2023 has been a year of growth and development for Better Life Integration and Support as we continue to refine our process for providing a healthy reintegration experience for offenders and parolees who ask for faith community reintegration.
While Better Life recognizes that each individual is unique (has a distinct story and experience), we also understand that healthy reintegration requires specific structure, system, and support.
In fact, this past summer (2023), we developed a new set of Faith Community Reintegration videos for individuals and faith communities providing reintegration support to access online. These short videos are built around:
To access this free online training resource, please email email@example.com for the link and password.
Over the next three blogs/newsletters, we’ll also look in more detail at the three components of healthy reintegration, as outlined above.
We begin with having a clear understanding of Reintegration Structure.
We picture Reintegration Structure as a Bridge. In fact, you'll often hear us refer to the "Reintegration Bridge."
The Reintegration Bridge is composed of four parts:
The Support holds the weight and stress of the bridge
The Onramp is where the bridge is entered
The main Body of the bridge
The Offramp is the exit from the bridge
1. The SUPPORT
We all recognize how essential support is for a (structural) bridge. Comprehensive support is just as essential for Reintegration, and not just in the sense of providing support to the parolee, but also in giving a mentor or volunteer the capacity and strength to provide reintegration support.
On one hand, providing reintegration support isn’t for the faint of heart. Every experience of providing support is unique, ranging from parolees that need intensive support, to those who require little support, but the experience can often be intense.
At the same time, there is such an opportunity for mentors and volunteers of faith to experience life transformation, both in themselves and in the individual they are supporting.
As you consider providing reintegration support, you can ask yourself the following questions:
How would you rate yourself in terms of your personal health, your emotional health, your relational health, your self-awareness?
How clear is your practice of personal boundaries? (If you’re unclear about the idea of boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend wrote an excellent book on boundaries.)
Where do you get your support from?
How do your faith and faith practices provide you with clarity and strength when you are investing in others?
Of course these aren’t questions solely for providing reintegration support, but healthy life principles for each of us.
As you invest yourself in providing reintegration support, you need to be clear on where you gain your support to enable you to support another. As you enter into providing reintegration support, have a plan of what you are proactively doing so that you are and remain healthy.
Identify the people you can go to if you are feeling challenged, or discouraged, or in need of direction. It may be a group of close friends, a spiritual leader, or mentor from your faith community. We encourage you to identify those people in your life that can support you and pray for you as you begin this journey.
Without question, the experience of providing a parolee with reintegration support can be one of the greatest opportunities for you to grow in your own spiritual life.
2. The ONRAMP
The Onramp is well defined for Better Life. It illustrates what is normally a period of up to 12 months where support is offered to an offender in the Correctional Institution.
An inmate contacts Better Life, either through a prison chaplain, through their Institutional Parole Officer, or personally through the Better Life toll free number.
A Better Life staff member dedicated to that inmate’s specific prison meets with them and undertakes an intake interview.
During the interview there are specific questions that we ask, but in general, we are seeking to understand an inmate’s motivation and the degree of interest they have in seeking reintegration support from a faith community.
One of Better Life’s non-negotiables is the willingness of an inmate to provide full disclosure.
We take a faith community’s trust very seriously, and therefore, view an inmate’s willingness to provide full disclosure an essential for their healthy reintegration experience and for the potential of their relationship with the faith community, mentors and volunteers.
What’s significant for mentors and volunteers to understand is during that 12 month period, a Better Life staff member is working closely with the inmate to develop a relationship of trust with them, to understand their correctional management plan and team, and to begin building a connection with a potential faith community for when they achieve a positive parole hearing outcome.
The relationship of trust between the inmate and the Better Life staff member is invaluable for the faith community to understand the needs of the inmate and the faith community's potential to support them.
3. The BODY of the Bridge
Best practice in healthy reintegration is, as an inmate enters into parole, they are quickly connected with their supportive faith community. This connection may have already been established while the inmate was within the Correctional Institution.
Better Life's practice is that the week an individual enters parole, if not the day of, the parolee is introduced to a representative of their respective faith community.
At times, the individual’s community parole officer may request to be included in this meeting.
During the initial meeting the parolee will share their story. A Parolee’s willingness to share their story helps to ensure their safety and the safety of the faith community as well, and begins to create a healthy reintegration pathway.
The initial meeting is also an opportunity for the faith community representative to talk about the ways a parolee can access the community and experience their support.
While each of the four stages of the Reintegration Bridge are important, the contribution of Stage Three is invaluable. It is in and through the faith community that a parolee experiences:
The opportunity to experience trusted relationship(s)
Engagement in empowering faith practices
Support for the tangible needs that a parolee may have, including:
Therapy, which may address areas of Trauma, Addiction and Mental Health
4. The OFFRAMP
The goal of reintegration is a healthy reintegration experience, with the ultimate outcome that a parolee becomes a contributing member of society.
However, it’s important to recognize that healthy reintegration isn’t always linear.
In other words, reintegration support doesn’t guarantee that the parolee will never again experience challenges with addiction, or mental health, certain temptations or unhealthy behaviours.
A Parolee's experiences along the reintegration pathway are always informing those that provide support with a clearer picture of what is going to help the parolee move forward in their reintegration.
For instance, an offender enters parole and is provided with reintegration support by loving, wise caregivers. But the offender cannot overcome the temptations of their addiction, and by giving into their addiction, has parole revoked because they breached their conditions.
It may be easy to believe that the caregivers failed to provide healthy reintegration support. However, instead of a sense of failure, such experiences are invaluable in helping provide a more holistic, comprehensive pathway for the parolee.
The parolee’s challenges with addiction, or any challenges for that matter, alert us to the specifics of what the individual needs to move forward.
For an individual that struggles with challenges with alcohol or drug addiction, the new plan will include the individual going into addiction treatment.
For those who are challenged by sexual addiction, the new plan will include becoming a member of a CoSA group that specifically provides structure and accountability for sexual addiction.
For those who are overwhelmed by trauma, or are challenged by other issues of mental health/illness, the new plan will include being under the care of a therapist, or a psychiatrist, if medication is required for treatment.
The point is, we use the awareness that comes from the parolee’s experience to inform what a healthy reintegration pathway will look like for the individual.
In conclusion, the support and development of trusted relationships that come from members of a parolee’s faith community are invaluable for their healthy reintegration.
While a parolee’s reintegration may not always be linear, the development of trusted relationships with faith community caregivers can be life changing.
In the next Better Life Newsletter we will look at the importance of having a clear REINTEGRATION SYSTEM.