I am perplexed by the daunting question of how much time it takes to reintegrate after prison. Maybe there is no concrete answer and it’s purely subjective. I find myself asking many of my acquaintances to answer this question.
Today I spoke to a comrade who served 11 years. I asked him how long it takes and he said, “I’m still in my reentry process.” Stunned I asked, “And how long have you been home?” He said, “15 years.” I laughed. He joined me. Then, I pressed him for an answer. He said, “If we look at what statistics say, a person has defied the odds of recidivism once they are home for three years, so if I had to answer that question I would say three years. It takes three years to successfully reintegrate.” He felt his answer was substantiated, but I don’t believe it was heartfelt.
Then, I told him about a previous conversation with a friend who has been home for four years who is struggling with employment, reentry and re-socialization. I told my comrade about an interesting analogy. “If a formerly incarcerated individual’s family member gives them the basic necessities like that which we receive in R & D (Receiving and Discharge) in prison, i.e. bed linen, a change of clothes, and soap, he/she will become more diligent in pursuing personal and professional goals in an effort to legitimize their lives faster, the same way we quickly accept responsibility for surviving in prison, adapting, and learning to prosper in a new environment.”
I shared with him the notion that too much support can prevent a person from learning to fend for himself or herself. He stated, “I believe people are able to clearly see their immediate goals if things are not so freely handed to them. Many people who come home to a car, free housing, food, and money can tend to take things for granted and think that these privileges are readily available. Some people are pushed by limited options. Dissatisfaction can be a person’s biggest motivation.”
My comrade admitted that how long it takes a person to reintegrate after incarceration depends solely on the type of assistance one receives. “But, in one or two years, an individual should be prepared to be a productive member of society, all things considered.”
Video: Adult Prison Re-entry Program – Virginia Department of Corrections
My friend used the example of a child learning to ride a bike. When the parent takes the training wheels off of the bike the child loses the first sense of security. Then, the parent holds the bicycle seat while the child rides. The child will look back to make sure you are holding the seat then, you have to let go in order for the child to learn to ride. From that point on that child will know how to ride a bike forever.
In reference to reentry, family members and supporters must find a healthy balance between helping a formerly incarcerated loved one get re-acclimated into society and hindering them from becoming self-sufficient.
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