“Welcome Home” is a weekly message from Rev. Dr, Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D. to any and everybody who may be returning home from jail/prison and those affected.
Coming home from a bid is no joke. As tough as time down may have been, the battle does not end on release date. Though we say we have “paid our debt to society,” post-incarceration issues must be the interest on the note. The relief of getting out lives short. There’s still more on the ledger.
There are a number of challenges to a successful return to society after incarceration. From housing to employment, from reconnection with family and friends to getting back in school, men and women returning from jail or prison face great obstacles. In the main, they fall into one of two categories: external and internal.
The general public hears about the external issues all the time. It’s difficult to find employment. Housing barriers loom large. Educational opportunities are limited. Voting rights uncertain. Probation and parole carry their own burden. Burned bridges with family and friends limit opportunities for support. External barriers abound.
What the community does not recognize is the internal barriers- the feelings that overwhelm us in returning, the attitudes that require address, the adjustments to restored freedoms and decision-making carries weight as well. After seventeen years in the New York State Correctional System, Lonnie McLeod described his return to society as “traumatic.” Though he has developed in educational and life skill programs while incarcerated (including earning a Master’s degree) McLeod felt the stigma of eyes upon him from without, and the challenge to relearn decision making and handle new responsibilities from within. When he died in 2009, he was working on a manuscript entitled “The Trauma of Reentry,” designed to educate the public on the internal difficulties of coming home, and making plea for support of the emotional, psychological and even spiritual needs of those making the journey back.
We have little control over the external factors. We have great control over the internal. We can focus on jobs and housing all we want, but without inner healing, the external factors will win, and we end up back where we were. This is a plea for all of us who know the trauma of reentry to seek the support we need for the journey home. And it is a plea for families and friends, churches and masjids, communities and agencies to help us in our need for healing.
Everyone I talk with who has made the successful transition home has pointed to having the right people around them, reinforcing the right attitudes within. Having this support for internal change gives strength to deal with external forces. That prayer we say at the end of 12 step meetings is right: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Grant us courage to work on attitude- it is a thing we can change.
Rev. Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D. is an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s School of Divinity. He also works on behalf of prisoners and returning citizens as the national director of Healing Communities USA, a reentry initiative. Dr. Trulear is also a former inmate.