Program to bridge the gap between society and ex-convicts | News, Sports, Jobs


WHEELING – Those leaving prison life often struggle to ensure it remains in the past.

A training seminar aimed at reintegrating ex-convicts into society – and teaching members of society how to help them integrate – was held in Wheeling last week. The Building Bridges to a Better Community program was organized by the Mother Jones Center for Resilient Community, UpLIFT WV, REACH and the West Virginia Council of Churches.

Offender Workforce Development Specialist Bev Sharp, with 30 years of experience in corrections at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said the program included discussions on several issues related to how society creates channels to incarceration, the challenges faced by those seeking to reintegrate into society, and to raise awareness of how the more than 850 collateral consequences of prison affect former inmates.

“There are a number of direct pipelines that we have created as a society that have resulted in our nation incarcerating more people than any other nation in the world, with the highest recidivism rate,” said Sharp.

“The workshop is designed to give a historical perspective of how we got here, what the collateral consequences are – because in West Virginia there are 851 collateral consequences of having a criminal record – and then we work to help people learn to collaborate with community partners, to help people overcome these consequences.

While working in corrections, Sharp said she repeatedly heard the same things from inmates, which gradually grew inside her, leading her to change her way of thinking. to incarceration. Sharp began her career as a corrections officer and retired as director of human resources and training at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“I worked in federal prisons for 30 years and had the opportunity to interact with thousands of people as they went through the prison system,” said Sharp. “I heard over and over again, ‘The system is not designed for us to do this.’ When you hear that many times you think that’s just the person, but when you hear it literally hundreds and hundreds of times over your career you start thinking, wow, is there really something about that?

“When you start to see how easy it is to send someone back to prison – not that they make the choice, but if they miss an appointment with a probation officer, if they test positive to a urine test once, if they don’t pay their fines and fees instead of buying medicine or going to work or whatever – if they do a wrong choice is like a board game. You go back to jail immediately.

Former inmate Ryan Ewing said of the group of 12 he was paroled with, the lack of connections and inability to integrate into society spelled disaster for almost all, several eventually dying or returning to prison.

“We are people too, and the community needs to be more aware of our struggles,” he said. “Everything you’re going to do, when you get out of jail, there’s kind of a roadblock. There’s something holding you back, whether it’s released with no money, or you have nowhere to go, or you go somewhere new and experience culture shock.

“(People) need to be aware that if they want crime and recidivism to be down, they have to play the part, give us a hand,” Ewing added. “We made mistakes, but we did parole for a reason. We try to live our lives and do better in life.

“For me, I dated 12 guys; we had no resources, no community support. Out of 12 of us, four died, they started doing drugs again and died of overdoses. Four are back in jail, two are on the run,” He continued. “Only two of us survived because we got help from the community. These are real, lived numbers.

Mother Jones executive director Kate Marshall said that while the large number of people incarcerated and released can raise awareness of the extent of the problem if they don’t know someone personally affected, the community as a whole has need compassion to overcome the problem of recidivism.

“When we hear about recidivism or reintegration, if we don’t have someone we know, it can seem like a very disconnected issue from our daily lives,” said Marshal. “When you look at the numbers, 38,000 people go to prison and 37,000 re-enter (society) every year, that has a definite impact on the fabric of our own lives and how our communities function.

“These are potential employees, these are people who will make our community tomorrow. Their success is our success, and when that doesn’t work, the impacts aren’t just financial, but they also impact how our communities are able to cope.

Resources for those interested in assisting with reentry are available at wvreentry.org, including contact information for local reentry councils throughout the state.

Another Building Bridges workshop will be held in June at the Wheeling YWCA.



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Ryan H. Bowman