Important to note: The following examples are taken directly from actual mentoring experiences in Boulder, Colorado from the FOCUS reentry mentoring program, upon which substantial portions of the Level Ground reentry mentoring program are modeled.
This material comes, with permission, from the Boulder, Colorado, FOCUS reentry mentoring program’s website (focusreentry.org):
The goal of the mentoring program is for individuals, upon their release from prison, to successfully establish stable lives.
We are beginning to have enough evidence-based results to conclude that the presence of a mentor in an former inmate’s life is actually helpful. However, only the person who acknowledges that their life is in chaos, and is determined to live differently, can change it. The story of two mentor matches follow. All names and some identifying details within the experiences have been changed.
Frank is a man with a long recidivist history and alcohol addiction problems. He had been convicted of DUI charges five times. His previous incarcerations had been limited to 30-day jail sentences, but the last time his driver’s license was forfeited and he was sentenced to 1.5 years. In the court proceedings for this sentence, he committed to AA and classes on addiction. It was clear to him that he is an alcoholic. He was very interested in joining the mentoring program. He informed his mentor that he was previously diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, but that medication did not help him because it made him groggy in the morning and so he could not work. He has a strong relationship with his father, who is very negative about his drinking and his various incarcerations. He was fearful of being on work release because his only skill is in restaurant kitchen management which means being in a situation where employees may drink and do drugs together.
The mentoring program secured a good, completely different job for Frank from a private employer through a faith community contact. The employer required that Frank’s mentor accompany him to the job interview. The employer, reassured that Frank would have consistent and dedicated support, decided to offer this job as a form of spiritual and community service. Frank rapidly became a permanent full-time employee with good pay and benefits because he is intelligent and reliable. He secured stable housing with a co-worker with whom he began a romance and began to make friends with people at work who do not drink.
Around Thanksgiving, Frank stopped showing up for work. His mentor kept trying to make contact with him with no success and became quite concerned. The mentor reported to his mentoring administrator, “I stopped at Frank’s home today at 2:00 PM as we had arranged last night, and there was no answer. I knocked and called out his name several times. There appeared to be no one there, but he may have been passed out. I have called the probation officer to let her know that he won’t be coming, and asked her to call me. I wondered about calling his dad. I do not have Frank’s permission to do that.” The mentor, who had hesitated to call Frank’s father, decided to call him after conferring with his mentoring administrator.
The mentor also spoke to Frank’s “roommate” who said that he is still at her home and that all he does is drink, sleep and smoke. She has discovered more cigarette burns in his clothes. He wakes up in the night to drink and smoke. She is afraid he will burn her home down. On Friday she called his probation officer who wouldn’t talk to her. She also found out that the police will only come if she files eviction papers which she cannot afford. She has three small children and is afraid they are endangered by the careless smoking.
Finally the Probation Officer had the police enter the home. They found Frank passed out and very ill, bleeding from the mouth. He was sent to a rehab center, where his mentor visited him. His dad was visiting at the same time. A psychologist has seen him and gave him a medication that doesn’t make him sleepy in the morning and might work as a long-term drug.
Frank was released from rehab and went to stay with his dad, who is finally realizing that alcoholism is an illness.
After this incident Frank finally joined AA and chose a sponsor. He started a new job and has moved back with his girlfriend. His father has made an effort to understand the problems of alcoholism, and even though they are very different, they appear to be connecting.
This new phase of Frank’s life appears to have stabilized and this has been helped by the prescription for his bi-polar condition. His mentor said, “I believe that, in the main, Frank has been responsible for his own improvement. I also believe that I have been able to help him by being a person he can confide in. At times, I have been able to make suggestions that have been helpful to him. I think that partly as a result of his work with me, he has made a good transition from jail to freedom. He considers me a friend and, likewise, I consider him a friend. I have also served as a go-between with his father. I am a constant in his life. Frank and his girlfriend, who is willing to be with him now that he is sober, hope to buy or rent a small house. They might get some help from Frank’s father.”
When his mentor first formally met with Marty, he was a guy in the county jail who had drawn a six month sentence for his third DUI. He had lost his license, he was unemployed, and in debt. He had a little college, but it had not come to anything, and had held a number of jobs. Marty did okay at the jobs he had, but they did not provide him with much direction. He was thirty.
He had a fiancée with a baby. He intended to return to her to make some kind of life, but he had few resources and not much direction. He said he was interested in developing his ability to be a parent, and he wanted to work on his career.
A month or so later, he got out and went to live with his girlfriend and the baby at his future mother-in-law’s. Much of his first six months were spent trying to figure out how to get going again given his impoverished situation. The mentoring program helped him sort through the welter of social agencies so that he could do things like a career assessment program at a local Workforce center. His mentor encouraged him to start attending the alcohol rehabilitation meetings required by his parole and to work with the Mental Health Department to get a psychiatric assessment in case he needed a prescription for what had been a past diagnosis of bi-polar imbalance. His mentoring program found an agency that would provide indigent people with glasses, which he needed because his eyes were hurting, and so on.
Of course, there were lots of glitches and delays. Marty had a tendency to not always follow through on things, and his mentor spent a lot of time in their meetings encouraging him to do this or that, listening to what the obstacles were, taking them back to support from mentoring program staff for further information or help. It was slow, but after a few months Marty had pieced together a life that could at least pay some rent to his girlfriend’s mother, put food on the table, pay a psychotherapist, get some much needed reading glasses, and really start to look for work.
Marty and his mentor had many discussions on what he might do for a career. One possibility was to go back to school. A very useful program for struggling families in his community is called Family Self-Sufficiency. It gives them low-rent housing, childcare and other kinds of support while a low-income parent goes to school to improve the family’s prospects. The mentoring program successfully helped Marty fill out the paper work and went with him and his girlfriend to meet with the representatives of the Family Self Sufficiency program. FSS accepted him and his girlfriend, but he was low on their list, and it would be a whole year before he could actually enter the program.
Meanwhile, he was looking for a job. He fell into that classic gap where if you start to make some money, you might lose your various sources of social service funding, but unless the job is making good money, you may end up even poorer. He fell into some level of despondence, unable to deal with his debt, struggling to get to his rehab meetings without a car, getting no calls for interviews, still unable to move his family into their own home. He seemed to suffer from a certain amount of depression and inertia.
His mentor continued to support and encourage him, and eventually, after eight months of effort, he finally got a workable phone sales position, and then not too long after that, an even better job.
At this point, things really started to change for him. By the following summer he had moved into his own place and gotten married to his girlfriend. His mentor attended their wedding. A month or so later, he had completed his required weekly alcohol meetings and was able to get his driver’s license back. His company had moved to a town, two hours away on the bus, so getting the driver’s license allowed him a less exhausting life and more time with his family. He was starting to make better money, a real middle-class wage, and moved his family to a condo closer to his work. Around this time FSS finally came available, but he was already well-along into his new life.
Recently his mentor met with him for the mentoring program’s “soft-ending” (you’re doing well, call me if I can be of help, I’ll call you in a couple of months.) According to his mentor, Marty was doing well, having created a stable life and not drinking to excess. He now had a decent middle class job, he was married, living with his family in their own place. He had saved money and was talking about buying the condo or a house, and being able to pay off his debt. He was entirely off social services.
Marty’s mentor said, “While the lion’s share of the credit goes to Marty’s own sense of effort and responsibility, the mentoring program was able to provide him with the kind of support that helped him make the transition, especially in that first 6-8 months after he was released from incarceration, penniless and trying to put the pieces back together. It particularly helped him to use social services, which can be hard to sort out and frustrating to negotiate, but in the end, he used them in an ideal way – to help himself get on his feet and on with his life. My presence gave him a reference point for keeping his life going forward, an ear for his problems, and someone to discuss his decisions and potential with. I’m proud of what we were able to do for him, and for what he was able to accomplish, turning his life completely around.