Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern! As the month comes to a close, we want to share about one of CCC’s culturally specific programs, Flip the Script. FTS is a reentry program that provides African American individuals who are exiting incarceration with dedicated housing, employment services, peer support, and opportunities for advocacy. Support from FTS helps people avoid reoffending and eases their path to reintegrating into society as productive community members.
The seeds for FTS were planted by a data collaboration– but now they’re blossoming for clients like Patrick, who knows the challenges of rebuilding a life after incarceration.
When Patrick was released from prison after 15 years– more than a third of his life– he immediately came up against barriers. Background check issues and employment gaps made it difficult for him to find a job; his lack of rental history made it nearly impossible to find housing. With his criminal history, few people outside his family wanted to reconnect. The ones who did were those still in the game, ready to draw him back in.
Patrick’s experience is common, especially for African American individuals attempting to start over.
A collaborative data assessment by Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, the Department of Community Justice and CCC found that African American people in Multnomah County disproportionately experience recidivism – that is, they end up back in jail after being released from prison. But the data also showed that recidivism rates were cut in half for CCC clients who had transitional reentry housing and then moved on to long-term housing and full-time employment. It was clear that a program like FTS, tailored to African American clients, could help address some of the disparities in recidivism.
Without ready paths to housing, employment and new positive relationships, Patrick could have easily been on the wrong side of recidivism statistics.
But Patrick was intent on choosing a new path. “To me, going back to jail wasn’t an option anymore. I did my time. That part of my life was done. I had a game plan in my head.”
That’s where CCC and Flip the Script came in.
Patrick was referred to CCC’s Parole Transition Program (PTP) and found transitional housing. But he also enrolled in FTS, which opened the door to new pathways and wraparound, culturally specific support.
One of the first things a new enrollee like Patrick does is connect with an FTS Employment Specialist. This specialist helps create a customized plan to help each person work toward their employment goals. They also find other opportunities and share resources for building job skills.
More determined than ever and invigorated by having a safe place to call home, Patrick actually secured a job on his own within two days of moving into CCC housing, before he even met with his FTS employment specialist, Elissa.
Patrick’s next goal was to make his way into the local carpenters’ union, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he connected with Elissa, in whom he found the type of support he hadn’t felt in a long time. Elissa was able to assist Patrick with FTS resources that helped him pay for his driver’s license fees and work clothes while he continued to make connections at the union.
“I felt supported. That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. They treated me as a person, not just somebody who got out of jail.”
Three months after moving into CCC’s transitional reentry housing, Patrick applied for and received permanent housing, making him part of the 58 percent of FTS clients who exit into permanent housing. (Another 21 percent of FTS clients find another transitional housing opportunity.)
Soon after, Patrick was accepted into Carpenters Local 1503. As a union member, he could make an honest living with good wages. Since FTS started, 45 percent of FTS clients have used the program as a springboard to permanent housing and a source of income. An additional 9 percent of clients moved into further transitional housing with an income source.
Patrick also found a new network of positive peers in the FTS Advocacy Work Team.
Ask any of the dozen FTS clients who participate in this culturally specific group and they’ll all agree: there’s something special happening here. When they meet, the group creates a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society—and about how it could be different.
The advocacy work team created a survey to identify areas for improvement and change in both the FTS program and the larger landscape of reentry systems and policy. Though they may face barriers to employment and housing based on racial bias and discrimination in the justice system, they see that they’re not alone and feel empowered by the change they can take together. They are actively part of the work to disrupt a system that sets up a disproportionate number of African Americans to experience recidivism.
“[The work group] gives me a chance to help other people and share my understanding as someone coming through reentry. It’s nice to be around other people going through the same thing you’re going through. And it’s nice that the others have the same understanding. Sometimes you don’t feel like explaining everything and they already understand what you mean,” Patrick says. “It also feels good to be around people who just want to meet you and know you and are just glad you’re doing well.”
Initially shy and slow to trust, Patrick is no longer nervous or quiet. Instead, Patrick is confident and outspoken, especially in advocacy matters. He’s an active member of the group, finding a sense of community he’d been missing for so long. He has also reconnected with his family and is working to build relationships again.
“Going back to jail isn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life is done. I feel I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I’ve got a lot left to accomplish. I feel positive and optimistic about my future. I’m eager to see what I’ve got in store.”
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Deep gratitude to Meyer Memorial Trust, A Home for Everyone, Multnomah County, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Deputy Truls Neal and Wells Fargo for their support and belief in this program dedicated to eliminating the disparities that exist within our criminal justice system.