In this essay, PW blogger, Steven Pacheco provides hope and encouragement for people facing re-entry. Steven is an undergraduate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Sociology. Growing up in the Highbridge section of The Bronx, social injustices have always been within arm’s reach in his everyday life. With this sort of upbringing, his desire and passion to combat these inequities emerged. Currently an Opportunity Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice via the Center on Youth Justice, he can also be found doing activist work with various grass-root organizations to address issues of mass incarceration, tuition hikes, immigrant’s rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and more. In addition to working with various grass-roots organizations, Steven is a poet and songwriter. Music is equally as important to him as his social service endeavors, and so he also works to develop talent and propel these acts to reach the next level. Steven plans to work his way into the field of mentorship for at-risk youth in the months to come.
Not a dollar to my name, a home to return to, or clothing to wear, I had no true plan in place following my release from prison. Two things were an important part of what's lead me to my current position: I would have to be wise enough to ask for as much help as possible and I needed to secure a job that would allow me to fend for myself.
Initially, I paroled into a homeless shelter. However, due to a few chance interactions, being humble and diligent, I was able to find a way into The Fortune Society's transitional housing program within two weeks of being home. This would lead me down the stream of reentry services that many newly released people simply don't know of, or don't know how to engage in order to receive the necessary benefits from these programs. And this brings me to the purpose of this post.
Many people will tell you different things. Some of those things will be conflicting, and some of those things will appear to be a consensus. While it is beneficial to keep an open mind and perspective, your story is supremely unique to the individual that is you. You may have heard this before, but what worked for one person won't necessarily work for you. And, it goes both ways.
So, as you are on your journey back into society, or even preparing to return to society, understand what it is that you want for yourself, what you want out of life. In the free world -- despite what we have often been told -- your possibilities are endless as far as who you can become and what you can achieve. One of the things I still struggle with is determining what the "right" decision is for me. Depending on what you want for yourself and what you want out of life, the "right" decision looks different. After coming into contact with the criminal justice system, I think we all could agree that choices and decisions are factors that control a tremendous portion of our lives.
With that in mind, push through the rest of life with the goal of being in charge of as many of your choices and decisions as possible. This is not to be confused with always needing to be in control, but knowing when you should take charge of a situation and making sure you have the power to do so.
There is so much room for improvement from every angle in my life and I want to accomplish so much more. However, I have put the previous input to use since I have touched the pavement post-incarceration and it has contributed to my progression within the academic field, as well as the professional field. On account of returning to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it ultimately led to my fellowship opportunity at the Vera Institute of Justice. Make no mistake, this trajectory is unique to me, but the progression is not unique to me. The more specific you are about what you want and the more you secure your position of control over your decisions, your definition of success will very well begin to materialize.
Having a criminal history is disadvantageous in more ways than one. Nevertheless, your criminal history can very much benefit you in a number of different mediums and forums. The easiest transferable skill is hustling. To some degree, we all hustled ourselves into our respective situations. But, if we just changed the product, our results would be way more beneficial to our existence. While transferring these skills, you must synonymously envision where you would like to ultimately end up, as well as how you will make the case that your skills are of value. In fact, take it one step further and explain why your skills are obsolete. Your unique set of experiences cannot be duplicated, and depending on your outlook and approach, your actions will speak for themselves.
I have not put any formal research or studies to use to validate my advice, but all of this IS based off lived experience. We all have our own paths and some look more similar to each other than others, but do not let this deter you from what you want for yourself. Find what works for you and do what it takes to put yourself in position so that you never end up without your freedom again. There's a ton of odds against you, but they are just odds. Strive to be the person who beats the odds and define what success means for yourself simultaneously. You will start to see that the two are not mutually exclusive.