By: Katie Sobiech
The Summit County Reentry Network (SCRN) is building a better reentry program for ex-offenders through the collaboration of many different people and organizations in Summit County.
“All of these organizations – whether secular, faith-based, social service or government agencies – are all of Summit County’s people that have formed this coalition to help in reentry for ex-offenders,” Reverend Dennis Shawhan, Executive Director of Broken Chains Ministry, said. “It’s a really neat thing that all of us have the ability to refer back to other agencies”
Supported by the County
The Ohio Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition, a reentry initiative that began a couple years ago under the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, has been very supportive of those doing reentry work, such as the SCRN in Summit County.
“The county is very much supportive of this through the Division of Public Safety because we look at it as a countywide collaboration,” Terry Tribe-Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, said.
Some of those involved in the SCRN endeavor include the Akron Police Department, Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Oriana House, Akron Urban League, Community Health Center, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Truly Reaching You Ministries, Broken Chains Ministries, the Haven of Rest and sober houses in the area.
Local landlords are also jumping on board with this idea.
“There are many different landlords that are providing pretty phenomenal, frontline sober house programs where they’re not just renting a room to someone, but they are making sure that people go to support groups and that kind of thing to get – and stay – clean and sober,” Tribe-Johnson explained.
Springtime of Hope is one example of a group in Akron providing housing for ex-offenders and making sure that they stay faithful to whatever program(s) they need in order to get their lives back together.
Working Together for a Greater Cause
“Another thing we want to look at is how do we share our toys in the sandbox?” Tribe-Johnson said, “You know, how do we all get along? We’re all here for the same purpose and it’s about being cooperative, not competitive. It’s about being transparent and having open communication.”
The SCRN has also connected with the Victim Assistance Program, who works with those directly affected by the actions of felons.
“Terry Johnson is a really a dynamic lady and when she started (the SCRN) they needed to have a perspective from the victims. One of the judges suggested that. So we got together,” Rev. Robert Denton, Executive Director of Victim Assistance, said.
Reentry Booklet in the Works
Currently, the SCRN’s Resource Development Committee is working with InfoLine Inc. on publishing a reentry resource booklet for ex-felons.
Along with the SCRN’s monthly meetings, they want to offer a step-by-step educational booklet for those reentering society to help in their transition.
“We can even send it to Marysville and Marion, you know, all of the different institutions and say ‘If you’re coming back to Summit County here are some of the contacts and resources’,” Tribe-Johnson explained.
Some may wonder why any effort at all is being put into helping ex-offender’s transition into society, and whether they even deserve it.
“Research shows that the smoother we can make someone’s transition, the less chance there is of that person going back to the old peers and old neighborhood (crime),” Tribe-Johnson said.
And that has a ripple effect on society as a whole (you and me).
“Whether it’s a church, faith-based organization, agency or whatever, who is going to help them to continue making positive choices?” Tribe-Johnson asked.
The Positives of the Prison Experience
Surprisingly, jail or prison can bring out the best in a person.
“I’ve had people say to me ‘Prison was the best thing that ever happened to me. It got me out of my old neighborhood and gave me time to think about what I was doing wrong’,” Tribe-Johnson said.
“Many, when incarcerated, find faith in Christ and a new understanding of who they are as a child of God, which is odd. But think about (the Apostle) Paul, who was in prison, and all of the followers of Christ who were in prison, and how they found phenomenal strength and faith during that time of hardship and transition,” Tribe-Johnson shared.
“It’s when we are broken in our lives that we find a much more authentic sense of hope. I find that many who’ve been incarcerated and come home really have woken up,” Tribe-Johnson continued.
Broken Chains Ministry’s Involvement
Broken Chains Ministry is also a huge advocate for ex-offenders in the Akron area, and working with the SCRN.
Not only does Broken Chains work with offenders while they’re in jail, but they follow-up and continue with them after their release.
“Their recent dinner (Fundraising Banquet) was very powerful,” Tribe-Johnson said.
One young woman shared her story of how being in jail changed her life.
“She found a deep awareness of her own faith through that experience. And to have Broken Chains extend themselves to help her while she was in the Summit County Jail, with where to live, getting clothes, doing a job search, and getting transportation when she got out…That kind of concrete ministry really helped support her in her time of transition,” Tribe-Johnson said.
The young woman was reunited with her son and family and now has a job and a home.
“Her mom and sisters were there, so it’s not only her life being changed, but it’s her son, her neighbors and potentially anyone that would have been disrupted by her life had she not gotten it in balance,” Tribe-Johnson said.
Plans for the Future
One of the SCRN’s future goals includes initiating a support group for felons, led by people who have a history in the criminal justice system.
“Can you imagine being incarcerated for 15 years and coming out now and somebody saying ‘Here, use my SmartPhone. Here go Google something?” You and I can’t even imagine what the transition must be like for someone who has been told when to get up, when to eat, what to wear, when to get their laundry, when to go out and exercise,” she explained.
“We can’t imagine now that there’s all of this freedom, how they make the transition. We want to look more into that and how we reach out to people while they’re incarcerated and let them know what services are going to be available when they come out.”
They also hope to get their Reentry Resource Booklet into every correctional institution in Ohio.
The Power Point for employers to consider hiring those with a history is also underway. They want to present it at the Chambers of Commerce, Board of Trades, church meetings, local community meetings, neighborhood organizational meetings, etc.…All to send a message to employers to consider hiring someone with a background.
“We want to do a judicial forum and talk with judges and lawyers and start thinking about the choices at sentencing, including who these people want to be and how they want to be when they get out,” she said.
A lot of great things in the works! If you are interested in being a part of this great network please call 330.643.2003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.