VOICES: Our mission is to minimize barriers to effective reentry while promoting public safety

Credit: HUE12, LLC

Credit: HUE12, LLC

Walking into the doors of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections back in 1989, I learned that my primary focus was to adopt the workplace philosophy of being “firm, fair, and consistent”. Through my 34-year correctional, treatment, and community reentry career I have learned that the game of life teaches many valuable lessons.

Turning weaknesses into strengths, trials into triumphs, and obstacles into opportunities takes an act of commitment and courage. Networking is key to creating meaningful relationships, alliances, and social spheres of connectivity. Most importantly, it is my responsibility to give back to society by investing in my community and taking ownership of the decisions I make. As the Reentry Community Manager of the Montgomery County Office of Reentry, I carry these values in my toolkit daily, especially when it comes to second chances.

In retrospect, if life was like a card game, it is not so much the hand I am dealt in life, but most importantly the strategy I use during the game to increase my chances of winning. While not an avid “Bridge” card player, I discovered an interesting analogy earlier on in my criminal justice research surrounding the term “Reentry.” While I interpreted the term relating to the process of community reintegration from incarceration, the term was alternatively referenced to as playing a card that will enable a player to regain the lead. The strategy of “Bridge” is likened to a partnership. You score points as a team, not as an individual. In essence, prisoner reentry is similar, in that successful reentry fosters a team mindset, in that each (card) action taken, or decision made may have collective impact. So, if the decisions I make strengthen my position as an individual, my family and ultimately my community wins. It is important for returning citizens to recognize the strength in committing to change and building alliances. The level of accountability it takes to play responsibly, does make a difference in a winning hand.

It is this philosophy of Action, Alliance, and Accountability that the Montgomery County Office of Reentry has adopted as a winning strategy to regain the lead in fostering positive change. Our mission thrives on our commitment to serving the community with programs and services that minimize barriers to effective reentry while promoting public safety through the restoration of returning citizens. Through this principle, our signature Reentry Career Alliance Academy (RCAA) works. Since launching this program experience in 2015, the Office of Reentry has celebrated over 892 RCAA graduates, with a 91% alumni success rate.

As an aging Ohio prison population is becoming more prevalent, we are welcoming returning citizens home after serving extensive prison sentences. Comprehensive case management is key to meeting the needs of this unique population. One RCAA graduate in particular served a span of thirty-eight consecutive years in the Ohio prison system. Upon his release, he enrolled in the RCAA as a means of restoration (rebirth) to learn and experience new life skills he needed to navigate life beyond the fence. The challenges he faced included seeking stable housing, family reunification, community reintegration, and pro-social support systems. He has successfully navigated this process through Office of Reentry partnering efforts, network connection, and taking personal responsibility. The courage and commitment to action, alliance, and accountability upon his journey home is a testimony to others who may find such challenges impossible.

As I reflect back on the “firm, fair, and consistent” lesson I learned decades ago, I reaffirm the concept; not just from a treatment perspective, but as a core reentry value and best practice. During Second Chance month, I invite our community to focus on the importance of fair chances and advocacy for returning and restored citizens, and the impact such policies and practices can favorably have on family and community.

Please see the quarterly newsletter, “The Journey” for more success stories, and to learn more about our programs, services, and community volunteer initiatives please contact the Montgomery County Office of Reentry.

Jamie Gee, MBA is the Reentry Community Manager for the Montgomery County Office of Reentry.

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