reentry, a house of cards, Pt. 3

Every few weeks, I am compelled to update you on Zoe (real name withheld).

by ckretred

by ckretred

She’s the formerly imprisoned woman that Sarah and I wrote with for three years at Chittenden Correctional Facility in Vermont before her release last May.

I’ve chronicled the immense challenges she’s faced this summer re-entering her life. (Sarah and I meet with her weekly.)

In reentry, a house of cardsyou heard about her struggles to find work; and her enrolling in two classes at Community College of Vermont.

Money was tight, forcing decisions such as do I get food at the supermarket, or use this 50 bucks to give others gas money to transport me around?

Continue reading

reentry, a house of cards, Pt. 2

You just won’t believe how hard it is for a woman leaving jail and reentering society.

It’s as if the iron bars linger like tenacious shadows, waiting to swoop in if mistakes are made or not enough progress is achieved in short order.

Behind Iron Bars by Leander Starr Tideway

Behind Iron Bars
by Leander Starr Tideway

But let me get much more specific, so you understand what I mean.

If you recall last month,  I told you about the 30-something woman recently released from Chittenden Correctional Facility whom Sarah and I have been meeting with weekly.

I’ll call her Zoe.  (She calls us and other supporters her A Team!)

Anyway, as we sip our unique latte combinations, Zoe updates us on her personal news and seeks advice.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

independence day hurdles

by Camera Slayer

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!