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Another Voice: Ex-convicts deserve chance to contribute to society

By David Goodwin

As part of a leadership course in my graduate program at Canisius College, my professor instructed us to complete a project by the end of the semester in which we would need to “lead” in some capacity. The instructions for the assignment were purposefully vague so that the project opportunities could be endless.

A group of peers and myself decided to host a Professional Development Day for a group of seven Houghton College students. Once the students arrived, we taught them about professional attire, asked them some mock job interview questions, and led a discussion on leadership in the workplace. The students were engaged, thoughtful, humorous, polite and extremely grateful to be there.

I should mention that these were not “ordinary” college students. The students were enrolled in Peaceprints of WNY’s Hope Campus initiative. Hope Campus helps individuals with previous criminal convictions obtain a college degree through Houghton.

According to Peaceprints, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation. More than 2.2 million men and women are in jail. A majority of these men and women will leave prison. Then what?

The sad reality is that many former offenders often return to prison. The tendency to relapse and return to prison is known as recidivism. The recidivism trends are, quite frankly, shocking. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the recidivism rate across the country remains at about 60 percent. Peaceprints and Hope Campus are just a few of the nonprofit organizations and programs trying to combat this issue.

Not only is recidivism a tremendous burden on taxpayers and an overcrowded prison system, the community suffers as well. Well-intentioned men and women struggle to obtain jobs and housing. It makes logical sense to want individuals returned from prison to become productive and law-abiding members of society. Yet, we make it so hard for them.

Since the project last fall, I have found myself thinking about these students often. One student, who had been incarcerated for a lengthy period of time, struggled with technology. Due to lack of exposure, he didn’t know how to upload assignments for his classes or what LinkedIn was.

These students also struggled with stigma and the fact that many people and employers do not believe that they deserve a second chance.

Empathy is so important in helping this vulnerable population transition back into society and live fruitful and productive lives. If someone has served his or her time, he or she deserves to move forward into the future. When they succeed, so does our community.

David Goodwin is a graduate assistant in communications studies at Canisius College.

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