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. This is the second feature, which highlights Schmidt’s journey through addiction.
Hannah Lounsbury and Michelle Kofa tell Schmidt’s story
A rough breakup and the need to cope began Schmidt’s downward spiral that ultimately caused him to become involved in the criminal justice system. “At the time, things were not going well and that’s kind of how I got myself caught up,” he mentioned. Like many other individuals who are going through a challenging time, Schmidt found himself using drugs and alcohol in order to take his mind off of what he was dealing with. Prior to his arrest, Schmidt had a stable well-paying job that he obtained after completing a four-year college degree at the University of Pittsburgh.
After Schmidt’s return from prison to the community, he became involved in the Lycoming County Reentry Services Center. “I find it to be really helpful. Overall, the staff, supervisors and specialists seem to genuinely care, and the programs are all pretty helpful. They work to reorganize and re-prioritize your way of thinking and decision-making.” Being on supervision has allowed Schmidt to refocus his life and become more productive and self-aware of his actions and their consequences. Not only has Schmidt been sober for over a year since being on supervision, he has gained a new perspective on his situation moving forward.
“It’s really helped to pull me out of the rut that I was in and sort of re-focus and become more goal-oriented and less negative.” Throughout this time of hardship in his life, Schmidt’s family and friends have consistently been supportive. Although the positive support was emphasized, he also discussed the risk of hanging out with the wrong friends. “You definitely need to take time to groom the list of people that you find yourself hanging out with. You want to delete some contacts if you have substance abuse problems or if you know those people will encourage you to get involved in any kind of criminal behavior.” These family and friend connections are all crucial aspects of being successful while on supervision.
In addition, although Schmidt’s experience has been positive, he stresses the intensity of the program and how everyday he is involved in some sort of class or is required to check-in. Although he speaks of the redundancy of the program, he reiterates that this type of structure is crucial.
“I would say idle hands are the devil’s playground, so it keeps you from getting yourself in trouble.”
The ability reentry has on supporting the positive decisions Schmidt has made has helped him become more successful throughout his time on supervision. This is all possible because of the commitment the staff have to their work at the Reentry Services Center and Schmidt’s desire to get back to where he previously was in his life.
Schmidt also discusses how having a schedule has impacted his reentry and made him into the motivated individual he is today. “Having a routine, whether it’s reentry, a job, or volunteer work takes your mind off of whatever negative thought patterns you are going to be experiencing or possible friends that might influence you to do something you shouldn’t do.” This routine has helped Schmidt stay focused and has ultimately gotten him to the successful path he is currently on in his life.
Schmidt is a person who achieved many milestones before he got into trouble. Schmidt graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, was promoted in his last job, has a 401k and a savings account, and has traveled to many places in the world. He would say that he was a pretty happy guy before things went downhill for him. He only participates in the Reentry Services Center because of a DUI, which he doesn’t believe has impacted him to the point where he struggles with everyday concepts, such as looking for employment or worrying about where he has to stay. With him jumping through the hurdles of the legal system, Schmidt decided that being the best member of society he could become would be his goal.
Throughout this process, Schmidt speaks highly about his goals for the future moving forward.
“It’s just to get back on track… I guess my goals for the future would be to get back on the career path and hopefully start a family of my own. But in screwing up I was stigmatized. I did lose my girlfriend, who was very serious, and could have ended up being my fiancé. So yeah, just to get back on track and become a positive community member to society.”
Throughout this troubling time, Schmidt came to the realization that he desired to find his purpose in society. Schmidt mentioned that he was very much living his best life before his charges. He doesn’t realize that the place he is in at the moment is very much a good place as well because of how much love and support he gets from his family. Just because he is a part of the demographic of those in the reentry program, Schmidt feels as though he does not fit the typical mold of others participating in this program. He feels as though his story lends itself towards an easier recovery and he is very fortunate for that. Schmidt believes that if he distances himself from the surrounding area where he has experienced trauma, it will allow him to grow and to get back to the person he was before.
Schmidt often fantasized about his future achievements in a positive manner throughout his experience before and during the reentry program. “I think that my biggest achievement will be getting back on track, like I said one of my goals is doing just that, so that will be my biggest achievement.” Schmidt discusses what he hopes to achieve in the future with full confidence that he will be successful. His goals after he graduates the reentry program are to start working again, to create a family of his own and to surround himself with those who encourage him.
Schmidt was a successful man with a career, partner, and bright future ahead of him when his life took an unexpected turn in the wrong direction. He happens to be a great example that the smallest mistakes or events in life can truly happen to anybody and that it shouldn’t be something that is ingrained into who you are and your potential to create a change for the better.
Schmidt realizes these truths reflect on the unwanted stigma associated with getting tangled up in the criminal justice system, no matter how serious of an offense. “Personally…I’d just like people to realize that you know not everyone [involved in the criminal justice system] is a felon – felonies are generally the more serious crimes…and not everyone that has gotten caught up in the legal system is a career criminal, sometimes they just made a mistake.
They are going through a hard time and they should be given a second chance. I take full accountability for my actions, I was screwing up. I was using but you know, it was directly a result of going through a hard time in my life and I don’t feel like you should be a lifelong criminal in the view of the public and employers.” Schmidt speaks for himself and for the many individuals who have become tangled up in the criminal justice system. These people have a lot to contribute to their communities and by attaching this stigma to those who have simply fallen to human error destroys almost all ability for them to create a positive change in their lives during reentry.