When we hear the latest government unemployment statistics, certain images might come to mind: homemakers returning to the workforce; workers dislocated due to downsizing; recent college or high school grads; or welfare recipients struggling to regain independence. However, there is one image that rarely…or never…comes to mind: the newly-released, or soon-to-be-released, prison population; ex-offenders re-entering society and, hopefully the workforce lest they fall prey to recidivism. All KRA workforce services programs serve the employment and training needs of ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis; however, one program in particular has created a specific outreach/re-entry program for this special-needs population: the KRA Richmond Returning Citizens Program.
Recently, KRA Career Agents Neal Bowen, Lydia Brown, and Natalie Whitehead-Jacobus participated in a panel discussion on The Effects of Inmate Incarceration on the Family, at the request of the Powhatan Correctional Facility. For the fourth member of the team, KRA Career Agent Leroi Mason, this was indeed a critical mission. Mason, who is also the Coordinator of the Returning Citizens Program, was the subject of the October, 28, 2011 KRA Spotlight! issue, has been employed by KRA for 16 months…and is an ex-offender who spent 37 years at Powhatan. Mason knows only too well the heartaches and hardships facing ex-offenders after their release.
Six topics were presented to the inmates in advance of the discussion for them to formulate questions for the panel. Gary Fletcher, KRA Program Manager, reported, “The topics were right on target. The inmates were very attentive and receptive to the advice and information provided by the KRA representatives, each of whom answered questions with sincerity and compassion.” Fletcher continued, “Many inmates had concerns about reconnecting with their siblings, other family members, and loved ones; how to re-establish parental rights; how to maintain a positive attitude despite circumstances and rejection; how to change past behaviors; and of course, employment opportunities.”
Upon conclusion of the discussion, many inmates expressed their gratitude to the KRA staff for coming out to speak with them and to hear their concerns. One inmate is reported to have stated, “It takes courage to ‘do the right thing’, but because of the passion I see in all of you for what you do, and the ‘grounded’ advice given, today my life was changed”! Powhatan has extended an invitation for a return visit from the KRA Richmond Returning Citizens team. Note: Last month, the Virginia Department of Corrections commended KRA and its Richmond Returning Citizens Program for its successful outreach/re-entry partnership with the Chesterfield Women’s Detention & Diversion Center Program.