Life after Prison: National Reentry Week

Zaneta J Smith
Apr 22 · 3 min read
Zaneta at LA Kitchen where she previously served individuals who were system impacted. Photo by Holden Slattery

A woman or man spends decades in prison or years in jail. They become accustomed to a life of being told when to wake up, sleep, and eat. They are released and suffer great challenges.

Imagine having to go to a transitional living facility before being able to go home. Imagine having to wait in a Department of Motor Vehicles all day to acquire a new I.D. card. Think about navigating the social security office to access your social security card. Picture no longer having to check the box to apply for a job, being accepted to that job then, being let go due to the results of your background check. Imagine having no credit as a result of the decades you spent in prison and experiencing barriers finding housing with limited finances, no access to a car, or the landlord not renting to someone with a felony.

The first month of being released can be hard. One not securing housing or employment could mean increased chances of committing a crime to survive, being caught, and returning to the inside.

Kerry Lathan was shot along with Nipsey Hussle earlier this month. Before the shooting, he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison and had been released last year after serving just shy of 25 years. He recounts his reentry journey in an interview with VladTV. A part of his journey was reconnecting with family and gaining resources from anyone who offered help. Nipsey Hussle and Kerry’s nephew were two of these people; offering a safe haven, clothes, and a fruitful network.

“Take it one day at a time…don’t let it overwhelm you,” was the advice of his friend to help him through the reentry process as he recalls in the VladTV interview.

After the shooting, he was taken back to a familiar transitional living facility then, Men’s Central jail in Los Angeles seemingly for violating his parole (i.e. hanging with known gang members).

This is just one story of an individual reentering from incarceration. This week marks National Reentry Week. Launched in 2016, National Re-Entry Week instituted its inaugural year with nationwide events to improve outcomes and raise awareness around the importance of successful re-entry.

Organizations like California Policy and Research Initiative, Community Action Partners Alliance, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition carry on spreading awareness of reentry stories.

There are approximately 115,000 individuals in California prisons (Goss & Hayes, 2018) of which are overcrowded. In 2011, a realignment policy was passed moving individuals with low level offenses from prison to jail or to the community. In 2014, Proposition 47 reduced non-violent offenses to misdemeanors. In 2016, Proposition 57 instituted a parole consideration process for individuals in prison and enhanced rehabilitative and educational program participation in exchange for time off a sentence.

California Governor Newson has made promises in the area of criminal justice reform. With his first 100 days in office, the Governor put a temporary pause on the death penalty, promised to end California’s use of state prisons, and vowed to move control of the Juvenile Justice division from the Corrections division to the Department of Health and Human Services. Bold moves, Governor.

As a Social Worker in Los Angeles, I have worked in the area of reentry since 2012. I Co-Chair Community Action Partners Alliance, a coalition dedicated to the reentry progress and decreasing recidivism in Los Angeles County. I have previous clients who served anywhere from 60 days in jail to 30 years in prison. I have assisted mothers in re-connecting with their children. I have watched family members and friends re-acclimate to society. This week, I will be pausing for my clients whose re-entry journey was not as successful due to trauma and systemic failures. I will be thinking of the women who experience reentry different than men. I will be holding space for individuals still powering through the anxieties of re-entering to a busy world full of change. I will be lifting up those individuals being released today.

Within the same breath and pause I take for individuals reentering, I pause for the victims of crimes and their families.

It’s National Reentry Week. Take a deep breath. Take a pause. The work in reentry is a marathon.

Zaneta Smith coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement and public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative.

Zaneta J Smith

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Coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement & public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative.