Education – An Important Step to Re-entering the Community

National Reentry Week is April 24-30 and highlights the need to prepare those who have paid their debt to society for opportunities beyond the prison gates and the need to address the obstacles to successful reentry.
A prisoner walks out of the doors of the jail into the freedom he so desperately wanted and finds that most other doors are now firmly closed. A place to stay and food to eat require a good paying job and a good paying job requires transportation, an education and skills. The chasm between harsh reality and far off possibilities requires bridges that were burned a long time ago. For the majority, it’s easier to cross the one bridge left to them – 2/3 of those released are arrested again within three years.
At the Crossing, we have a mission to empower struggling students; on average, prisoners are an undereducated group – most maintain less than a 5th grade proficiency in reading and writing. To rebuild at least one bridge to a successful re-entry into society, the Crossing is partnering with the Elkhart County Jail Ministry to offer an education that follows our model of focusing on the heart and mind.
From 8:30am – 11:30am Monday thru Friday, Scott Martin, a Crossing teacher, manages a classroom of 15 students inside the jail. Participants are either working towards earning their diploma or passing the Indiana High School Equivalence Test through online learning.
Education isn’t the only thing being offered however; faith-based mentoring and job training are an integral part of the Crossing’s mission. Every morning there is family time, a daily conversation where inmates are encouraged to share openly about their struggles and successes and where biblical principles are part of the discussion.
When inmates are released, they are invited to continue their learning as part of the Second Chance Program, an evening class for adults at the Crossing Entrepreneurial Training Center. The Second Chance Program offers continuing education as well as relevant job training. The job training curriculum runs on a six week cycle and ends with technical certification. Participants are encouraged to return to continue building their skill base and are offered guaranteed job placement upon completion – a foundational piece of rebuilding bridges back into the community.
Most of the Crossing Second Chance Program staff did time in jail, and sharing their own experiences in reentry is key for participants, many of whom are in work release. Staff members know what it’s like to rebuild the bridges and they have specific, practical questions– Do you have housing once you get released? When you get a job, do you have transportation? Do you have a support system if old friends and their old habits come to call?
This relational focus begins the process of connecting people back into the community. Accountability balanced with genuine concern and care increases the chances of successful reentry.
We are privileged to work with the Jail Ministry to be a part of these men’s lives and their walk back into the community.