Mentors who attended our January Seedling Mentor Training were asked to consider and respond to this complex question which deeply affects our mentees.
The varying responses of the group led to a candid dialogue about the sobering challenges awaiting individuals released from prison.
Unless a loved one takes them in, basic needs such as housing, food, and employment are not readily accessible.
- The application process for private as well as public housing requires a criminal background check. All housing authorities are given broad discretion by HUD to determine their own criminal history screening criteria. The Housing Authority of the City of Austin has a 4 year look back period and additionally reserves the right to deny housing based on a pattern of behavior. Private landlords often have longer look back periods and can be hesitant to provide housing to those with a criminal background.
- In Texas, individuals convicted of a drug felony after 1996 can never receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families nor Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (“food stamps”).
- Finding stable work is an enormous barrier for the formerly incarcerated. Many, already lacking a high school diploma, job skills, and community support, must now face the stigma attached to hiring a person having been incarcerated. While the government has strategies in place to give incentives to employers for hiring former offenders, individuals often don’t receive the employment support they need, and still the majority of employers are nervous to hire them.
Depending on individual circumstances, a minimum sentence is no less than two years. Most individuals released from incarceration have no other options but to return to the same community, negative influences, and family dysfunction experienced before their conviction. Those who struggled with addiction or poor mental health before being sent to prison will most likely continue to struggle due to little or no rehabilitation therapy during their incarceration. Imagine these overwhelming obstacles, coupled with all the feelings of returning into the lives of one’s child and family.
Coping with this degree of change is challenging for children and families. Mentors sometimes wonder if they are still needed when their mentee’s parent returns home from prison.
It is a rare case when the answer is no. The mentor’s presence as a consistent, caring adult who can act as the sounding board becomes more important than ever.
~Seedling Mentor Program Staff