Wednesday, March 26, 2019 was a long time coming for the team members and facilitators of REACH (Reentry Empowerment and Community Health). It was the moment of impact. It was where two worlds collided. Outside with inside, the free and the incarcerated, all in the hopes of a brighter, vibrant and safer community. It was the first REACH Community Partnership meeting and just as much as we showcased the power of reformation, our community partners showcased the power of resources. It was a meeting to focus on how to build the bridges from prisons back to society with the goal of reducing crime and recidivism.

It was attended by handful of the agencies that have been established as the stake holders in the REACH program. Represented were the Governor’s Statewide Reentry Counsel by Christopher Poulis, Oxford House’s Todd Flanagan, Jason Bliss, John Hutchins, and Melinda Trujillo, Washington Department of Corrections Housing Voucher Program’s Steven Dalton, Renton Technical College Reentry Navigator Gerald Bradford, University of Washington’s Professor Claudia Jenson, university student and involved citizen Kathrine Guzik, Post Prison Education Program director Ari Kohn, as well as Correctional Unit Supervisor and REACH program sponsor Theresa Cohn. Also in attendance were co-founder of REACH, Yusef Jihad, and program facilitators Kyle Johnson, Marshall Byers, Ryan Erker, Christopher Loy, Jacob Lavik, Randy Brennan, Walter Cieplik and myself, Rory Andes, all residents of Monroe Correctional Complex, Twin Rivers Unit.

We had two hours to discuss how we could help each other to help the incarcerated population across our state. It started with each facilitator explaining one aspect of how the facilitation process works and why its a program component. Our colleagues with Oxford House then presented a wonderful discussion for the need of effective housing upon release. Substance abuse and chemical dependency is one of the greatest, most crippling effects and a high risk problem for releasing inmates. Oxford emphasized how they can provide a clean living foundation that helps. This led to a discussion with Steve on how the DOC Housing Voucher program can help close the gap for those releasing with little or no means. Ari gave us a brief rundown on success with education and our friends at the UW reinforced their support for our inside mentor ship and committed to being a source of information. Christopher spoke about the efforts of legislation to help in long term planning and the state’s continued work to change the community’s acceptance of releasing men and women. Statistics show that 97% of Washington’s incarcerated population will eventually release. REACH’s goal is to make them good neighbors long before their time comes for release and that starts by working with them at the beginning of their incarceration.

The importance of the meeting was paramount and its actualization is unprecedented. Not often had the types of groups present sat under one roof to discuss real problems with real goals of collaboration. REACH has already hosted a general resources event, a veteran specific event and an education event with the Post Prison Education Program as trial runs in the last year with outstanding results. The facilitators meet one on one with incarcerated men who vary widely in their release dates from one week to life sentences. REACH’s goal is to change the culture of prisons, the incarcerated mindset, and the community’s interest in providing pro-social networks, safety nets, and resources. Our community partnerships and their commitments are another needed component to succeed and its days like this that we realize that we are well on our way.

by Rory Andes

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