Life Outside Reentry Assistance has come to South Bend. The organization works towards helping those formerly incarcerated by acting as a middleman and providing connections to those who are trying to adjust to life outside of prison.
Jeff Walker, co-founder and board president of Life Outside Reentry Assistance, first heard of the Reentry Council in fall of 2020. He said that although the idea seemed appealing to him, things were not set into motion right away. By March of 2021, Walker and his colleague, Justin McDevitt of the Moreau Initiative, began to work together to create the organization.
According to Pew Research, America has the highest incarceration rates of any country with 810 inmates for every 100,000 residents above 18 years old. Considering factors like this, Life Outside believes their organization is needed for the good of the community as well as the individual.
“The reason why there's a need for an organization like Life Outside is because, when somebody comes out of incarceration, it's super difficult to find a job or find housing, and it's this limbo,” Mia Moran, a Notre Dame student and Life Outside Reentry Assistant intern, said. “You're in places like prison or jails that are super structured in a way. But when you leave it, you're left alone all again, and especially if you don't have networks, you have to fend for yourself, and oftentimes people reoffend.”
Moran believes this problem is not generally recognized in society and that people do not always realize the difficulties involved in the process. To aid in understanding, she connected the situation to college graduates. The difference, she said, is college students are able to get help from their counseling center, while many formerly incarcerated people do not have that luxury. Life Outside intends to fill that void.
“It's so scary to be in this unfamiliar state. But lucky for [college students], we have the career center,” she said. “I think if anything, Life Outside is supposed to be like a career center, but for people navigating reentry from after incarceration.”
After volunteering at a homeless shelter this summer, Moran said she noticed how many factors affect one’s reentry into society. Both Moran and Walker agree there are challenges many people would not think of.
“If you were incarcerated and you come out, however many years later, technology is rapidly changing. A lot of things like job applications, a lot of that's remote now. So, how do I navigate applying to jobs, especially if I don't have a phone or know how to navigate certain new technologies?” Moran said.
Walker also noted that support systems may look different after incarceration.
“So one person could come home and they still have a lot of their life intact still, so they still got identification and they still got a social security card ... They still have these simple things that a lot of us take for granted and don't even think about,” Walker said. “But the next person might come home. Well, they lost their ID, and they'd lost their birth certificate and they don't have a family support system here in town.”
Although the process of reentering society is difficult, Walker said Life Outside has one simple mission.
“We are committed to helping the formerly incarcerated people, and we want to help create a system of support in our community,” he said.
Walker emphasized that Life Outside is centered around the people they are helping.
“The most important component is returning citizens themselves,” Walker said. “So that that individual that's sitting across from our desk or on the other end of our phone, how we make that person feel welcome and how we embrace them.”
Contact Emma Duffy at email@example.com.