Try treating ex-offenders like human beings: It works.
As an idealistic college student in the 1970s, I wanted a career in a helping profession. I wasn’t sure exactly what population I wanted to work with, but it honestly never occurred to me that I would end up finding my “niche” working with offenders for more than 35 years.
My Dad was a preacher, my Mom a school teacher. I never knew anyone who had served time in prison. After a couple of fairly uninteresting jobs post-college, I landed at the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department in 1979.
Thirty-five years later I am still working with offenders, ex-offenders and their families as the executive director of Chrysalis Ministries, which until this past summer was known as Bexar County Detention Ministries.
Most newly-released felons are well-intentioned, but they find society’s doors slammed in their faces again and again. These individuals have served their sentences and paid their debt to society, but they are shunned and rejected by a very unwelcoming local community.
Finding housing is a difficult challenge at best and finding sustainable employment is practically impossible. Having witnessed time and again the sadness, anger and frustration that formerly incarcerated individuals experience when they are unable to support themselves and their families, I concluded that it’s no surprise so many of them get rearrested.
Probation and parole departments try to assist the formerly incarcerated to make a successful reentry into the community, but these efforts fall short. Stringent and rigid supervision requirements almost guarantee that formerly incarcerated individuals will fail. Chrysalis Ministries seemed to me to be the perfect agency to develop a one-stop reentry center. Hiring caring, non-judgmental, resourceful staff is critical. Hiring ex-offenders in key positions is also necessary. The combination works.
The Bexar County Adult Detention Center reports between 65,000 – 75,000 inmates are released each year. One out of every 22 adults in Texas is in prison, jail or on supervised release. The average annual cost to house one inmate at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center is $60 per day or $250 per day if that inmate has medical or mental health issues. Thousands of individuals walk out the doors of jails and prisons every day and return to our community.
The newly-released experience relief, joy and excitement, but they also feel anxiety, confusion and fear of finding appropriate employment. Mental health and substance abuse issues linger. Families may be suspicious and distrusting. Employers toss their job applications in the trash as soon as they see that they have been incarcerated.
Chrysalis Ministries is here to help. In addition to providing interfaith chaplaincy services and life skills classes to nearly 40,000 incarcerated individuals in nine adult and juvenile detention and treatment facilities each year, our staff and volunteers provide comprehensive, “one-stop” reentry services at the Family Renewal Center, 503 San Pedro Ave., to the formerly incarcerated who are released from any detention facility.
Many of the same programs available to the formerly incarcerated are also available to family members, including their children. Basics such as food, clothing, bus passes and ID cards are distributed to those in need. Other services provided include:
- Job readiness and job search classes
- Licensed mental health counseling
- 12-step Substance Recovery classes
- Certified “anger management” classes
- “Healthy Relationships” classes
- “Domestic Violence Prevention” classes
- “Money Management” classes
- Rental assistance
- Public utilities assistance
- HIV/AIDS awareness classes
- Parenting classes
- Art therapy group for women survivors of abuse and domestic violence
- Chaplaincy services & weekly non-denominational church service
- Support groups for family members and children
Spiritual guidance and comfort is offered as requested to incarcerated individuals of all faiths. For years our board of directors has been a true cross-section of age, race, vocations, and religions. Our mission is to sensitively assist each individual, helping them to develop confidence and independence. Their challenge is to learn to function as law-abiding members of a sometimes critical, cynical, and unforgiving society.
Chrysalis Ministries is the only one-stop reentry center in town, so we receive literally thousands of referrals each year. More than 2,000 formerly incarcerated individuals were provided a variety of reentry services last year. Support services were provided to more than 1,200 family members, including children.
Christmas, “Stuff the Backpack”, birthday, and a “Happy Feet” tennis shoe program were enjoyed by more than 800 children of the incarcerated. For the past seven years, the annual recidivism rate for the formerly incarcerated provided services through Chrysalis Ministries has remained steady at less than 15%.
Here’s a good example of one of Chrysalis Ministries’ success stories:
Steven (not his real name) was incarcerated on felony drug charges in federal prison for three and a half years. Upon his release he spent six months at the Crosspoint, a mandatory transitional living facility for individuals released from federal prisons.
In late 2010, Steven came to Chrysalis Ministries for assistance. He attended a weekly support group for formerly incarcerated men and received assistance paying his utility bill. Steven had always had an interest in becoming a HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician, as he had an uncle who owned a local HVAC business. He applied to go through the 90-day program through the Alpha & Omega Career Center, paid for by Chrysalis Ministries with funds generously provided by community development block grant money through Bexar County.
Steven did well in the program, but struggled towards the end. He had attendance issues and was bored with the program. Chrysalis Ministries staff worked closely with Steven to set goals and encouraged him to continue to pursue his dream. Steven graduated from the program successfully in March of 2011.
He passed all of his tests and received his certifications, and was then employed by his uncle’s company. The company grew and prospered rapidly. Today, Steven owns the company and is doing exceptionally well. He has even hired other Chrysalis Ministries clients who have completed the Alpha & Omega HVAC program! He is living proof that the formerly incarcerated can successfully reenter the community.
Our favorite quote: “There is not a single offense which does not, directly or indirectly affect many others besides the actual offender. Hence, whether an individual is good or bad is not merely his own concern but really the concern of the whole community, nay, of the whole world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Carol Lockett is executive director of Chrysalis Ministries. She can be reached by phone at (210) 299-4540 ext. 112 or by email at email@example.com. Chrysalis Ministries can also be found on Facebook.