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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Documentary helps spread message of hope, second chances

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By Olivia Neeley
The Wilson Times

Posted Friday, April 19, 2019 8:21 pm

By Olivia Neeley
The Wilson Times

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

WILSON — There is hope in second chances.

That’s the message the Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson Reentry Council wants to convey when it comes to helping people return to the community following a period of incarceration.

The organization hopes to use its new documentary film, “Come Home,” to reach this goal, and members debuted it last week before National Reentry Week, which started on Monday.

“Our goal for the reentry documentary is so that people can know what the program does and what we do and get the community more involved, to see that it works,” said Anita Lynch, program coordinator for the NEW Reentry Council. “The more people that we have involved, the more people we can help. It’s allowing returning citizens to become more productive and have safer communities.”

‘Come home’

The film, directed by Wilson native Sherrod Knox, takes an intimate look into the lives of those the program has helped, the criminal justice system, barriers former inmates face when they’re released and how they ended up in prison in the first place.

“I think in society today we have a very harsh look on people leaving prison,” Knox said. “When people are coming out of prison, they face so many obstacles with trying to get a job and trying to rebuild their lives. Because we stigmatize them so harshly, I wanted to paint them in a light where you see them as people rather than a former inmate.”

The film also puts a face and a name to those the program has helped since its inception more than five years ago. The council, which is state-funded, has helped hundreds get back on their feet with a goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders.

The film features several individuals from Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties who share details of their struggles leading up to their incarceration that included mental health issues, substance use disorders and childhood trauma.

“Some of the stories — their background — are heartbreaking,” Knox said. “You can’t help but feel that it’s no wonder they ended up in prison. But to hear the renewed faith they have in life, it’s very inspiring.”

Knox also enlisted friend Ray Shell, a Wilson native and actor, to craft the song for the film.

‘Show they are humans’

The council enrolls at least 60 people per month in the program or 20 people per county from Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe. It provides those returning residents with resources including transportation, education, job referrals and other support services. It’s also part of a statewide initiative to reduce recidivism rates.

The average annual cost of incarceration per person is roughly $35,000, according to the council. And there are more than 36,000 inmates across 55 state prisons, officials said. Of those released, 48 percent will be re-arrested within two years.

That’s why advocates say reentry programs are vital for communities, which means less crime and victimization, more employed, taxpaying residents, less public funding needed to support the criminal justice system, and it also champions family reunification.

“We want to show they are humans,” Lynch said about the film. “They made a mistake. They do have a story to tell. And once you hear that story, you get to know these individuals. They are just like you and me.”

‘These services help’

The NEW Reentry Council program is for anyone with some type of criminal background. Staffers will conduct an assessment from low to medium to high risk. Individuals are referred from various agencies including probation and parole. Others hear about the program through word of mouth. Reentry council workers also go into prisons.

Last week, the council held the film’s premiere and provided a question-and-answer session with program participants and state leaders in Rocky Mount.

Lynch said the support has to be in place to welcome people back home.

“There are people who do need a second chance,” she said. “These services help, and that’s the goal.”

Sharon Goodson, executive director of the N.C. Community Action Association, said her group is appreciative of the support it’s received from the N.C. Department of Public Safety on helping people transition back into the community. She said the film“Come Home,” takes a deeper dive into the lives of the people she and her colleagues work with on a day-to-day basis.

“I don’t think there is anything more powerful than an individual telling you that a program works,” Goodson said. “I can tell you that all day. But I don’t have the barriers. I can’t imagine what it would be like. But for someone who has actually lived this life, to talk about the work that we’re doing across the tri-county area, we believe it will help our community better to understand their plight and understand that we really do need support as they transition back into the community to lead healthy, productive lives.”

Goodson said it’s also important for communities to buy into the program, and all the work reentry councils do is built on extensive and collaborative partnerships.

“We are looking for partners,” she said. “We need employers.”

Re-entry job fair

Pitt County residents who are interested in a re-entry program have an opportunity to look for employment today.

A job fair for formerly incarcerated individuals will take place from 2-4 p.m. at the Life Empowerment Center, 600 W. Third St.

This event is sponsored by local and county officials as well as local businesses. Call 752-9774.

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