The doors to the re-entry services in Chicago all have pictures of little black guns on them. Little black guns with big red lines through them.
Please don’t bring your weapons into this service okay?
Prisoner reintegration with no guns inside.
’cause ah, you know….
It’s probably a good place to start.
My hotel has a guy who stands outside and hands out umbrellas when it rains. To guests like me who have not thought hard enough about the weather.
He is the umbrella guy.
And this is fancy pants downtown.
There are not so many umbrella guys in the other neighbourhoods I’ve visited.
HEAPS of guys.
Hanging about. Doing guy loitering on street corner type things.
It’s so HARD here.
That’s what I keep thinking.
Everyone trying so hard in different ways. To get jobs. To make money. To get by.
And then to see the trajectory of those kids on those corners.
You can still get locked up for years for a non-violent drug offence.
You can still then come out of prison after all those years with nothing but a bus ticket back home.
But if the disaster of mass incarceration has produced anything, it might be the bunch of radically committed, smart and just-getting-the-hell-on-with-it people working with the organisations I’ve visited over the last few days. I’m basically deeply in love with everybody.
And the services. They do all of the stuff you might imagine would be critical for people coming out of prison; providing essential jobs training and placement, housing support, drug and alcohol treatment, networked case-management, social enterprises, community building, peer-led support; basically finding a stack of ways for people getting out of prison to find a sense of belonging (and all of this in astonishing, documented, recidivism busting ways).
But that’s not it. It doesn’t stop at individual support. At the same time these organisations are also jumping up and down. About criminal records and employment. About the state of prisons. About the lack of affordable housing. About the absence of drug treatment. About resourcing. About bail. About diversion. And more. So much more. And this systemic advocacy happens in the most polite, strategic, non-alienating, jumping up and down ways possible. But there is no doubt that systems change is core to what these organisations are about.
And oh man…When I am walking past those doors with the terrifying guns, with my borrowed umbrella, through freezing (THIS IS SURELY NOT TRULY SPRING) Chicago, that combination of practical pragmatic support, in combination with EXTREME perseverance in shifting discriminatory structures has this nerdy little social work heart beating hard. So much to learn here. So. Much.