By Emily Kleeman, Executive Director of The Reentry Initiative
Through The Gates, A Warm Welcome
The waiting area in prison is bustling with DOC Officers checking in for their shifts. They lay out their belongings one by one, silver handcuffs, keys, a badge and a lunch box. It’s only 7:30 am and you can feel the anticipation of officers and staff gearing up for their day.
She is smiling ear to ear – I hear the officer and her chuckle to each other the common phrase, “I hope to never see you again.” She is dressed in the standard prison-issued release clothing: khakis that appear to be too large for her frame, a black t-shirt, and black shoes that may or may not fit, and socks that aren’t white anymore. Similar to the required uniform she has been wearing for the last 3 years. She is carrying what is left of her belongings she has acquired or innovatively created for survival, and some artwork, in a clear trash bag. The clear trash bag is a scarlet letter that symbolizes release from incarceration.
“Lainey!” I gleefully call her name as she walks through the 2 steel doors and 3 metal gates and greets me in the waiting room and hesitantly walks towards me. I greet her with a huge bear hug. She says, “Are we allowed to do this?” and looks back at the officers. I say, “Of course, you’re out.” “I can’t believe I am free!” she squeals. Lainey is released with the clothes on her back, the plastic bag, and a manila folder with a checklist of items that may or may not be in the folder, such as: a state issued ID, temporary Medicaid card, confirmation of her parole office location and previously signed parole agreement. It is in this moment that I realize, had we not been there to pick her up at the gate, she would be utterly alone. After we embrace, I hand her the fresh clothing items we purchased on her behalf and a backpack so that she can change before we gather for her first meal as a free woman. Now, she is unencumbered by the scarlet letter prison release clothing and trash bag.
Support & Transformation
Within the first 3 hours of release, we share a meal together at IHOP. With every bite she takes, a piece of her soul begins to come back to life. Her once pale white face is regaining the red color in her cheeks. She savors every bite of freshly made buttery pancakes and talks to her support team about her experience. She shows immense gratefulness to have us in her life.
Over the course of several months, we dutifully assist with bringing our client back to life. Through stabilization including supportive transitional housing, connection to employment, mental health and substance abuse services and financial assistance with basic needs; she obtains gainful employment, rebuilds her social support network and begins to experience the pleasantries of life. She states that she would most likely be living on the street and “back to her old ways” had she not signed up for our course inside.
It was through our intensive, year-long, therapeutic pre-release program, TRIumph, where our client states the connection was solidified and one of the only answers to decreasing her ability to reoffend. See in this time, she had an army of support behind her. She has someone in her corner to hold her accountable, work through the tough hurdles of reentering a biased society, and the ability to do so in an environment that is non-threatening and safe to make mistakes.
A Mission of Forgiveness and Second Chances After Prison
It is stories like this one which show the need for organizations like The Reentry Initiative. Founded in 2016, The Reentry Initiative (TRI) is recognized for its unique, evidence-based process supporting individuals who are reentering the community from prison. Our mission is to empower individuals to transition from prison to a fulfilling and meaningful life through gender-specific services. In just three short years, TRI has evolved into a full-service organization offering a yearlong pre-release course inside Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, followed by post-release wraparound services offered in both Longmont and Denver. TRI is the only program in the state working with female inmates in a wraparound therapeutic approach prior to release. We have been recognized by state and local officials to be providing a needed service to pre-release and continue to expand our programming as requested.
TRI is 1 of 19 reentry programs in Colorado funded by Latino Coalition of Colorado through the Work And Gain Education Employment Skills (WAGEES) federal grant, to work with men and women on parole. Upon release we provide classes on self-sufficiency and connect participants with mentors and resources for mental health and substance abuse treatment as well as housing and employment. Our Longmont-based Welcome Back Center provides these services to both men and women, along with the TRI House which is a home for women on parole in Longmont.
Our service to others begins and ends in gratitude. Donate, volunteer or give supplies at https://www.reentryinitiative.org/fund-tri/.