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Program Helps Former Inmates Reintegrate Into Society

June 20, 2013 1:19 p.m.


Nancy Jamison, Executive Director, San Diego Grantmakers

Conrad Harris, Transition Advocate, Case Manager, Coming Home to Stay

Sheila Morton, former Coming Home to Stay client, current peer mentor at Crossroads, substance abuse program

Related Story: Program Helps Former Inmates Reintegrate Into Society


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Being incarcerated for years is punishment for a crime. But it is not a lesson in how to live in society. Prison realignment has shifted the responsibility of parole from the state to the counties. So programs that help former inmates transition back into normal life are more important than ever. The City Heights and Diamond neighborhoods are home to the largest number of people on probation in San Diego County. A program called Coming Home to Stay is for people coming out of prison and county jails. It helps them establish lives that work and lessens the chances that they'll reoffend. A recent report confirmed it's working! Conrad, welcome to the program.

HARRIS: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Nancy Jamison is director of San Diego Grant Makers. Hello!


CAVANAUGH: Sheila Morton is a former client. Welcome.

MORTON: Thank you so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now, are Nancy, let me start with you. Tell us how this program came to be.

JAMISON: San Diego Grant Makers is a nonprofit member association, and our members are foundations and corporate giving programs, representatives of what we call organized philanthropy that looks at trying to make their philanthropy as positive and impactful as possible in the community. And we try to bring philanthropic organizations together to address needs in the community in a positive way. So in 2006, several organizations, the California endowment, Price Charity, the Parker Foundation, came together to look at this problem we're talking about today. And they worked closely with community members, formerly incarcerated community members, law enforcement, nonprofit agencies and designed a program to develop a coordinated resource for existing providers, and linking agencies to address this challenge for the good of all.

CAVANAUGH: So you got together with all these people, and you kind of came up with what services would really make a difference, if you offered to people coming out of jail and prison these particular thing, they would really make a difference, that they wouldn't reoffend, and they would actually come home to stay.

JAMISON: Yes. And linking the existing services as well. So there are a lot of things happening that are positive if these communities that we needed to add little oomphs to them.

CAVANAUGH: Let me move to Sheila. You were helped by the program. Can I ask you what you were convicted for?

MORTON: Well, it was a series of petty thefts that grew into a greater charge because it was repeated. So they changed the types of charge that they gave me and started calling it things like commercial burglary and things like that because it carried a heavier sentence. Because if you repeat offend, they feel like you're not learning a lesson by going to the county jail, which is what caused me to go to listen.

CAVANAUGH: So you went to Las Colinas

MORTON: Well, I went there several times. And it was kind of like a slap on the hand type of thing. And after you've repeated the process so many time, they feel like you're not learning a lesson, you're not taking the law seriously, and they increase the type of charge that they give you.


MORTON: And then you actually do a prison term.

CAVANAUGH: Before you were released this last time --

MORTON: Yes, ma'am.

CAVANAUGH: Were you concerned about what you were going to face outside? How you were going to get your life back on track?

MORTON: Oh, certainly!

CAVANAUGH: So what had you encountered before when you got out on these shorter charges? Why did you keep going back in?

MORTON: Well, I didn't have a made up mind. And the thing about it, I never had any drug charges or anything like that. But it was drug addiction that drove the criminal activity. So after a while, if you -- common sense tells you if you keep doing the same things, the same things are going to continue to happen. And I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. And after you've done a prison term, you get a wake-up call. And I didn't want to live like that. Prison life is no life. But coming back out and going back in again, I got a made up mind by that time.

CAVANAUGH: Conrad Harris, you've been with coming home to stay since the doors opened in 2010. What kinds of services can you offer people who need help which they get out of jail or prison?

HARRIS: Well, we've identified really five or six major components or barriers to individuals coming home from prison. And that would be housing, transportation, medical, education, employment, and family relationships. So we offer counseling as far as family relationships. Mental health issues that a lot of these issues have coming home from prison. We do provide help with transportation in the way of transit bus passes, trolley passes. Medical conditions, we address those conditions. We have a partnership with San Ysidro health clinics that has a mobile unit that comes out and does a health assessment of each and every client.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, give us an example if you would or perhaps an idea of how a health issue might hamper somebody who's trying to make that transition.

HARRIS: Let's say you have an individual who comes home, he may be a diabetic. Coming home from prison, in some cases, they only give you a two weeks supply of insulin coming home from prison. So you have an individual who comes home who's unemployed, doesn't have any financial resources, and has an ailment that needs to be attended to on a regular basis. So we provide that individual upon enrollment into the program that opportunity through San Ysidro health clinics to go in, get a health assessment, they write a prescription, and we at coming home to stay buy the prescription and make sure the individual doesn't have that barrier in front of him or her coming home.

CAVANAUGH: So the people who are complaints of coming home to stay, have they finish there'd time? Are they on their probation or both?

HARRIS: Both. Some of them are on probation or parole. Some individuals who get out don't even have probation or parole. The requirement is that they have to be released from jail or prison within 90 days and live in the zip codes of 92113, 114, and 115. And don't have any arson. And sex crimes are on a case by case basis.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned that it really focuses on the communities of Diamond and City Heights. We've heard that many inmates are released into those communities. How has the community responded to this program?

HARRIS: The community very supportive of it. We have anyone from wives to girlfriends to grandmothers and all family members coming in, speaking with Mr. Sanders, our program director, myself, and giving us high praise and thanking us for helping their son or daughter or husband or wife get back on track and having that support network.

CAVANAUGH: Sheila, you told us, okay, after this prison stint, you made up your mind, you didn't like prison, you didn't want to do this anymore. What kind of help did you find at coming home to stay?

MORTON: Well, I came through a substance abuse program, which is where I find out about coming home to stay. I had a counselor there that introduced this to me. And she felt like this program would be perfect for the type of person that I was, and the situation they was in. So the type of help that I received, first of all, what really struck my interest, because I had done programs prior to this, what struck my interest is that Mr. Sanders, who is the program director, was very approachable. And also the rest of the staff, like Mr. Conrad and Melody, they were very approachable and personal. And they made me feel like they were hearing me as an individual, rather than me being just another number coming through. They offered me things and followed through, like things with dental, my eyeglasses, helping me get my birth certificate. When I came out of prison, I had absolutely nothing. And they met me right where I was and gave me the things that made me have -- renewed my self-esteem and made me feel like I mattered.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Did they help you get a job?

MORTON: They did. Well, actually, I started out with a volunteer job where I was getting a $50 stipend, which coming home to stay does those type of things also. The fact they was in a substance abuse program, I had housing. But they helped me with that even after the fact when I left the substance abuse program. They helped me with housing. And by getting that volunteer work and that $50 stipend, I told the young lady the other day that that $50 was like $50,000 to me! Because you are at a point where you aren't making anything, you are don't have anything. The volunteer job was very humbling, where it made me feel like, okay, somebody gave me a chance. Somebody trusts me. I was working with money on a daily basis. That was an unheard of thing. So it boost my confidence, gave me self-esteem, and opened doors for other job opportunities.

CAVANAUGH: What are you doing today?

MORTON: I'm a peer coacher at coming home to stay. And the substance abuse program I spoke about, I'm on the staff at that program.

CAVANAUGH: That's big. Congratulations.

MORTON: Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: There's been growing concern. There's even something in the news today about federal judges have ordered the State of California to release more inmates from state prisons. And there's a growing concern that having more probationers, more people who are just out of jails or prison is leading to more crime in San Diego neighborhoods. What's your take on that?

HARRIS: I mean it does very much have a potential for that. You have a lot of these individuals who we deal with who are coming home from jail or prison that lack education, that lack transferrable work skills, and really like Ms. Morton just elaborated on, no one has given them a chance. A lot of individuals I work with, once they see someone really concerned about them as a person, and not coming from a judgmental perspective with them, they thrive to be successful. And you have, like, 30,000 individuals who they must release from prison. I think San Diego is the 3rd highest, and southeastern San Diego has the 3rd highest recidivism rate in all of California. So a lot of these individuals who are getting released are going to be coming to our neighborhoods. And if not given an opportunity for employment, and for some type of social change or social acceptance, then the crime rate can definitely go up.

CAVANAUGH: And Nancy, when you hear something like that about this federal order to release more prisoners, I guess San Diego Grant Makers and other organizations realize that the need for programs like coming home to stay -- I mean, it's increasing, here in San Diego, all over California.

JAMISON: Yes, and that's why it's so great to hear about the success of this program, the numbers have been good. Of

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the numbers.

JAMISON: The recidivism rate within the first year of release is 37%, and that's compared to 57% statewide. So that's a huge increase in percentage points. And the other thing is that there's much attention being paid to this by philanthropy. The sheriff's department, are the District Attorney's Office, the Probation Department, the public systems are really trying to work together with each other and with philanthropy and nonprofit entities that are trying to make this all work better on behalf of the health and well being of the individuals and our community at large. So it's a joined effort. It's going to take us all working together. And coming home to stay is a great example of that.

CAVANAUGH: Sheila, you told us just a little bit of your story. And a lot of the hardship that you go through in order to make a transition the way you've made.


CAVANAUGH: You just have to sort of gloss over, we don't hear the beginning, the middle. Since you've been through this experience, do you think most people who get out of prison can turn their lives around if they get this kind of help?

MORTON: I do. I really and truly do. I'm speaking from a woman's perspective because I am a woman. That was the one thing that was brought to my attention while I was in prison. Women need an advocate. Women commit crimes that aren't really malice, they're more like a menace. Like stealing and prostitution and domestic, that type of thing. If they had someone to advocate for them and someone had meet them right where they are when they come out of prison and supply the things that they need to make them be able to go on a job and dress appropriately, to not feel bad about a missing tooth, or not be ashamed of the way they talk, it would make a huge difference. And I just believe that.

CAVANAUGH: I want thank you all so much. Sheila Morton, Conrad Harris, Nancy Jamison, thank you for taking the time and coming in and talking to us.

MORTON: Thank you so much for having us.

JAMISON: Thank you for the opportunity.

HARRIS: Thank you.