You might imagine that the day someone is released from prison would be the best and happiest day of their incarceration. But that’s not always the case.
Many agonize over leaving. Why? Because they’ll walk out to freedom with no more than that. No clothes, money, phone minutes, or even a valid ID. No job — and often not a single friend or family member they can go back to. Alone on a bus at the end of the line, they have no idea where to go or what to do next.
Having the right kind of help in those first hours and days is critical to making a successful return to society. So is having ongoing help for weeks, months, and even years to come.
Thanks to generous support from donors to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentian volunteers are receiving the spiritual formation and training they need to serve neighbors in need with the most effective person-to-person assistance possible. The success of the Society’s Immersion Reentry Program is one example.
Begun in early 2019, Immersion provides citizens returning to their communities with caring and compassionate support from Vincentian volunteers along every step of their journey. Immediate help includes providing transitional services during the first 72 hours after release, as well as basics like food, clothing, and shelter. Longer-term support includes mentoring, employment assistance, education, help reconnecting with loved ones, advocacy, and securing permanent housing.
“We are following in the footsteps of our founders,” says Peter Kortright. He and Diana Reeves co-founded Immersion in their Attleboro, Massachusetts Council. Frédéric Ozanam and the first Vincentians encountered these same situations nearly two hundred years ago. The first Home Visits they carried out eventually became the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They offered practical and prudent ways to reflect God’s mercy.
“Visiting the prisoner who is preparing to reenter the community is quite like a Home Visit, God is asking us to pay special attention to those least of us who may need it.”
“Nobody anywhere gets paid to accompany someone so closely for so long in their journey back to self-sufficiency,” Kortwright says. “Vincentians do it for love, with the traditions, mission, and zeal of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and guidance from the Holy Spirit.”
The power of praying together, listening, empathizing, organizing, and taking action means the world to brothers and sisters who are rebuilding their lives.
Over 2019 – 2021, volunteers accompanied Christine step-by-step following her release from prison. Along the road they offered grocery gift cards, bus passes, clothing, and rent to enter a “sober house” for two months. There were empowerment classes, job applications, and help to regain custody of her children. There were shared tears and cheers, and many prayers of gratitude.
Last July, with the Society’s assistance in funding a security deposit, Christine moved into her own space — the biggest step so far in her journey forward. “It’s small and it’s kind of ugly, but it has a lock on the door and it is mine,” she said with a smile.