One of my first experiences with a newly released prisoner was attending a small-town Vermont parade together. This was several years back. We two perched alongside the curb in fold-up chairs under a majestic maple tree. Patriotic music streamed. Floats of every size and shape rolled down the main thoroughfare. I tried (emphasis on the word tried) to take in the effervescent scene from the perspective of a person incarcerated for many years.
On display today at many July 4th parades (writ large!) is the American dream of having a decent home, job, car, support network, and enough money to support ones children. However for the majority of women (and men) reentering society, these celebratory scenes can remind them of the chasms they have to cross just to survive.
Many juggle multiple high-priorities, such as paying rent & living expenses, finding jobs and keeping them, transportation, staying sober, caring for children, managing mental wellness & medical issues, satisfying overdue bills, making restitution for their crimes, with little time left over to invest in education or career advancement.
Many female ex-offenders bounce around from well-intentioned agency to agency, with assorted caseworkers providing conflicting information about how, for example, to secure benefits, enroll in college, or access training programs leading to higher-paying nontraditional jobs.
As research by gender-responsive experts Stephanie Covington and Barbara Bloom emphasizes, “there is a need for wrap-around services – a holistic and culturally sensitive plan for each woman that draws on a coordinated range of services within her community.”
..more about working to implement this vision in Vermont (in a future post).
Happy Independence Day to all!