While people engage in criminal activity for varying reasons, nearly all (95%) will be released back into our community at some point. Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody, Jr., often poses the following question: ‘How do we want them returning to our community, as better citizens or better criminals?’ Just jail and time behind bars highly contributes to better criminals. However, offenders in the Richmond City Justice Center are provided a different opportunity - they are able to work on becoming better citizens.
For offenders who qualify and are interested, they have the opportunity to participate in The REAL Program. REAL, which stands for Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles, addresses the issues associated with the criminality and thus incarceration, and then works to equip participants with the tools associated with success upon release. While the REAL Program provides an excellent holistic approach, there are many issues upon release that come up and that must be addressed in order for the highest likelihood of success.
We will start the examination of issues with release from incarceration. People are released in the same clothes they were arrested in – that could mean summer clothes in the wintertime, or maybe bloody/smelly clothes. We sometimes even see people re-arrested for stealing a coat from the store or clothes off a neighbor’s clothesline because they simply do not have warm clothes.
What if the person was arrested with no money? Then they are released with no money. So how do they get to where they need to go? They certainly can’t purchase a bus ticket. What if they need to go to social services to sign up for food stamps? How do they get their identification from DMV (which costs $15)? Or their social security card? That could be quite a hike from the institution.
Most offenders have burned so many bridges, that family and positive influences have cut them off. Often the only friends or family ‘left’ after release are the same people that they were associated with before incarceration – the same people, on the same street corner, doing the same thing they were doing prior to incarceration. It is nearly impossible for a different outcome in this situation.
As you can see, many offenders are released with nowhere to go and no money. So what’s next? They can’t get an ID because that costs $15. Without an ID, they can’t get a job, housing, or food stamps – the basics of survival are indicative of the $15 needed for an ID. Maybe they do have $15 – but for the person who has never had an ID – or doesn’t know what to do to get it – who do they have to navigate this and point them in the right direction?
Everything we do requires money, but how do we expect money to be gained in this situation? Then, what if child support is owed? They don’t have a job and can’t get one, but are expected to pay child support? We see many get arrested in this very situation. This is a perfect stressor, or as we call it, a ‘trigger,’ to relapse – starting to use drugs again to overcome the stress. Or maybe to sell drugs for money for child support, food, rent, fines, or to keep the lights on. For females, it is often stripping or prostitution - but in order for many to engage in these activities they must be high to ‘do what they know they have to do.’ This is where it starts all over again – and bam – they are back in jail!