Ex-cons make no retirement plans

Waterbury Republican American
December 6, 2016
http://www.rep-am.com

WATERBURY

Todd Edwards couldn’t remember which of the state’s prisons he was incarcerated in when the cruel reality of his situation struck him: Correction officers who had guarded him when he was first locked up were reaching retirement age.

So, he wrote a half-joking letter to the warden, requesting his own “retirement papers” from the prison system.

“The officers that I came in with were retiring as deputy wardens and they did a full career, and I had this,” he said, holding his hands open. “I had this. Empty palms. I had a hurt soul. I had a hurt heart. My mind, my spirit was broken. So this is what I’m retiring with.”

 

Edwards was one of several former inmates who on Tuesday addressed the recently formed Greater Waterbury Reentry Council, a collaboration of some 30 agencies within Greater Waterbury that helps ex-offenders coming out of prison reintegrate back into society.

The ex-cons talked about the challenges they faced upon release, such as the stigma that often serves as a barrier to employment, the lack of knowledge about basic tasks like managing a bank account and being unaware of social service programs that could help them.

“I think that 99.9 percent of people who come out of prison, their intention is to be a good citizen, their intention is not to come out and commit more crime,” said council member Beth Hines. “But when they come out and there’s no connection to services, or they’re not getting their needs met, they’re going to get discouraged very quickly.”

Hines is program operations director for Community Partners in Action, a more than century-old agency that provides post-prison services like employment help, transitional housing and substance abuse counseling.

Other agencies participating in the council include New Opportunities, Waterbury Hospital, Bishop House (a 51-bed halfway house run by New Opportunities), the state Department of Correction, Waterbury city departments such as the police and schools, and Wellmore Behavioral Health, where the meeting took place.

 

Bobbi Riddick, an employment specialist at New Opportunities, said employment barriers can sometimes be broken should the former inmate advise potential employers they would qualify for a state tax credit by hiring an ex-convict.

Hines said reaching inmates in prison gives them hope and strengthens their goal to rejoin the outside world, but that it’s an expensive, time-consuming effort for which there is often little or no resources.

Critical also is mentorship, said Mike LaRue, work readiness and life skills trainer for New Opportunities’ LEAPS job-training program.

“Programs are all well and good, but sometimes the motivation has to come from someone who is going to say, ‘Hang in there, persevere, keep going, keep the course,’” he said.

Edwards credited Wellmore, particularly its Morris Recovery House, with the success he’s had since he was released from prison in September.

“I had no place else to go except there, and they opened their arms and welcomed me into their home,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. Without them, no telling where I would be. I could be on a bench somewhere.”

Edwards said some of the barriers inmates face when they return to society are “self-imposed,” based on poor decisions they have made in their lives.

But, he said, he didn’t quit when he was “doing wrong,” and won’t quit now that he’s got another chance at success.

“There’s still hope. So I can rebuild my heart. It would never be pretty and gorgeous like somebody that’s never been what I’ve been through, but it’ll be my heart and it’s the only one that I will ever have,” he said. “And I can get my feelings and my emotions back intact, and I can get my rights as a citizen back. I can get these things back, and it can work.”

Contact Mike Patrick at mpatrick@rep-am.com, on Twitter @RA_MikePatrick or on Facebook at RA.Mike.Patrick.