Numerous organizations throughout the Mobile area are working to make the city a safer, more inviting place to live, one former inmate at a time.
In southwest Alabama, recidivism is an issue many local leaders and organizations are working to overcome. Prisons and jails have become known for their revolving-door effect, with many freed inmates unsure if they will re-enter the system in a few years, or even a few months.
The Mobile Area Interfaith Conference (MAIC) hosts a number of programs to assist those returning to society after incarceration. They offer re-entry services such as the GED program, the chaplaincy office at the Mobile County Metro Jail, The Neighbor Center and Avenues of Hope.
The Neighbor Center, in particular, helps to provide “secure housing, employment, education, job training, transportation, health care, treatment for mental health and addictions, legal services” and more to those re-entering society, also known as “returning neighbors.”
According to MAIC’s 2018 annual report, among 287 returning neighbors, 52 have been re-incarcerated, making The Neighbor Center’s recidivism rate 23.6 percent, comparably less than the state average of 35 percent and Mobile’s rate of 47.1 percent.
The center aims to encourage and support self-sufficiency as participants are guided through the process. MAIC Board of Directors President Jim Backes explains: “It’s mostly accompaniment, both while they’re in jail through our religious services and education opportunities [pre-release programs], and the same outside.”
While the center aims to aid those returning to society, it’s also a matter of public safety.
“We believe that this is absolutely tied to law enforcement, it’s tied to a safer community, that’s what we are about,” Backes said, noting the center is not merely holding the hand of those formerly incarcerated. “They’ve made a decision for a new life, that we can now walk alongside them on their path to a new life. It’s their life, but none of us are in this life alone, none of us can survive alone.”
Backes pointed out that in order to be part of the program and receive the benefits, one must come to the self-realization that they are ready to change their perspective and work toward redemption.
“Is The Neighbor Center for everybody that needs it? The answer to that is no, it’s for everybody that wants it,” Backes said.
One of those who wanted a change is Mobilian Casey Gann. Gann’s empowering journey began when she was released from Mobile Metro Jail on a Friday night and showed up at The Neighbor Center the following Monday.
Gann said had it not been for The Neighbor Center and God, she is unsure where she would be.
“God has his hand on this place,” Gann said, a smile on her face. “It’s nothing but God. They are his instruments and they do an awesome job here.”
In order for a returning neighbor to successfully navigate the path to redemption, building new in-person relationships with a group or community can make a world of difference. Backes and Dr. Demetrius Semien, college professor and former MAIC president, said in order for someone to transform, they must create new relationships with those outside of their previous life.
Gann backs that up, and believes it is a huge part of how she got to where she is today — happy, healthy and living a life free of crime.
“They tremendously helped me out by putting me in my own place, to where I wouldn’t have to go back and depend on people from my old past,” she said.
Before arriving at the center she had nothing but the clothes on her back. “Having my own house key to unlock my own door is a major plus for me, coming from begging people to stay the night with them,” she said.
The support provided by The Neighbor Center gave Gann the opportunity to fulfill her responsibilities as a mother and a second chance at life.
“It’s having someone that stands firm in what they believe in, wanting to be there to help you. And they don’t turn their back on you — they’re quick to help, they want to see people in a better place.”
The Neighbor Center is actively seeking support from donors, faith communities and similar organizations to give returning neighbors the support they need to avoid recidivism.
While the team at MAIC does as much as they can for returning citizens, other local organizations work to support those in similar positions. For example, such organizations as Light of the Village, N.E.S.T., Ransom Ministries, Fatherhood Initiative and Project H.O.P.E., among others, strive to help individuals struggling with home life, living in violent neighborhoods and seeking rehabilitation.
MAIC and these organizations work together to prevent this revolving-door effect and protect youth from becoming entangled in a life of crime.
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