Stories of Reentry: Caring for family amid addiction

Lydia Chwatek, not pictured, and Gable Crebs, left, tell the story of an anonymous woman’s struggle with addiction and reentering the community. PHOTO PROVIDED

Throughout Lycoming County, there are many people working hard to reenter the community after a period of incarceration or probation supervision. Lycoming College students stepped out of the classroom recently to interview participants of the Lycoming County Reentry Services Center in an attempt to draw awareness to the challenges of reentry and humanize the specific struggles individuals face, including substance abuse, mental health issues and employment.

On the PULSE will publish segments from six students’ reports on the reentry participants they interviewed. Today’s feature highlights an anonymous woman’s struggle to care for her family, despite her own addictions.

Lydia Chwatek and Gable Crebs tell anonymous woman’s story

Individuals formerly incarcerated carry with them a stigma that entails the belief that people who have committed crimes are perpetually bad … 

According to The United States Department of Justice’s reentry web-site, “over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities…Studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years of release…With no job, no money, and no place to live, returnees often find themselves facing the same pressures and temptations that landed them in prison in the first place.” 

This phenomenon of reentry relates to so many lives because it involves a variety of smaller issues. Issues such as living on probation, homelessness, addiction and lack of employment may all relate to the experience of a returning citizen. There is so much that can be done in order to smooth the difficult transition from prison to community life, but can only be understood with the awareness of what this type of transition entails.

A 2018 study conducted by Danye E. Keene, Amy B. Smoyer and Kim M. Blankenship states that “existing research suggests that individuals who are released from prison…seek to establish themselves as ‘decent’ and economically self-sufficient citizens, and shed stigmatized identities associated with incarceration, poverty, homelessness…Stigma can restrict access to valuable material and symbolic resources (housing), resulting in ongoing stigmatization…[Stigma] can work to reproduce power and serve as justification for inequality.”

When someone steps out of the grey prison gates and into a world they might not recognize, depending on the length of their incarceration, it can be close to impossible to attain housing, employment and basic necessities. One’s education and past experiences often play a role in attaining fundamentals like these. It is crucial to shed preconceived notions of why people commit crime and seek to accept and understand. Due to the abundance of difficulties numerous returning citizens face, it is our job to do what we can as a society to aid them, improving the lives of all.

In search of answers, we sat down with one woman who is currently under supervision and struggled through reentry and spoke of the hardships that come from living on probation and the often difficult to meet regulations one must follow on that journey. She spoke of her experience at the Reentry Center and how agencies like these can work to assist people in a successful reintegration into society.  An emphasis on strict rules and regulations within the Reentry Center was mentioned and how it can be hard because of lack of transportation, funds or simply time.

She says, “It is a lot to deal with…there is not enough time in the day for all that they want you to do…I have to take the bus every day…I go from here [the Reentry Center] straight to work and then home to take care of my grandmother. On top of other appointments. So yes, it is stressful at times.”

She explained how it has been a long journey, but fulfilling as it has helped her find direction in a difficult time. She said that the most difficult aspect of being on supervision is “worrying if I am going to do something wrong. Because I mean something simple like missing your appointment or something. Could be something simple to me, but to them it is like, you know, you get in trouble for it.”

While the woman we interviewed did not have much trouble finding employment under supervision, attaining a job through a friend of her brother, she mentioned that it has been difficult in the past, due to her not having a GED and not graduating high school.

Finding employment can be an extremely difficult process for someone with a criminal record, on probation, or someone reintegrating into society. Often times individuals with a criminal background are picked last for professional opportunities. This can set someone back tremendously, as finding employment, as well as stable housing, is a key part of the reintegration process. She said that getting a GED is something that she wants to attain in the future and this can be done through connections that the Reentry Center provides to its participants. 

Mental health and/or substance abuse issues have also been something that many people battle while under supervision or throughout reentry. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol long term can alter one’s ability to make rational decisions and often lands people behind bars. Many use in order to relieve the stress of their current lives, or to repress trauma from their past.

The woman we spoke with shared her own experiences with drug and alcohol abuse and expressed how it is something that affects people in different ways. Despite her struggles, she strongly carries the weight of caring for her grandmother and children, even while under the stress of supervision. Her children motivate her to stay clean and complete her goals.

“It is a lot,” she said. “I mean your kids look up to you and when I went to jail, they knew I went to jail. Like, “Oh, Mom went to jail.” I mean they shouldn’t know that. So I mean, it’s hard…and he is old enough to remember too.”

She explained how one of her children currently shows behavioral issues and she does not want him to stumble into the rough path that she started out on. Growing up was difficult because her grandmother raised her. “So I got to do whatever I wanted. My dad died of heroin when I was nine. So my grandmother just let us do whatever we wanted. And you know, here I am.”


  • On the PULSE

    On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.

On the PULSE

On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.