Thank you for your interest in Lake County Jail Ministry’s Community Life Program. The following information will give you an overview of the life challenges facing formerly incarcerated individuals. In this resource guide you will find facts as well as personal stories. We hope that this will inspire you to join us in bringing hope to these men and women through God who comforts us and gives us hope.
The United States penal population of 2.2 million adults is the largest in the world. In 2012, close to 25% of the world’s prisoners were held in American prisons, although the US accounts for about 5% of the world’s population. Arrest rates for drug offenses began to climb in the 1970’s with mandatory prison times for these offenses becoming more common.
Those who are incarcerated in the US come largely from the most disadvantaged segments of the population. They comprise mainly minority men under age 40, poorly educated and often carrying additional deficits of drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical ailments, and a lack of work preparation or experience. Currently, the fastest growing segment of the nation’s incarcerated population is women.
Released prisoners have a high probability of being rearrested. In Cleveland, 83% of prisoners surveyed had at least one prior conviction and many reported multiple convictions. Nationally, the majority of released prisoners who are subsequently rearrested are arrested for parole violations rather than the commission of new crimes.
Substance Abuse & Incarceration:
- Approximately 50% of people in prison or jail meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence per The Center for Prison Health & Human Rights
- Participant primary drug of choice (288 participants)
- Alcohol- 34.15%
- Heroin – 23%
- Marijuana – 21.25%
- Opiod Pills – 8.71%
- Cocaine (crack) – 7.67%
Legacy of Parental Incarceration:
- Children of incarcerated parents are six time more likely than other children to become incarcerated themselves
- Regardless of age range, a father’s incarceration increases aggression, especially for boys
Relationship Between Abuse & Incarceration:
- In the US, 1 in 6 incarcerated males reported physical or sexual abuse before 18 years
- Approximately 56% of male inmates reported childhood physical abuse/trauma vs sexual abuse
- Over 25% of incarcerated men reported abandonment during childhood or adolescence
- More than 50% of incarcerated women reported physical or sexual abuse prior to imprisonment
Relationship Between Incarceration & Broken Homes:
- Juvenile incarceration rates are 12 times higher for children of divorce than 2-parent families
- Adult children of divorce are less likely to pursue higher education resulting in lower paying jobs
- Increased vulnerability to drugs and alcoholism in adolescence
Challenges of Re-entry
For many inmates, the time prior to release can be one of intense fear and insecurity. They are not returning to the same world they left behind – things have changed. The former inmate must make a myriad of decisions about life, often alone. Successful re-entry ministry involves addressing needs in all areas of the returning citizen’s life: social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, environmental and physical. When an inmate returns to the community, they will need a positive support system in place that encourages a healthy lifestyle, positive behaviors, and self-sufficiency.
Employment. Released individuals have a difficult time finding and maintaining employment in the year following re-entry. Social service providers in Cleveland identify the lack of employment opportunities for returning prisoners as the most important obstacle to successful re-entry. Released individuals who find employment generally work in low-skill jobs often at much lower wages than they earned prior to incarceration.
Housing. Sixty-three percent of released prisoners in Cleveland lived in more than one location in the year following their re-entry. These former inmates were more likely to live with a parent or sibling than they were prior to incarceration and less likely to live with a spouse than they were prior to incarceration. Many will live in a homeless shelter sometime after release however this living environment makes it more difficult for the formerly incarcerated to resist drugs and find work.
Transitional housing provides housing for a fixed length of stay and usually offers a variety of support services to assist clients in achieving self-sufficiency.
Barriers to securing housing include lack of appropriate identification or references. Rental agencies and landlords may not be willing to rent to a formerly incarcerated person.
Transportation. Transportation challenges represent a significant barrier for individuals attempting to access services with nearly one in four released individuals reporting difficulty with transportation. These difficulties range from lack of ability to access public transportation to the ability to use one’s own vehicle. For example, reinstating one’s drivers license, purchasing license plates and paying for insurance.
Clothing and Food. Access to basic necessities such as food and appropriate clothing represent two of the most overlooked needs of any returning inmates.
Poverty: Living on the Edge
“Poor” is a subjective term. To those who are homeless or starving, someone living in Section 8 housing with government assistance probably seems well-off. There is an imaginary and ambiguous threshold separating the haves from the have-nots.
Being poor is reconciling your financial state in terms of pennies rather than dollars. It’s filling every receptacle you’ve got — bathtub, sink, buckets, pitchers while you still have water because you know yours is about to be shut off. It’s staying in an empty apartment with no electricity and an eviction notice on the door, because you know there’s a 30-day grace period, and if you don’t figure something out by then, you’ll be on the street. It’s watching your own blood depart your body from a thin tube as you give plasma for the second time in a week and already calculating when you’ll be able to give again.
Poor is the burning embarrassment you feel when your fifth-grade crush, behind you in line at the grocery store, snickers when your mom is seen paying with food stamps. It’s the sticky summer heat in your one-room apartment, and how the springs of the thrift-store sofa bed you share, pokes into your back no matter how you positioned yourself. It’s the rumble of emptiness from your stomach, and the tastes and textures of powdered milk and generic peanut butter and government cheese that comes from a box, that serve as a constant reminder of your position in life.
Being poor is using the restroom at the gas station down the street and stuffing your pockets with toilet paper because you’re out at home. It’s the scornful glances, the treatment you receive, because it must be your own fault you’re poor.
Being poor is endlessly chasing dollars, and sometimes doing things that are illegal. Nobody understands poor people unless they’ve been there, and it’s hard enough to be poor without also being misunderstood.
Upon release from jail – without access to food, clothing, shelter, transportation, personal identification, and other key necessities – former inmates may see no other option than to return to illegal activities in order to meet their needs. Communities must prepare to receive released men and women back into the community and work hand-in-hand with community service providers and churches to ensure that released persons receive needed resources and guidance after release. These efforts may make the difference between recidivism and successful transition to the community.
Family Legacy of Incarceration
Every generation wants to leave a positive legacy for the next one. But what is the impact when the legacy is a negative one? A legacy that leaves wounds, scars and memories that others would rather forget? A legacy of incarceration is one that has proven to have a high probability to repeat itself and the effects to ripple into future generations.
A legacy of incarceration is a young child being reminded by others that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree and quietly believing the lie. It is lying in bed at night not understanding where mom or dad went and why can’t they come see you or tuck you in. It is the stomach aches as you leave the prison visiting room unable to spend more than a few hours with your parent; not even being allowed to hug them good-bye, sit on their lap or wrestle on the floor like you did when they were home. It is waking up on Christmas and running downstairs only to find that the real gift you desire is not something, but someone who can’t be there. It is smiling at all the Birthdays and special events while crying on the inside and wishing for it to be different. It is secretly berating yourself, scanning the past to figure out what you did that caused them to go away. It is wondering why you feel punished for their “time-out” from society and wishing you could somehow fix it so they can come home.
This legacy tears families apart and leaves gaps and questions unanswered. Questions like, “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this, and why did my caregiver tell me not to tell others where mom or dad is?” It is countless unanswered questions and tears by others that are never explained or discussed, so you learn to paint on a smile and do your best. It is getting so accustomed to this new normal that when mom or dad return you are unsure of how to act or who to listen to.
A legacy of incarceration is when friends find out your parent is in prison and you hear the snickers behind your back and feel left out of the group. It is also being reminded daily of how your last name was dragged through the mud in the news and made headlines even though your first name is different.
It is realizing that one day your loved one will be returning home and counting down the days, hours and minutes on a calendar, only to be crushed when they are denied parole and the future is uncertain. It is not knowing when they will be home, or worse, the fear that they will go back again and you will be left alone.
A legacy of incarceration is when the only recent picture you have of your parent is in the prison visiting room trying to look happy when you know in twenty minutes you will be asked to leave.
The family legacy of incarceration is one that impacts many victims and creates a cycle of uncertainty, fear and shame that can negatively affect children for years into the future. Children of incarcerated parents often become incarcerated themselves since their “normal” childhood included that element. No child does a report for school entitled, “I want to Grow up to be a Felon,” and yet statistics show that children of the incarcerated are about three times as likely as other children to be justice-involved. With the odds stacked against them and the stigma society applies to these children, it is no wonder we see this legacy play out negatively in their lives.
My son, Andy, is a drug addict. As I write this, he is 7 months clean. I know this, because he has been in jail for 7 months. When Andy was arrested the first time following an overdose, I spoke to his NA sponsor to tell him what was going on. He was not surprised. He told me that this was not necessarily a bad thing. That he had a similar experience in his past and that jail was a wake up call to change his life. I asked him what his mother thought. He told me she was glad to know that he was in jail, because it meant that he was alive and that he was not using.
We have been through several detoxes, rehab, and jail and prison time with our son. I know exactly what that other mother felt. At least he is alive and he is not using. There is still hope. Hope will get you through.
In the beginning it was hard to tell people what we were going through. Afraid that they would judge us harshly; afraid that they would judge Andy harshly, in part because of his actions, and in part because of how much it hurt our friends to see how we, as his parents, were suffering. It’s easier to tell now because so many people are going through the same sorrow and because the things I feared did not happen. Our friends have supported us without condemnation of our son, and that is a huge blessing to us.
Substance abuse (alcohol and drug) is a contributing factor in the majority of crimes leading to incarceration. Up to 50% of incarcerated individuals suffer from some level of addiction. The lure of the high often leads to multiple stints of incarceration. Rehabilitation programs are an important step toward healthy community reentry.
Physical and Sexual Abuse
How does one sum up how it feels to be abused and how that impacts your life? You were just beginning to understand what feelings were in your life when someone introduced to you a whole new set of emotions such as shame, pain and numbness. When you have been abused it taints how you view your whole world. Sexual abuse that happens at the hands of a trusted person in your life opens new doors of emotional and mental abuse.
It is believing the lie that you deserve what is happening and somehow it is your fault. Abuse is carrying around a box, a place to stuff your feelings, or worse yet, not feeling at all.
It is waking up with uncertainty and not knowing what to expect or how to act. It is putting on a smile when you are crying and screaming on the inside.
It is a game of trying to avoid the abuser at family gatherings, church or other social settings so you are not left alone with him.
It is analyzing your every action and words as you walk around on egg shells, and yet feeling like it is your world that is cracking beneath your feet.
It is questions in your mind every day, wondering what every person’s motive is and what they want from you.
It is a new attitude that arises: living life on the edge, pushing the envelope. This becomes normal because inside you have concluded, “What does it matter anyway?”
It is realizing one day how little things anger you and set you off, not acknowledging that you are suffering from PTSD. Feelings of being out of control come upon you so you lash out as you try to self-preserve. It is another confirmation of your failures. The lie that you have no value or worth swirls in your head louder and louder.
Sexual abuse is emotions and outbursts that are not predictable or rational. The abuse and dysfunctional life that was introduced, groomed and encouraged lives on, just in a different form.
One in six incarcerated males reported physical or sexual abuse before 18 years. And more than 50% of incarcerated women reported physical or sexual abuse prior to imprisonment.