You have a long road ahead of you, to be sure. But there are many people and organizations that can help you navigate life on the outside.
In fact, help for released prisoners comes in many different forms, from your family and friends to halfway houses to non-profit organizations that help prisoners. Whatever the case, there are many resources to assist you.
Here are five tips for building a solid support network after your release from prison.
Reconnect With Your Family
For most ex-offenders, immediate family is the primary means of support. Whether it’s your spouse, a sibling, parents, or grandparents, reconnecting with your family will go a long way in making your transition to freedom a smoother one.
Having close ties with your family isn’t just about easing your transition back to a free life. According to Brunton-Smith and McCarthy (2016), prisoners that have strong family ties are at a much lower risk of reoffending. What’s more, close family ties are associated with reduced rates of drug use.
In other words, your family is likely to support you with love, care, a roof over your head, and maybe even a job. But perhaps more importantly, having close ties with them will make it less likely for you to get in trouble again.
Reach Out to Friends
There is a real likelihood that you have lost friends as a result of your incarceration. But those that have stuck with you after your conviction are certainly worth having in your life.
Being an “ex-con” or a “parolee” has negative connotations. You might be ashamed or embarrassed about the crime of which you were convicted. There is a social stigma of having a criminal record as well. Because of this, it can be tempting to withdraw and not socialize with others.
This is a mistake, though. The more connections you have with other people, the greater the support network you will have, and the more people that will be there to help you along on your journey. This approach is being used in some states, like Kentucky, where programs that seek to help inmates reconnect with family and friends have helped reduce the rates of reoffending.
Get Involved in the Community
For most ex-offenders, your family and friends are going to be the most important sources of support after your release. But you shouldn’t stop building relationships there.
In fact, it’s important that you make an effort to get involved in the community.
You might join a church. You can volunteer with a local charity. Maybe you join a recreation league. You could also seek out support groups for former inmates and other organizations that help prisoners. Whatever the case, getting involved in the community has many benefits for you:
- Improved socialization
- Feelings of belonging
- Opportunity to do good
Likewise, getting involved in positive community events helps others to see your value and worth as an individual, rather than seeing you as the stigma of an “ex-con.”
And as explained by Visher and Travis (2003), many prison systems have historically not done a good job in preparing inmates for the transition back to the community. But by making a diligent effort to get yourself involved in positive community experiences, you can make the transition from prison to community that much smoother.
A related point to the notion of getting involved in the community is finding ways to give back.
For many ex-inmates, there is a great sense of remorse and regret regarding their offense. Finding ways to do some good in your community might help you work through those feelings and realize that you have positive things to offer other people.
If you have particular skills – carpentry, for example – you might volunteer with a local organization to clean up and repair the homes of older residents. If you’re skilled in auto mechanics, perhaps you do what you can to help someone in need get their vehicle back in running condition.
Doing good for others can boost your mood, improve self-confidence, and though it can’t make up for past crimes, it can perhaps help you make amends and begin the journey to becoming a valued member of your community.
Ask for Help
Quite simply, if you find that you’re struggling after your release, be willing to ask for help – and accept help when it is offered.
Pride isn’t a bad thing, but don’t let it get in your way of building the life you want for yourself. Additionally, don’t wait too long to ask for help. You don’t want to be in dire straits when you reach out to others for assistance.
Instead, stay in tune with your needs and with how things are going, and if you find that you’re spinning your wheels a little bit, it’s time to seek help for released prisoners.
Brunton-Smith, I., & McCarthy, D.J. (2016). The effects of prisoner attachment to family on re-entry outcomes: A longitudinal assessment. British Journal of Criminology, 57(2), 463-382. DOI:10.1093/bjc/azv129
Visher, C.A., & Travis, J. (2003). Transitions from prison to community: Understanding individual pathways. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 89-113. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.095931
Sean Jackson April 2020
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