A reentry plan should begin the moment the person arrives at prison Those who successfully “reenter” society after incarceration began that process many years before they were paroled. The recidivism rate, in my estimation, is caused by the lack of programs to help the incarcerated heal from the traumas that brought them to the point where they could commit the crimes they were convicted of. Taking responsibility for their actions and healing from their childhood trauma are two fundamental processes that make for a successful reentry.
VOEG is a group that meets once a week for two hours for approximately two years. There is a maximum of 12 participants in each group so everyone can dig deeply into their lives, especially their growing up years. Each group has a trained inmate facilitator and a trained facilitator from the outside.
The first major exercise they do is the Crime Impact Statement. One of the important questions they answer is “What happened in your life that led you to the point where you could commit your crime?” This starts to bring home the need for healing from their youth. One participant recently stated, “It is now starting to make sense.” The parental traits exercise shows them where they got some of the tendencies and habits they had at the time of their crime. One man remarked, “I became my father!” The timeline exercise shows them when the trauma in their life began and what unhealthy defense mechanisms they used to deal with it. One participant recalled being the front yard with his father and his brother and being shoved to the ground by his father when shooting started. His comment was “That wasn’t trauma; that was normal life in my neighborhood.” They come to understand that hurt people hurt people. We walk with them through a healing journey so they will reach the point where they can respond thoughtfully to a situation instead of reacting in a violent way.
The program ends with victim panels. In these six hour sessions, we match up each VOEG participant with a victim of a crime as similar to theirs as possible. Nothing is as powerful as sitting across the room from someone who has gone through what you put your victim through. Each of them shares their story and then there is a dialogue between them. You have to take responsibility for your actions when you are face-to-face with a victim. These end up being very healing for both parties.
Since 2012, 106 incarcerated men and women have completed VOEG at the three prisons where Healing Hearts Restoring Hope has facilitated:
As of 3/1/20:
47 have paroled and none have returned to prison;
14 others have been found suitable and are awaiting parole;
29 have parole hearing scheduled;
14 are awaiting consultations;
2 died in prison.
We see our VOEG facilitating as reentry work. Without programming similar to VOEG, without the support and structure of a self-reflective and healing program, a parolee will have difficulties with reentry. That process needs to start as soon as possible after incarceration if the actual “reentry” is going to be successful for the incarcerated, their families and communities.