What people need to thrive when they leave incarceration 

How are we going to be able to help our returning citizens come back into society? They’re not bad people. They were taught wrong, or they didn’t have a survival kit. Most of the time when people do bad things, it’s for survival. I look at it like this: Everybody makes a mistake. You can learn from your mistakes to become better. 

They got in trouble, but what are they going to do now in the community? Are they an asset, or are they a liability? Most of the time people come home and become an asset to society. But some become a liability. And so we have a lot of work to do. What do people need to be successful when they walk out? They need living skills, financial literacy, and relationship counseling on every level. 

When they come home, they have a lot of anger, frustration, and sadness built up. And so we need to talk about anger management, about how to deal with things when people are angry or upset, about what makes you mad, what makes you sad, what makes you depressed. When we start talking about these things, it makes people better. We need to put more counselors in the community. It would lower the fights, the violence, the frustration, and would pretty much make the community safer.

There are problems in the justice system that need to be fixed. Some people can’t afford lawyers, so we need a law firm that can interact with people who need affordable attorneys. Court cases are backed up because of Covid-19. We worry about the wrong topics instead of the right topics, and so we should do an evaluation of which cases to prioritize so we don’t waste a lot of tax dollars. If a case doesn’t have hard evidence, it needs to be thrown out. You have people locked up for a long period of time, and they have a due date to come back into society; those are the cases we need to be worried about, not petty charges. Also, the judges are quick to judge people, to tell them that they’re dangerous to society, they’re bad people, and we want to lock you up. I don’t think people are bad. When you feed that to them, you make them more aggressive. 

When people get released, they should go to a federal university for hands-on training for a cooking license or a commercial driver’s license, or to start a business and open a bank account, so that we don’t end up babysitting them when they come out. 

To prevent people from being incarcerated, we need to focus on the young. We need to hire more counselors inside the school system, to ask kids how they feel, how their living situation is, how their family is treating them. Kids are taught what they see. A lot of them didn’t have relatives they could call on to say, “I’m having a crisis.” They need a mom, a dad, an aunt, a sister, a big brother, to show them the path. 

That’s something I didn’t have when I was young: a strong support team. When you have that support, it changes a lot in the community. It can lower the crime rate.

Maurice Spears is a vendor and an artist with Street Sense Media.

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