One way I identify hidden voices is from the comments I receive through my work with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. I’ve heard: “He committed a crime. Why should I help him?”
Formerly incarcerated people have a hard time after they have paid their dues for their crime. Landlords often will not rent to them and employers will not hire them.
Reentering society brings real problems for real people. If we as a community do not recognize these issues and find ways to address them, then the likelihood of the ex-offender returning to incarceration is high indeed, as high as 65% within three years.
I have been fortunate to be part of redesigning and then facilitating a ReEntry Simulation. This simulation allows participants to experience the challenges of reentering society after being incarcerated. So far, simulation participants have been probation and parole officers, employers, a few newly released ex-offenders, and agency staff people who work with a high percentage of former convicts. In this simulation, there are challenges of getting and paying the fees for identification papers within the month, of finding a place to live, and of having money for regular, required drug testing, paying child support, and buying food and transportation tickets. Participants also juggle going to AA/NA, employment or the Career Center, and/or Vocational Rehabilitation. The only quick money in the simulation is using the pawn shop or selling one’s plasma.
Being part of this process, I have learned more about how hidden are the voices of people who have as part of their history their criminal record. I have wondered even more deeply why can’t the time in prison be used for constructive, life stabilizing, life re-creating activities and opportunities? Why must the voices of these human beings, these our brothers and sisters, be stifled and thereby limit the God-given potential in each person? Why must their voices for hope for a new life be so hidden?