It’s been six months since John has been home and the question that most people ask about his reentry focuses on whether or not he’s found a job. That’s telling in and of itself but that’s another post for another day. For John, securing employment once home from prison has always been of the utmost importance in his reentry to society because he wants to help support our family to the best of his ability. However, the marketable skills that he acquired facilitating groups for the mental health population while in prison are not respected enough by the powers that be to get him into a career with that population on the outside. Even with high recommendations from people in the field who witnessed John’s proven track record of success first-hand, coupled with college credits equivalent to that of an Associate degree minus two classes, it still isn’t enough.
His time served in prison is the barrier precluding him from working in a field that he not only loves, but’s is also very good at and one which he has been preparing himself to do for several years of his life.
Providing men and women in prison with access to a college education is only meaningful in terms of how useful it is in helping them attain gainful employment upon release and reentry into mainstream society. According to Prison Policy,
Even when incarcerated people learn skills relevant to further education or occupational licenses in prison, license restrictions based on criminal history can invalidate their training….These barriers signal to formerly incarcerated people that they are unwelcome in institutions of higher learning, prevent their economic integration, and contribute to the revolving door of release and re-incarceration.
Waking up every day looking for jobs just to be rejected can get daunting really quickly. Even when you know what to do, how do you stay motivated to keep on going when met with obstacle after obstacle? Those on parole are mandated to get and keep gainful employment within a certain amount of time after being released. Do we value people, as a part of their rehabilitiation, working in careers that matter to them and at which they’re best suited, or do we simply want to fill the unskilled worker job market pool with people whom society sees as expendable and unworthy — those formerly incarcerated? We sell education as the remedy to close the earning gap, among other gaps, that exists between Black people and their White counterparts. Is that true, however, if that education was gotten after a felony conviction?
Organizations like Hudson Link have relentlessly taken up the social justice banner at the intersection of criminal justice reform and education to provide college degree-bearing Associate and Bachelor degree coursework in Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences in partnership with Mercy College and several other institutions of higher learning in correctional facilities across New York State. According to Hudson Link,
This challenging curriculum opens the door to critical thinking and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world and prepares our students to live and act ethically and responsibly in a changing world. In addition, a Behavioral Science degree prepares our students for rewarding careers in education, health services management and counseling.
They are preparing them for careers in these fields. Employers, however are not taking them. It’s time for employers to get on board with Hudson Link and have a growth mindset shift that will allow for the employment of those formerly incarcerated in these arena. John has been fortunate to find employment that is fulfilling to him and that allows him to contribute financially to our household. Not everyone has that same experience. Life on the outside can lack the redemptive hope which those formerly incarcerated so ardently seek. The degrees they earned while in prison should make life better for them — not worse and definitely not null and void.
Providing men and women in prison with access to a college education is only meaningful in terms of how useful it is in helping them attain gainful employment upon release and reentry into mainstream society. Not having a job means not having money and not having money can lead to a “desperate times call for desperate measures” approach to life. This increases recidivism rates and feeds prisons the human beings they crave. Having a real shot at making an honest and meaningful living outside after receiving a formal education in prison is important to everyone involved.