Idaho Department of Corrections and local advocacy group team up to host prisoner re-entry conversation

Image Courtesy: VOICE Advocacy via Facebook

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Corrections and VOICE Advocacy organization are teaming up to host an event on prisoner reentry on Wednesday, April 4.

“It’s so needed in our community,” Stephanie Taylor-Silva, the Idaho Department of Corrections District 7 Probation and Parole Free 2 Succeed Mentor Site Coordinator, told KID Newsradio. “We need more awareness as to what we can do to support re-entry so that we have safer and healthier communities.”

Taylor-Silva says the event, Bridging the Gap: A Community Conversation About Re-entry and Recidivism, is being hosted by the Rexburg-based organization, VOICE Advocacy and will include a round table discussion on topics like overcoming obstacles like transportation and employment and re-establishing relationships with family, friends and even the community.

“[The Idaho Department of Corrections] job is to help people provide accountability to themselves, accountability to the community, while also providing opportunities to change,” Taylor-Silva said. “As a community we need to understand people of all walks of life can find themselves in prison, it is literally one decision away and you can find yourself in prison…when we are supporting these people that are entering back out into the community, we are essentially providing a safer community.”

But, the re-entry process is rough and at times, frightening for the returning offender. Jeff Kirkman, the program manager for the Idaho Department of Corrections, said many people who are approaching their release from prison have plenty of worries about re-entering society and taking full advantage of their second chance.

“There’s an individual that is currently mentoring with the Free 2 Succeed program in Boise,” Jeff Kirkman, the program manager for the Idaho Department of Corrections, said. “This individual spent 15 years in prison for a crime that he had committed…even before his release I asked him, ‘What was your biggest concern, what are your biggest anxieties about getting back into the community?’ He told me, ‘Frankly, Jeff it’s, you know, being out of society for so long. We’re told what to wear and when to eat and what to eat and so long, for 15 years, my biggest fear was am I going to be able to be successful? Am I going to be able to figure out where society is now after a 15 year break.'”

Taylor-Silva echoed that message, adding it doesn’t matter how long people have been behind bars, the worries returning offenders are real and difficult to navigate. As a former offender herself, Taylor-Silva both sympathizes with the offenders trying to make their way back into society and struggle with even basic needs.

“As a former offender, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in there nine months or nine years, it is scary re-entering back into the community and each one of us faces the same obstacles,” Taylor-Silva said. “You have to know where you’re going to live, you have to know where you’re going to work, you have to know how you’re going to get treatment or how you’re going to have your basic needs met such as getting medication or getting food. It’s a very daunting task.”

On top of the more logistical worries returning offenders have like housing and medical treatment, there’s also the overarching worry about relapsing into old habits.

“One of the things that really doesn’t bother me, but I kind of gristle a little bit, is when an offender comes from incarceration back into the community and the expectation is thrown on the individuals like, don’t do anything wrong, just make sure you do everything right,” Kirkman said. “Well, it’s almost impossible for him to do, or her, to do everything right by themselves. They need the support.”

Which is where Taylor-Silva said understanding how community members, family and friends can help support returning offenders or returning citizens are they’re sometimes called, comes into play.

“Attending community conversations such as this if definitely a good start,” Taylor-Silva said. “It brings awareness as to what you can do…Anybody has the opportunity for greatness, anybody has the opportunity to change and be successful, they just need support.”

Bridging the Gap: A Community Conversation About Re-Entry and Recidivism will be on Wednesday, April 4 at 7 PM. Full details on the event are available here.