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Preparing inmates for life after prison - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Preparing inmates for life after prison

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A second chance, that's what many former inmates say they need but cannot seem to find.

"I'm 45 years old. I've been in and out of prison for 31 years," said Willie Nelson, who spent time behind bars on drug-related charges.

Prisoners like Nelson say integrating back into society with so few resources is nearly impossible.

Vermont Interfaith Action held a forum Thursday evening to share their research about how the Department of Corrections can help inmates moving back into the community.

When Nelson readied for his release, he wondered what help he would have on the outside. He had no clothes, no phone and no stability. But with the help of many in the community, Nelson's case is now an example of model reintegration.

"A lot of times people re-enter with nothing lined up," explained Mary Carter, an organizer for Vermont Interfaith Action. "They don't have references. There is nothing available that they are aware of."

Even once Nelson felt he had the skills and training to apply for a job, he still faced obstacles.

"The only thing that I didn't have in place was learning how to write a resume or learning how to use a computer or write a cover letter," Nelson said. "When I went to the people, I was up in Newport facility in Newport, I asked to get that and they denied me only for the simple fact that I wasn't in the education department."

Vermont Interfaith Action suggested that DOC caseworkers work with inmates earlier before they're released so they can receive the job training and skills that they need.

The group also encouraged the use of community support programs such as Circles of Support and Accountability or CoSA, which establishes accountability groups for inmates and gives advice or counseling once prisoners are released.

According to Chris Barton, an employee of the Vermont Department of Corrections, "The support systems that most of us take for granted, many of our offenders don't have those same support systems when they come out. That's where the community is so essential in their transition."

Many former prisoners don't know that these support groups are available and many others find themselves back behind bars before the groups can lend their support.

Nelson says his support group from CoSA has helped him set his own long-term goals.

"There is a better life out here for us. We just need a chance. Just need a chance to show that we can do this and support is the biggest thing," Nelson said.

After years of dealing with addiction and self-doubt, Nelson says his support community has taught him to believe in himself.

"Been through a lot in my life but I don't want to be that person no more. I gotta do what I gotta do to stay out here in the community and be a part of it, which is a struggle on a daily basis."

Nelson has been sober for more than two and a half years now. He hopes to start his own barbershop.

All three special guests that work with the Department of Corrections who attended the meeting agreed to meet with Vermont Interfaith Action in six months to discuss implementing more support systems for former inmates.

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