REAL Life

A new day, a new life, a new beginning

The Problem

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!

REAL Solutions

REAL Life was created as an answer to the problems listed and many more. REAL Life’s focus is to serve and highlight the men and women coming out of the Richmond City Justice Center’s REAL Program.

It is our goal to build a platform that will highlight these issues and the other issues associated with the continued generational cycles of criminality and addiction. This will then enable us to help and assist offenders coming out of the REAL Program. While we will not be giving hand outs, if someone needs help and has the motivation to change their life, we will be an available resource to help overcome the barriers to entry.

How do we know someone wants to change?

We do not always know someone’s genuine desires. However, there will be a track record for individuals receiving help from REAL Life. While incarcerated, they must have participated in the RCJC’s Internal Program Department’s REAL (Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles) Program. The REAL Program is a behavioral modification program that has a purpose of reducing recidivism through ensuring the individual is prepared for re-entry into society. This is done by assisting residents of the RCJC to positively and comprehensively address their addictions and behaviors, while appropriately modifying their thinking. Social learning models and cognitive-behavioral interventions are utilized to help participants restructure and reframe destructive thought patterns while developing healthy coping skills. The focus on behavioral modification inspires members to face their problems and overcome their addictive lifestyles, namely, whatever placed them in their current situation, and so often kept them incarcerated time and time again.

As such, a strong foundation for success was laid while they were incarcerated. The new offering of REAL Life will enable a continuation of services necessary to a continued life change. While the Richmond community has many resources already available through both government entities and the non-profit arena, often offenders do not know how to navigate the many options. This is where REAL Life will guide and connect them with resources available to assist in their success. Further, there are gaps in resources that either have not been addressed or are lacking. REAL Life will strive to fill these identified gaps.

REAL Life will be able to establish this if the community gets behind this effort. It is our desire that we will reveal the issues in a manner that citizens will begin to get involved. After all, 95% of those incarcerated in Virginia will be released back into OUR community. In the words of Sheriff C.T. Woody, Jr. - do you want offenders released into your community as better citizens or better criminals?

What Drives Us?

Our Mission:

To identify, document, spotlight, and facilitate the needs of participants who go through the REAL Program at the Richmond City Justice Center and serve as a liaison between other resources in the city, both public and private, to continue serving their needs upon reentry from jail into our community.

Our Objective:

To raise the public awareness and develop a platform to highlight the many issues and barriers offenders face upon release from jail or prison, while connecting offenders with the resources to overcome the barriers.

Our Vision:

REAL Life strives to highlight and address the issues often referred to as ‘barriers to entry’ into the community from jail. While the REAL Program in the RCJC works to address the behaviors that led to criminality and incarceration and equip offenders with tools to be successful upon release, there are still many issues that more often than not stand in the way of the offender not relapsing or reoffending after they have been released from incarceration. REAL Life will work alongside REAL Program participants upon release to assist in overcoming such obstacles, whether it is through direct service or connecting with existing services.

Take Action

It’s not easy to be released out of jail with nothing. At least a little bit of assistance is usually needed. You may donate into our general operating fund, which will help offenders as needed or you may donate to our housing fund, which will be used for housing scholarships for up to two months of rent, either at independent living or assisted living (depending on their needs).