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.
This is the fourth feature of On the PULSE’s week-long series publishing segments from six students’ reports on the reentry participants they interviewed.
Joey Francis and Shaneva Edwards tell Steve’s story
Depression has a huge influence on substance abuse. Katie Wang, Charles L. Burton and John Pachankis find in their study, “Depression and Substance Use: Development of an Emotion Regulation Model of Stigma Coping,” that “depression-related stigma was positively associated with emotion dysregulation, which was in turn associated with a greater tendency to engage in substance use coping.”
One night a few years back, Steve’s life changed forever. A few days before this night, his life seemed to be completely fine: he was an avid worker at the same place for thirty years, and he was constantly surrounded by his family. He had everything in life that he had ever wanted. How could that have all changed in an instance? On that one night, his wife had died and his life drastically changed right before his eyes.
Sometimes it takes one thing that can set you back completely, and Steve’s was his wife’s death. In this situation, he did not know how to cope knowing that his soulmate was now gone. He handled the situation by isolating himself from his family and friends. He also began abusing drugs to try and get out of the mental state that he was in. The abuse of drugs led him into an even deeper depression than he was initially feeling. Since that took over his life, he ended up getting a charge, going to jail, and then being put on probation.
Being put on probation after a jail sentence can set people back mentally because they are limited in what they can do. Steve claims “When I first got put on probation I didn’t take it too seriously. I figured at my age, at 50, I felt like it wasn’t a serious thing even though it is serious, and I felt that they weren’t going to bother me, but I was outside my house drinking a beer and they got me. I was kind of mad about it, but my probation officer said he wasn’t going to put me back in jail.”
He was then put on 10 days of house arrest. Steve was then told about the GEO program. He believed he did not need to go there because he said “Reentry means to me that you are in prison for a while and that you are trying to get back into society and become established. I already had a job, already had a house, and a vehicle and knew I was already established, so I was pretty resentful about it at first.”
Despite this feeling towards the program, Steve decided to go through with it to make his grandson proud and be a father figure to him since his father is not in his life anymore. This program has different phases and within those phases there are different steps. Steve is on phase three and step eight. Since being in the program, he has taken a long look at life, his choices, and the way he thinks and reacts to things. As Steve explains: “I am gaining stuff from the program and utilizing it. I had financial issues ever since my wife passed, so it has been a real struggle and plus the depression issues, so my case worker sat me down. She evaluated me on my situation and referred me to several different agencies.” Within this program, Steve was able to receive the exact help he needed, moving through the program and learning to apply these lessons in life.
Even though Steve is in the GEO program, he is still on probation. Supervision can be a challenge for many people because when someone is released from prison, they are already faced with housing, transportation, family ties, and financial obstacles. Steve states his struggles of supervision:
“It was kind of hard because by the time I started working, it was hard to fit it in my
schedule. I was kind of resentful at first because of that because you always have to run here and then over there and then you have to get this done and then that done and then take time out to drive all the way over here every day, the gas and the expenses, and then stay here for an hour or 2 to 3 hours every day, and every other day. It kind of felt invasive you know because you have to go through a breathalyzer every time you walk in the door. … Now it is different because I am down to 3 days and I am pretty far into the program, which doesn’t make me feel so much like I am under a microscope like I was, but you know the further you go along, the more they back off of you.”
Steve had many struggles during the program but he was able to manage his time so everything would work out. Like Steve said, GEO is setting him up with many programs that will benefit him now and when he gets out of the program. The staff are helping to make sure he is comfortable when people talk to him and the topic of probation comes up. Instead of assuming he is a criminal, people will believe in his well-being and will treat him like anyone else in society.
Being on supervision can be a challenge for most people. Another challenge that people face is trying to get a job. Steve worked at the same place for thirty years and was a very consistent worker. As of right now, Steve does not have a job because of his depression and disability. Steve proclaims “I do job searches, but I really haven’t been actively trying to get a job. They [GEO] do have a lot of resources. They hook you up with Careerlink if you want. They have you do resumes and invite you to do workshops, training days, job fairs, you can work at the landfill, volunteer opportunities if you can’t work or you can’t find a job, etc. So there are a lot of options that they give you as far as employment or how you can get employed.” The people at GEO are very helpful because they do what is best for their participants. They do not just throw people to the curb after they are released from prison. He also went on to explain how GEO puts an emphasis on successful reentry. “I got money to help for my electric bill and you know get that paid and programmed to where I’d pay a set amount each month and it’s not nearly as much as it used to be and you know just the mass referral system they have I think has benefitted me the most.” The fact that GEO provides financial assistance to further help returning citizens is extremely beneficial since this seems to be one of the major difficulties in their lives.
People have a hard time during supervision dealing with a mental illness. Since Steve has depression it was hard for him to have the motivation to go to the program the six out of the seven days initially required. Steve says “After being in here and going through the first few steps and taking a look at myself and my life, it was not so bad. Actually, [it] ended up helping me with things.” Programs like this should be implemented in every community because it helps people out, just like it did with Steve. The one thing that will help people tremendously is family. Steve says “I have a couple of people that are always there. It makes a lot of things a lot easier.” With Steve having those people in his life, it is easier for him to get through every day. People underestimate how much of an impact one’s family has on people who’ve just been released from prison or are on probation. Families can help with transportation, financial needs, and housing or a place to stay. Steve has those friends in his life that hold a special place in his heart since they were always there for him when he was in need.