reentry, a house of cards

The exuberance of getting out of jail fades quickly for most ex-offenders.

That’s because the practical realities of housing and rent, food, work or school, health insurance, addiction-recovery, transportation, child care, and regular contact with a parole officer kick in almost immediately.

"House of Cards" by snbphotography

“House of Cards”
by snbphotography

For most women felons, their lives exist as a precarious house of cards, where the loss of one simple and seemingly unimportant thing can compromise the entire enterprise.

Let me be more specific.

I met up yesterday with one of our long-term writinginsideVT participants who is out now! Her glowing face met me over a cup of coffee.

She is doing well; beginning community college classes; filling out job applications; getting weekly therapy for her drug addiction–Sarah and I are both extremely proud of her and her beaming optimism.

Here’s what’s not working, in my view:

Because she took out a small loan for college books and expenses, she’s not eligible for temporary food assistance because that loaned money is seen as income.

(She started classes within a few days of release.  So her desire to better her life through education is actually working against her ability to feed herself.  Bizarro.)

As a result, some of her time is spent visiting food shelves, instead of doing homework or job-hunting.

(I challenge anyone to secure a decent-paying job with a felony conviction.)

Because she was in and out of prison during the past few years, she never learned to drive a car. So, she’s having to depend on others for transportation to get to school and to look for work–all living in rural Vermont.

(Instances of ex-offenders not having driver’s licenses nor knowing how to drive are quite common.  We need a kind of “driving school” for ex-prisoners, formerly homeless youth too!)

Oh, and the therapy my newly freed friend is receiving–that’s only because the therapist (bless her heart) agreed to see her despite the $60 per month health insurance premium she’s not sure how to afford.

($60 per month for health coverage–a DREAM for most of us, but not if you have just gotten out of prison; are unemployed; and need therapy to help temper your addictive cravings.)

I myself have 50 people entered into my iPhone whom I could call in an instant for help, a loan, advice, emotional support, whatever.

But women leaving prison typically hail from families struggling as much as they are. Or perhaps, they have burned bridges with folks they can no longer rely on.

Here’s an ironic kicker to this woman’s story.

Yesterday by accident, she dropped her cell phone in water. Although the phone’s only activated for a month (that’s all she can afford), it functions as a kind of lifeline to this new, healthy network of people she’s trying to cultivate.  So, she’ll have to communicate with them via email for now.

(The phone is drying out in a bowl of rice; hopefully it will turn back on.)

This woman’s amazing resourcefulness through each of these snafus is keeping her “house” standing for now.  I believe in her completely, but not the system of reentry (or lack thereof) in place.  It sets people up to fail.

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