Coming home. Staying home. Making the successful transition to the community.
Alfonso: I had a six to life. You know, and being in jail at thirty-one with life at the end is like, a serious situation. And I realized that, listen, you know, you don't change your life now, you'll be like these guys - you know, we call it spinning the yard. Where there sixty, fifty, sixty, seventy years old and they're in jail. And I said to myself, just because you get older don't mean they stop letting you in here. You know, so either you get your situation - you get your act straight, or you'll be one of these guys with a cane, or in a wheel chair in prison.
John, parolee: The stupid decision I made cost me my daughter. I watched her grow up in pictures for three years. You know, so, I mean, now I have the opportunity to get back in her life and I love every moment that I have with her.
Luis Acosta - I was the type of individual that I wasn't receptive to a lot of the mandates, but then after I'd gotten older and realized that I will continue to be in these bars, I will still put myself in these predicaments if I don't change my life and look at what's going to be beneficial for not only myself, but for my family and the community. And to be honest with you it’s really spiritual. It's really inside yourself to be able to build forth that fortitude and be able to understand that you can really evolve.
NARRATOR: A returning individual's ability to adjust to life outside prison is linked to his or her success in obtaining housing, securing employment, dealing with drug or alcohol dependency and other health-related issues. We know that. New York State is addressing those transition issues by establishing special re-entry units in various prisons. In these units, offenders who are within a few months of release obtain intensive and directed services to help ensure that they have the tools to make it on the outside.
Individuals chosen for re-entry programs are returning to communities close to the correctional facility that they will be released from so they can have more contact with their families and begin to re-establish those relationships. It also provides an opportunity to interact with the service providers before they leave prison, and a chance to meet with their parole officer before they leave.
By putting offenders face to face with the parole officers, case workers, employment counselors, community and faith-based organization representatives who will form their key support network back home, reentry units provide participants with that head start for becoming responsible, productive citizens.
Sharon Spaker, Supervising Corrections Counselor, Orleans Re-Entry Unit: The re-entry unit is about preparing people to address concerns and issues and needs that they have upon release. Um, helping them to acclimate to the situation they're going to face when they're released.
We're very good at helping people comply with very rigid institutional structured types of situations and that's not good preparation for dealing with life. So, this is a chance to take a very realistic look at what those issues and obstacles will be upon release and to try and help people come up with a very individual plan for dealing with those and to make the linkages and to find collaborators who will help them upon release.
Re-entry gives people the tools to understand precisely where they're at, in the area of their life that are important to them and how to move forward in the directions that they want to move.
Bill Burgin: Re-entry is a public safety issue because if you take a look at what we're trying to do, we're trying to offer additional services, supervision to individuals to, so - here's somebody who may be coming out, who may not have housing, but who could possibly be left living under a bridge. Now we're offering them housing with supervision to the housing. We're offering them cure coordination with additional supervision. What we're trying to do is take that the most important thirty days, sixty days and wrap services around them with additional supervision so they don't recommit crimes.
Antoine Diggs, Weed and Seed Program Coordinator: One of the ways that the reentry program, the reentry initiative on whole helps prepare individuals become productive members of society is it that they allow for the process, which is really a new process, of community residents, community members, community advocates, human advocates in essence to come into the facility and begin to work with individuals prior to their release. That, that's an important process and a new process.
Corrections allows people like me and other community residents to come in and make that first initial contact which is so important. I think what I do and the part I play in, because I've been incarcerated, I speak from a real perspective. I speak from having sat in the same seat,
having laid in the same bed, having done the same programs, having been able to deal with the same people and then having those people see me in a different light, allow me to come back in and then to encourage and motivate and really just share my testimony and story with individuals who are getting ready to walk.
Ann Graham, Re-Entry Coordinator, Monroe County: Well, the kind of services that we try to make available to people really run a gamut. We sort of start with survival needs. When people first come out, unless they're going back to family, and a lot aren't, they're really looking at things like, where am I going to sleep tonight and what am I going to eat this week and I don't have any clothes to wear especially to a job interview. We try to do a lot with prosocial activities, because one of the biggest things guys often talk with us about when they first get out is they're bored and they're lonely.
Thom Piniewski: It's very difficult to change. The concept of a man who's incarcerated that, who wants to change, you know, I think it's there and I think most men really don't want to do the same things that got them into incarceration, but you have to give guys hope, you have to give guys opportunities and that's where things are lacking. These guys don't trust that when they get out there anybody's gonna be looking after them and it’s a really important ingredient here. Like I say I can't say more about being able to connect with these guys and make them believe that what you have to offer is really concerned about making sure that they do things right this time.
NARRATOR: One of the unique aspects of the re-entry unit approach is that it enables incarcerated individuals to meet in person with the parole officers, case workers, potential employers and others from their nearby home county who will form their key support network after release. It's important to establish these ties before release, so the network is in place before the former offender walks out the door.
Officer Terry Anderson, New York State Parole Officer: I think it's a great opportunity for the parole officer, as well for the parolee or the inmate that's being released. It settles him. It lets him know that things are not as bad as what he heard inside. And that once he gets out that I'm going to be that guy that's going to control his movement along with him. And I'm, I make sure that all my guys understand that I'm here to prevent him from going back to jail. I'm not here to send you back. I'm gonna try everything I can to make sure that you don't jump that hurdle incorrectly.
And that's what that Orleans program does for me and that's how I prepare myself. I make sure that if there's anything going on in his head that he's not sure about - or hers - in her, in their head that I need to clean that up immediately. I need to take those things out as soon as possible and place a positive attitude in that individual's mind so they can go back to their cell that night and say, you know what, I'm going to work with that guy.
Alfonso - Parole is like the big monster in prison. Parole, parole, parole. Your parole officer this, this and that. So being able to you know - they say first impression you know, is very important and you know, Mr. Anderson was very relaxed and he made me feel relaxed. You know. It basically reinforced what I already believed. It's up to me. It's not the parole officer. He's basically a partner. Or an enemy. It depends on which one I want him to be. You know, so, it made me a lot more comfortable.
Officer Spearman, New York State Parole Officer: I like the fact that they have medicaid already set in stone. Because it eliminates the forty-five day wait once they come out. They already have appointments set up for their treatment and things of that nature. It eliminates the - them coming out and then having to wait long periods of time to not only get the medicaid in place, but then to get an appointment once the medicaid is in place. So for those that come out and they are ambitious and they want to do the right thing, I think it allows them the opportunity to come out and immediately start building a foundation. Versus those who come out and have to wait you know, sixty, ninety days. I think um, if they come out with some ambition it starts to dwindle within that time frame.
NARRATOR: Re-entry units work with incarcerated people directly to help them envision their life outside prison in a different way than they have before. Whether someone wants to graduate from college, become a responsible parent, buy a house or simply live in a way that will not result in going back to prison, the re-entry team helps them develop a plan to get there. People in prison work with parole and corrections staff to identify their own path to success. This includes working with community organizations, mentors and service providers as well as government agencies for help with housing, education, employment, life skills and substance abuse counseling.
John - Orleans will give you an opportunity to better yourself and use the tools that you have. It - they're gonna - if you don't know how to fill out a resume, they're gonna help you fill out a resume. They're gonna help you talk to your parole officer. They'll help you get a phone call to your family if you can. Um, they'll help you in any way that other prisons won't help you. You have people there that you can actually talk to.
Alan - I'm definitely glad I was chosen to come to the re-entry program.
It gave me an opportunity that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I, I learned a lot, you know. I learned - one of the things that I had trouble with before I was - I, I consider myself really independent. And I was really reluctant to reach out for help. Uh, but here it was offered in a way where it didn't bruise my ego. Where, okay, if I need to go to DSS for health insurance, it's not that big of a deal. And, you know, they cleared up a lot of stuff that I didn't know about before.
Jason Well, I mean I'm thoroughly pleased that they gave me the opportunity. I certainly feel more in control of my life.
And it brings me back again to a time when I had that and I think I've missed that significantly over the past couple of years - just county to state prisons, county to state prisons and that's with nothing positive happening at all in between that, so absolutely. Being in - just having a little bit of control and the feeling of excitement you might get from maybe regaining pieces of your life. Yes, it's very exciting.
David - They've helped me a lot. They've uh, brought out feelings that I had repressed for a long time. Um, you know, I never laughed you know, never cried. Now I'm doing more of that now. You know, I'm laughing now. I'm happy. I'm happy with myself, you know. It's not tough anymore. Once I got there I talked to one of the counselors there and he says, listen, he says, you know if you're having bad days, whatever, I don't mind you that if you need to lay down or whatever, but, uh, he says this will be good for you. He goes, trust me.
So, I'm thinking - I don't trust him, you know what I mean. So um, I stuck it out and as it turns out it did. It ended up being one of the best moves that was made for me at that time. They touched on everything.
Drug and alcohol abuse, uh, anger management, um, how to fill out resumes you know, make up resumes and stuff like that. Um, how to approach to get a job. What to do. They uh, set us up with medicaid so when we got out of prison, we had medicaid established so we can do our outpatient program and um - that was - set up our drug and alcohol counselors where we were going to participate.
Juan - Someone's coming to this re-entry program, I would give them advice to come, be open minded, don't put on a facade for nobody. Look into what you really want to do for your future, like, plan. Actually make a plan for five years ahead of now. Or longer. Me, my plan is for ten, fifteen years from now. I got - this is my chance to - this is your chance - they's chance to start a new, a new life. A new - start going down the right path. Be open minded. Come to the program. And participate. Give all you got into it. Got nothing to lose. Just come to the re-entry program. Give it all you got. Give it a chance. Don't shut down.
NARRATOR: During their 90- to 120-day stay at the unit, participating individuals will join with a team made up of the Department of Correctional Services, Division of Parole, and Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services - and community and faith-based agencies to assess each offender's needs, ranging from possession of necessary documents to employment and housing opportunities and issues surrounding family reunification, on a case-by-case basis.
Prior to release, participants will: Be evaluated for job training, anger management, substance abuse counseling and/or other programs in the community, depending on their needs. Receive assistance in completing public benefit applications. Practice employability skills. Learn to use the Department of Labor’s Career Zone, an online system that provides in-depth career and education information for more than 900 occupations, including job descriptions, estimated wages and the job outlook for each occupation.
Luis Acosta - In a way, in a way where that individual, once he gets all of these tools for himself, his esteem, self-motivation, in regards to taking a hold of, of his dreams, becomes much more apparent. The individual then can bring forth a step in measurable goals to be able to show his successes. It becomes, it becomes a blessing in a sense, because then you can see the light spark from his eyes or her eyes and take a hold of what they've been given and then run with it. And to never see them come back, to never be a part of that recidivism, to see them you know, become owners of their life, to be able to come, you know, and bring forth their voices to bring forth a better outlook in a respectable way, it's amazing to me. I'm like, I'm shocked. I really am shocked because you know, what I went through in my life and being here today, I'm still in cloud nine. But then to see them you know, take hold of it and take ownership of their lives, just, it just - I feel like a million bucks. I fell like you know, I'm one of the most richest people in the whole county maybe in the whole state, because we're saving lives.
Anibal - My main goal is to be a father out there when I go home.
'Cause I've been away from my daughter for about six years now. The re-entry program is helping me - they giving me counseling. I'm taking counseling and fatherhood program here and it is working real good.
Juan - I want to set standards and not have my son go down the road I want to go down - I mean the road I went down. I want my son to be - be able to have a stable family, be able to have both his parents in his life. I didn't have that so, I'm more dedicated in to giving my son the things I didn't have.
John - I'm following the rules that are set in front of me to make sure that I never go back there, period. If you don't care, you're gonna go back. And that's the life you're gonna live, but if you care you're gonna make something out of yourself and you're gonna do something that everyone's going to be proud of. I have a five year old daughter that's gonna be proud of me. Not gonna say, oh my daddy's in prison. And I can't see him and he's gonna see me through a picture that I sent to him.
If that's what people want then they're gonna live the same life that they're gonna continue to live. I mean no one can change anybody. It really starts with you.
Alfonso - My future, I'm an entrepreneur. I will do any work, first and foremost to get to that position to be able to fund my own business. But, I see myself with my family - hopefully having custody of my kids. I have five children, four boys and one little girl. Having custody of them, me and my wife. Living, probably in Houston somewhere. You know, I like Texas a lot. Either Houston or maybe Miami, you know. But, in and also I want to do some humanitarian work as well. Just helping people who not as fortunate as myself. Whether it be elements, physically, mentally or just you know - I want to give back basically... See, I like to touch the younger people or even people my age. You know, they caught up in the culture where - where loyal to all the wrong things. You know, and, and, and, in the course of this we forget what we really supposed to be loyal to which is our family and ourselves. And I always you know, I tell the young fellas, I say, what principle holds stronger to you, is it a father's pledge or is it a street code. You know, try not to get so caught up in a street code, because before you know it, you'll be fifty, spinning the yard, as I say. You know, you gonna be an old guy. Time doesn't wait.
Ann Graham - Why should the tax payers want us to spend money on something like re-entry because it sounds like hug-a-thug and it's not hug-a-thug, though we might. But, this absolutely makes dollars and cents from a taxpayer's point of view. We could literally send someone to Harvard for what it costs to incarcerate them in State Prison. So, it makes much more sense to spend a fraction of that money and give people the real skills and the real opportunities they need to survive and to thrive in the community, because they become an asset to the community. Ninety-eight percent of people who go to prison are coming out. That's not an - that's not on the table for discussion. That is happening, and they're coming to a neighborhood near you. So the question is, and I'm going to quote Craig Johnson from our local correctional facility, do you want them drunk, homeless and angry or housed and sober and you know, working. That s the choice.
NARRATOR: As the last stop in prison specialized reentry units provide the practical frame work to help offenders return to society with new attitudes and behaviors that will benefit not only themselves but their communities as well. The reentry units are a key part of New York s reentry strategy.
In New York reentry deals with the core issues that led to a prison sentence in the first place: attitudes, behaviors and associations.
It addresses the attitudes such as a sense of entitlement, beliefs that the (quote) system is unfair, denial, anger, resentment and blaming the victim. It addresses the behavioral aspect, the impulsivity, the lack of self-control, and problems that reflect a lack of problem-solving and anger management skills.
And it addresses the associational piece, or the associating with or hanging out with the wrong crowd. People who encourage a criminal lifestyle.
Thank you for taking the time to watch this video and to hear the stories of the men who have experienced a reentry unit. One important step along the road to reentry and reintegration in the community.