Governor Roy Cooper has announced that April is Second Chance Month in North Carolina, a time to focus on the challenges facing the more than 20,000 people returning to their communities each year after completing sentences of incarceration. Barriers facing previously incarcerated individuals can be overwhelming. The Orange County Local Reentry Council is now in its fourth year of service to Orange County and its formerly incarcerated residents.
The purpose of the Local Reentry Council (LRC), as mandated by the N.C. Department of Public Safety, is to coordinate resources in the community in order to assist residents and their families as they transition from incarceration to society. In addition to assembling these resources and addressing gaps, the LRC and its umbrella agency, the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department, provide case management services, funding and support to formerly incarcerated clients.
This year was heavily influenced by COVID-19 and the attending restrictions and limitations. Due to the pandemic, the LRC and clients experienced challenges similar to those that most human services providers experienced and continue to experience. The work for both provider and client is tough and required creativity and adaption on all fronts.
Despite often overwhelming barriers, LRC clients experienced many successes this year. It is difficult to present them all, especially when there are so many different person-centered goals and needs for a client caseload that averages around 30. In the paragraphs below, the LRC celebrates a few client success stories to shine light, power, encouragement, and strengthened community support for a resilient population who have been navigating and adapting since well before COVID-19.
The first success story came to the LRC by way of referral from a community partner.
“I lost myself, completely, for a man. And when I say completely, I’m talking about a medical license, a driver’s license, my reputation, my integrity, my self-respect…my home and simultaneously gained 36 charges, a substance dependency, and a hopelessness I had never experienced in my life.”
This client came to us two years into their sobriety. They had goals and needed support, including a detailed look into their charges, help talking to employers and having their license reinstated. Referrals were sent, providers were connected, and goals began to develop. Now, six months after this client’s initial LRC intake, they will be obtaining their driver’s license and have secured gainful employment in their professional field.
“I am so proud of myself and believe me when I tell you there was a point when I never thought that would be possible again,” he said.
Some LRC clients are already on their way, working hard towards their goals, and just need a small intervention – a boost to get them past a difficult spot.
“I didn’t know how to ask. Well, maybe it was more I was embarrassed to ask. I remember calling twice and hung up after two rings (could’ve been one ring!) until I had enough nerve to talk to someone. But as the conversation went on, all I could express was gratitude for the welcome home bag, work boots, and funding for a first month’s rent. I still wasn’t able to work up the nerve to say ‘I need more support’. It’s shameful to be a man and ask another man for help. I work, I have stayed out of trouble since my release, but it’s still hard.”
The client called to ask for one more month of paid rental assistance. Since his release the month prior he had secured employment working third shift, six days a week, 12 hours a day. He had a direct path of goals he wanted to achieve and when he wanted to achieve them, and he was knocking them out.
At that point, he was only $500 shy of obtaining a car that he had been saving for and was working towards having his license reinstated. With a little encouragement from the LRC and a little courage on his end, he has purchased the car, gotten his license back, and now drives to work each day.
Some clients come directly from incarceration and need immediate assistance finding housing and employment. This client was referred to the LRC from Community Corrections (Probation/Parole). At the initial meeting, we discussed what fears and obstacles lay ahead and what support was needed. The client looked defeated and worn but still maintained a smile and nervous energy. We secured temporary housing for the immediate week in order to conduct a housing search of what was available for his needs. The following day I received a phone call from Orange Works at DSS, where they were drafting his new resume. They asked if the LRC could help with work items, including boots, pants, and a belt. After two weeks of intake paperwork, connections with service providers, and securing a longer-term (but still temporary) housing option, our client was ready to work.
“My first etching!” He brought a glass etching out during a case management meeting. The exquisite detail reflects the pride of creating something beautiful for the world rather than taking from it. The etching symbolized a lot, it wasn’t just a by-product of his employment and livelihood, but a reentry reflective of the grace, skill and steadfast patience often needed to navigate a daunting and overwhelming process.
At the Local Reentry Council, clients do the hard work of setting large and small goals and the incremental daily work of reaching those goals. The path isn’t always smooth, and the challenges of reentering society after incarceration with criminal charges on their background check, revoked drivers licenses, lack of a support network and employment and education gaps, can be overwhelming to manage alone. The LRC provides encouragement and support in navigating the bureaucracy and overcoming barriers so clients can focus on their goals and rebuild their lives.
Tiffany Bullard, M.SL., B.S
Orange County Local Reentry Council Case Manager
Orange County Local Reentry Council