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Community Voices: The problem with saying prison system-impacted people need a 'second chance'

Community Producers Truth Garrett and Mary Evans stand in front of the wyso building sign. truth is wearing a hat and glasses and mary is wearing a jean jacket.
Kaitlin Schroeder
Truth Garrett, left, and Mary Evans, right,

More than 400,000 people are estimated to return to society from Ohio prisons and jails each year.

Justice system-impacted residents face immense challenges, from finding sufficient employment, to securing housing, and more.

Some programs that work with system-impacted people refer to jobs and other resources as "second chances" for people coming out of incarceration.

But a more accurate term may be "fair chance" or "fair opportunity," said Mary Evans, director of strategic initiatives at The Foodbank of Dayton and a passionate advocate for system-impacted individuals.

WYSO Community Voices Producer Truth Garrett sat down with Evans to talk more about the essential elements for reintegrating returning citizens into society.

Mary Evans: First of all, I feel like 'second chances' puts a limitation on how many chances someone has it to actually get their life right.

If you don't know what you don't know — and if you've never been taught things or been shown how to do things the right way — then ultimately you're going to figure out bad ways or ways that you probably shouldn't do it because you don't know.

"I think if more folks in industry would start tapping into that talent, and investing in these individuals, I mean, how how beautiful would that look for the economy and the community?"

When you're restricted from systems that have been put in place to make other people successful, you can't even get a foot in the door.

Sometimes you just do things you have to do to survive. I think with fair chances, what it means is I definitely deserve to have a fair chance if I'm exemplifying change and supporting the community that I represent in a positive way.

I think I should have a fair chance at getting a job when I return. I should have a fair chance at housing. I should have a fair chance at education and access to benefits and systems that are set in place to have people be successful.

Truth Garrett: A lot of people didn't even know that that it was the first chance given to them. And I believe a lot of people don't understand a certain level levels the consequences of their actions through miseducation.

Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from prisons in the U.S. Another 9 million people cycle through local jails, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Evans: Going even deeper than that ... I like how you say, 'well, some people don't even know if they have a first chance.'

I say, take a chance out, too. I say, why not? Fair opportunity.

I should have a fair opportunity to apply for all the things I need to be my best self. Why does it even have to be a chance? I shouldn't have just a chance at housing and a chance of employment. I should have opportunity. That's that's what equity is about, right?

For that, everyone's rising up the same ways, using the same systems and having the same access. And why I touched on hope was, that's kind of like what got me through when I was incarcerated.

I just hoped that I could find a safe place to go to.

I just hoped that I'd be able to further my education, because I had this passion and drive to just educate myself about things that I didn't know.

I've said it many times. I didn't really know about Audre Lorde or bell hooks or anyone like that until Professor Emily Steinmetz, who was at Antioch College at the time, introduced me to those things through her anthropology class. And so to see women kind of have this radicalized, concept of what it's like to navigate through these systems and be successful — I needed that.

And probably if I would have had that during my childhood or been introduced to that stuff at my educational system, the one that I attended while I was younger, I think I might have maybe not made some of the choices that I did have, if I would have had fair educational opportunities to learn these.

One thing I can say about Montgomery County and my current employer as well — as they believe in fair opportunity — 42% of our staff is system impacted, justice impacted somehow.

I think if more folks in industry would start tapping into that talent, and investing in these individuals, I mean, how how beautiful would that look for the economy and the community?

Truth Garrett is a dynamic poet, multidisciplinary artist, and dedicated reporter for the Yellow Springs Newspaper. He produces Dayton Youth Radio at WYSO.