As O. and J. continue their journey of integrating into the community they will face numerous challenges.
My name is Hank Dixon and am presently the Interim Director of Open Circle. For 15 years I was a prison chaplain and over the years I have walked with a number of individuals through the challenges of moving back into the community. Over the next few weeks we will look more closely at some of those challenges. One of the first that arises can best be framed in a conversation I had with Murray Barkman, who for years was the Director of Open Circle. In one of our many conversations about this transition back into the community we both agreed that the word reintegration, which is often used in corrections circles is often not quite accurate. For many individuals returning to society, especially if they have served a long sentence, the world has changed substantially. Personal possessions have often disappeared or been taken, such as a vehicle, clothes, sentimental items. They arrive back in society with practically nothing. Connections with people they may have worked with are different, strained or just don’t exist anymore. Families have grown, friends have moved on, relationships they once understand are now very different. Added to this the world around them has changed. In our fast past technological world simple advances we take for granted can pose a real challenge to individuals who have been inside for many years.
Added to these is the reality that the person coming out of prison has often changed also. They have grown older, and depending on their experiences in prison they will have changed dramatically from the person who first walked into a prison. As Murray and I came to realize, along with many others; sometimes, this process of moving back into society is not so much about reintegrating as integrating changed realities. Reintegration implies that we are restoring something that was before. For some individuals what was before no longer exists. Who they were has changed. Society has changed and most significantly, how society views them has changed. This process of moving back into society then becomes one of integrating a changed person into a changed society.
Both O. and J. are discovering that reality first hand as they try to shape new lives on the street.