the residents put it, on the outside they would have to hustle to get what they needed, and these programs would help them hustle for jobs in a more positive way.

"It's a legal hustle," Pyles agreed.

Pyles also suggested the residents consider what kinds of jobs they would have. While one said he was studying cooking skills, she suggested he start somewhere like a fast-food restaurant or as a banquet server for a hotel for his "right now job." She added he also could keep an eye out for a more lucrative position down the road that could be attainable with the food-service experience.

She also suggested they consider labor jobs or jobs with unions if they wanted to eventually work in construction.

The Apollo 13 program and programs like it, she said, would help the men think about their needs and barriers, such as transportation or education. For instance, if an applicant doesn't have a driver's license, the program will help them work through the issues to get one if possible. It could also help with setting the men up with GED programs that Work One offers.

Pyles said she would also help the residents explain their criminal charges on job applications.

"You are not your felony," she said. "You have to own that you did it, but you are not a felon. If your felony is all that you see, that's what others will see."

She also suggested the men dress appropriately for all interactions with potential employers and consider having visible tattoos removed.

Sneed spoke about options at EmberWood Center and how substance abuse counseling would help residents get and keep their jobs if they have a problem.

He also mentioned a grant program that would help pay for substance-abuse treatment for the men when they first leave the facility and talked about the importance of keeping a social support group.

Some of the men who had "graduated" from the substance-abuse program continued to go to meetings, he said, because they saw it as a way of giving back and showing those in the program that success was attainable.

"You have to keep your head together," he said. "Just because drugs and alcohol are still available in the same places, it doesn't mean you have to go there. When the mind is altered, bad choices are made."

Chittenden said once they were within 365 days of their release dates, he would review their treatment and employment options that were discussed at the session. He also gave them booklets that included information for things like civil legal aid, housing, food assistance, parenting, health care, and other services.

"We'll get what you know you're going to need," he told them. "We'll find a way to get it done. ... Don't put the roadblocks in your mind right now."

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

ADVERTISEMENT