I was “Program Polly” during my five year plus incarceration sentence. I participated in every program that was available. My objective was to stay busy and to receive RAC credits, which took time off of my sentence.
What I didn’t realize is that I was gaining techniques that I would need when I was released.
Unfortunately, there’s really no program that specifically prepares you for how difficult life is when you get out. Even with all of the programming, I still hit so many obstacles when I came home. Every year, I’m constantly reminded that our sentence does not end when we come home and have to face all of the obstacles to reentry.
Society sentences us to a certain amount of years and after we serve our time, and we come out thinking that we have paid our debt to society. While in jail or prison, we focus so much on our release date and once we do get out, we’re hit with a reality that we’re not really prepared for.
Once you get out, life hits in you in two seconds and you only have those two seconds to prepare how you will respond. I got out and was faced with circumstances where I had to think quickly on my toes, whether it was how I needed to respond as a parent or how to react to a pharmacist giving me an attitude during my trip to pick up a prescription. In moments like those I had to rely on the skills that I built during my incarceration.
I think the biggest lesson that I had to apply was being flexible. The things that I thought would be challenging were actually kind of easy, while the things that I thought were going to be easy were harder than I expected.
Each time I visit with incarcerated men and women, I ask them to identify what activities they could become involved with while they are in jail or prison. It could be job preparation, relationship rebuilding, substance misuse, or more. Participation in programs like those can help better prepare them for the reality they will face once they are released.
I struggled to reintegrate into society and I think it would have been beneficial for me to do soul searching and identify my needs prior to coming back home.
Reentry is an ongoing struggle that requires continuous effort. Incarcerated persons need to determine early on exactly what their needs are so that they can hopefully leave prison with the necessary tools to help them navigate their lives.
Michelle Garcia, 51, is a mother who upon returning to society began volunteering with various organizations that help incarcerated persons and their families. She now works for Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a support network for formerly incarcerated people.