VOICES: System-impacted people need a fair chance, not a second chance

Reintegrating into society after years behind bars presents an immense challenge for countless individuals across America. Basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter become paramount concerns upon release. However, for returning citizens, securing safe housing, reliable transportation, sufficient nourishment, and suitable attire are not just essential for survival, but also crucial for maintaining freedom.

Shockingly, research indicates that without adequate support, over two-thirds of individuals will recidivate due to parole violations. Consider the daunting scenario of a probation officer mandating immediate employment despite a criminal record severely limiting job prospects.

Mary Evans, a passionate advocate for reentry, underscores the importance of hope for those returning to society after incarceration. She emphasized that individuals who have been system-impacted carry a resilient hope despite life’s trials and challenges, buoyed by their beliefs.

“For individuals leaving incarceration, life’s trials and challenges are all the more complicated,” Evans stated. “Where will I live? How will people accept me? How do I make sure I never return to incarceration? These are challenges a person who has never touched the criminal justice system generally never worries about in their daily living.”

Highlighting the complexities of reentry, Evans pointed to the essential role of hope in navigating these challenges.

“How does one go about dealing with these challenges in addition to the trials of everyday life when reentering society? The answer is HOPE!” she exclaimed.

As a returned citizen and reentry advocate, Evans clarified that her role extends beyond merely providing hope upon individuals’ return. “My job is not about giving individuals hope when they come home; it’s about ensuring they never lose HOPE,” she affirmed. “Through my daily work, I understand the challenges individuals face; helping them overcome these obstacles is how I ensure they maintain hope.”

Evans emphasized the significance of Fair Chance month as an opportunity to educate both individuals and institutions on the barriers faced by returning citizens. “Fair Chance month gives us the opportunity to better educate individuals and institutions that create and sustain the obstacles that often cause returning neighbors to lose their HOPE,” she said.

Challenging the notion of only two chances, Evans advocated for a Fair Chance approach. “I know that people say ‘second chance,’ however, are individuals limited to just two chances? I say ‘fair chance’ because that is what system-impacted people need — a fair chance,” she said. “A fair chance at employment, housing, medical services, and community support.”

Mary Evans’ impassioned plea for a fair chance underscores the importance of empathy, support, and opportunities for those transitioning from incarceration to society. Her words serve as a reminder of the resilience and hope that drive individuals striving for a brighter future beyond the confines of the criminal justice system.

Truth Garrett is a multidisciplinary artist and dedicated reporter for the Yellow Springs News. He produces Dayton Youth Radio at WYSO.

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