I spent some time talking to a dear friend who spent 20 years in prison. When he became incarcerated he was 20 years old. He has been home for five years. We spoke at length about how long it takes a person to reintegrate after incarceration. It was difficult for him to give me a clear-cut answer to this complex question.
Initially he said, “It depends on the length of time the individual served. Transitioning back into society can vary for each individual. There are sociological factors, psychological factors, and economic factors that must be considered in order to understand how long it takes for a man or woman to reintegrate after incarceration.”
I pressed him for a more concise answer. He became quiet and began to reflect on his personal experiences with incarceration and reentry. Eventually he added, “Age makes a difference as well.” He referred to age in terms of the age an individual is when they become incarcerated and how old they are when they are released. I found myself wondering how relevant age is. I’m not quite sure it matters.
Then he mentioned the educational level of the incarcerated individual. He believes one’s intellectual capacity will impact the rate at which they reintegrate. “The level of maturity will vary for each individual and it’s important because with age often comes maturity, and with age an individual’s tolerance level often changes.”
Finally I asked my friend for a definitive answer. He continued “… It also depends on the support systems a person has in place when they are released. Different degrees of assistance can play a major role in a person’s ability to conform and become a law-abiding citizen. Assistance is obviously good, but there are degrees of assistance that can be damaging.” He was getting to the core of the challenge of the question.
It’s obvious that people in reentry need support just as anyone who is facing a life changing transition, but as my friend said, “Assistance beyond the basic necessities could handicap an individual. Too much support can hinder an individual’s strides toward independence and reduce their immediacy to fulfill their responsibilities. Too much support can cause mental laziness and can be enabling.” Ironically, not enough support can cause mental illness, relapse and recidivism. It can be a catch-22 situation.