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“There is no viable transition plan for people coming out of jail. Transition is the biggest thing to help people coming out to be more positive.” Impact Hub Boston hosted “Reentry Hackathon: Civil Hacking Is Civil” hosted where recently released men and women shared the insurmountable roadblocks and barriers they faced in their efforts to reinsert themselves into society and at the same time reconnect with humanity. 

 “Boston is resource rich but not resource rich in equity”

“As soon as you walk out of prison, there’s an immediate hurdle to jump over. Do you have people to help you over the hurdle?  Do you know what to do to even get over the hurdle?”  Such frustration brought the audience face to face with a truth they had no reference for.  Transition for those who have never been in jail is nothing more than a job recommendation, a good word from a colleague, a simple completion of an apartment application, or enrolling in a class to learn a new skill.  But for those who have been incarcerated, transition is by blunt definition being released from a concrete building into a world that is foreign to them. Many don’t even know how to operate a smart phone beyond making and receiving calls.

The featured speaker, Milton Irving of the Timothy Smith Network spoke on technology, equity and how society make those changes happen for everyone. He began with the common ground that is human aspiration and the dreams we all have but quickly illuminated the disparity between the quality of life one should have and the quality of life one has access to. Why is there a gap in this rich city and where is the outrage over such?, he inquired. Boston is resource rich but not resource rich in equity.  He proposed a contract of give and take to build a bridge of the information gap between the haves and the haves not, between those returning to society and those humming along in it.  To believe in others may mean getting a bit less but it will help move them forward. 

“Trauma is ever present in the correctional system and there are limited services for people exiting the system.”

The panel echoed this frustration with insight those of us who have never been incarcerated could understand. Transition and support for a returning citizen is anchored on the importance of social engagement, of returning to the human society that is the city of Boston and allowing the rebuilding of self respect and acceptance by others.  But roadblocks and hurdles do their best to deter such progress. One major hurdle is trauma and all agreed that “Prison is trauma, yet you can’t do therapy in prison.” One panelist was a representative of the Boston Area Rape Center, an initiative that works extensively with the Suffolk County Prison.  He noted that trauma is ever present in the correctional system and there are limited services for people exiting it. Simple things like getting a bus pass, not knowing where they are or even how to get to various locations present roadblocks of trauma to the recently released.  Programs in the city don’t reach every one and for those emotionally struggling, it makes accessing these programs much harder. Depression and addiction naturally isolates individuals and shame keeps them from seeking the help they need most.  So many returning to society with trauma and without any family support may find themselves assigned to a shelter, a place where addictions and criminal activity can be a breeding ground.  Securing employment can also be a barricade to a returning citizen’s best efforts. There is no official list of CORI friendly companies and if you’re in a pre-lease program, there is a fixed amount of time to secure employment or you can find yourself back behind bars.

With such seemingly insurmountable challenges, the Hackathon commenced focusing on categories that impacted returning citizens the most like healthcare, education, employment training and housing.  Each group launched into these topics only to find more frustrating layers underneath. Questions and ideas were buoyed about from landlord bias to companies that although were more CORI friendly, still required training which many returning citizens did not have. This Hackathon brought many together to create solutions to address the challenges returning citizens face and problem solve so reinserting in society gives them the dignity we all cherish, as humans first and then as members of society.