Imagine leaving your town and returning to it after two decades.
It doesn’t look like the place you always called your home. Depressing, right?
This is how older inmates feel when they return after a long sentence. There is nothing left of the world they once lived in. They have limited resources. Some prisoners are released with only clothes on their back, possibly $10 to $200, and maybe a bus ticket to their possible destination.
While life on the outside has evolved, for them, life in prison changed very little. They realize this upon release and fear of the future takes over, making them vulnerable again.
Life after prison for older inmates
It is difficult for anyone to adjust to normal life after prison time. For older inmates, this challenge is often accompanied by the problems associated with aging like physical weakness, financial instability, and need for special care.
Not just that, they usually face graver family issues. Being away for so long with hardly any emotional connection makes it difficult for the family to accept them back. There is lingering bitterness, anger, and feelings of abandonment. By now, they most often do not even have any friends to turn to.
They are alone and vulnerable
Additionally, financial security is also an issue. Getting a job is another problem as the skills they once possessed are now outdated. They are not physically strong to take up jobs that involve high-intensity physical activity. Plus, who wants to trust and employ an individual with a criminal background?
Isolated and hopeless, they are likely to resort to behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse that increase their chances of returning to prison.
Making this second chance a virtue
It is our responsibility to help them adjust to society. Even if you are not a family, showing anyone compassion and guidance can not only benefit their spirit, but it will also fulfil yours.
Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Re-entry Institute at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has come up with a “Success in the Community” matrix. According to her, a person’s successful re-entry into society can be viewed through how adequately they are able to meet six basic life needs: livelihood, residence, family, health, criminal justice compliance, and social connections.
How you can help
Though the Government is doing a lot towards the rehabilitation of older inmates, some of these needs call for special care–not just financially, but more so emotionally. They need close, personalized support and a reassurance that they are wanted in society. They need to be reminded that they are not only forgiven, but also loved.
Let us review the six basic life needs that you can assist with to show someone compassion for their successful re-entry:
• Livelihood: Finding financial stability plays a key role in the rehabilitation of older inmates. Since they are not physically strong any longer, finding a relevant job can be difficult. Offer them a job if you can or at least assist them in finding a good job by enrolling them into government employment assistance programs.
• Residence: When they return from prison, offer them a place to stay if they do not have one. If they are staying at a shelter or a halfway home, visit them as often as possible.
• Family: Motivate them to do their best in coping with their new life. The warmth of your friendship will be their guiding light.
• Health: There are many health challenges that accompany aging. You can assist the individual by helping to enroll them into the government assistance programs. There are many offered. Including insurance coverage, health awareness programs, and overall guidance.
• Criminal justice compliance: Your encouragement can steer them away from choosing a lifestyle of crime. If mandated, help them to remember the appointments with their parole/probation officers or any required programs.
• Social connections: You know people and can help them in rebuilding social connections. Having a friend, they can reach out to can prove to be fundamental to their successful reintegration into society.
Over to you
You can definitely do a lot towards rehabilitating older inmates, but it all starts with knowing them well. Through InCom Mail you can reconnect with them as family or make pen pal friends with them sometime before release. You can write them beautiful encouraging letters, amazing customized cards, and also send them the gift of imagination and inspiration through books.
Your unconditional support can change a life and reward you with a feeling of overall happiness.