This is the story of Dante, an ex-offender who received assistance from IMPACT Community Action in his own words:
“At the age of 21, I was a young man with dreams, hopes and potential, but I was also immature, irresponsible, impressionable and reckless. I made a mistake that cost me 18 years of my life. I went to jail in June 1994 and was released on May 23, 2012.
“While incarcerated, I fully adapted to my environment. My trust level was at zero and I lived in a world by myself. When they shut that door and I realized that I was not getting out, I had to disconnect myself emotionally. I shut down my feelings for 23 hours a day. I became detached and my heart was like stone. Anger and violence were the tools I used so I wouldn’t become a victim while serving my time, but those are the most primitive emotions and they change you. I always felt like I deserved every day of those 18 years, and I was truly remorseful. However, the reality was that the behavior I had adopted would keep me in prison, but that wasn’t my biggest fear. I came into the realization that upon my release, my biggest fear was that I would not be accepted or fit into society and that I would fail and return to prison – perhaps this time for life.
“My corrections sergeant told me about IMPACT (and their Re-Entry Work Readiness program). He said, ‘Son, this is a good program. You need to set yourself up for success and not failure.’ He also told me that I had potential, but I needed training and if I didn’t get some, I would end up back in prison. He told me that I needed to get as much help while I was still in prison and then when I got out of prison, I should take advantage of every program and service that I could find.
“IMPACT placed me in its Re-Entry program in June. When I began the classes I had very little, if any, social skills. Although I was no longer behind bars, I was still imprisoned within myself. The Re-Entry Work Readiness program was way more than what I thought it would be. I became proactive in education and resources while I was in prison, but after 18 years of holding on to old ways of thinking, this program helped me to let go of my past and get back in touch with my emotions and understand others. We did an exercise called the ‘Johari Window’ and it took me two hours to clear my heart and my head and make up my mind that I was done with the past and was moving forward. We progressed daily to understanding our present value to society and how we still had time to make a difference. The Family Development Specialist (who helps you through the process) will not let you give up. From the moment that I stepped in the door, I felt encouraged and that they genuinely cared about my future.
“My mother always supported me. I know that she loves me, but she deserved to have the opportunity to be proud of her son and I was determined to be successful after re-entry. Can I tell you that the Employment Plus program (at IMPACT) is the truth?! I was challenged everyday in some way, shape, form or fashion. Between computer literacy (training), resume writing, classroom scenarios, team building and redefining myself, there was never time for me to doubt myself.
“Now that I had become employable, I needed a job to validate my transformation. I was given the opportunity to apply for a job while still attending the class and I got the job. By August I had a job (with) a reputable commercial cleaning company (in Ohio). My new employer stated that I was professional and represented myself well.
“I actually became gainfully employed before the program ended, but I felt like I owed it to my classmates to continue to press on with them until they graduated and got jobs. I worked the night shift and I didn’t get off until 3 a.m. or sometimes 4 a.m., but I was determined to finish what I started. So I would get off work, get two hours of sleep and then go to class at IMPACT. When I graduated, in cap and gown, with a job and a new family, I was finally able to give my mother a moment where she could be proud of me. My kids and my family are my life and now they have their father and a son who they can trust and say that he overcame his obstacles and got on the right track.
“My dream is to own a cleaning company. I want to grow my company into an opportunity for not only financial freedom, but wealth where I can employ others who need a second chance. I talk about IMPACT all the time and I want to do for others the same things that were done for me. My business will make an everlasting impression and change someone’s life.
“(Thanks to IMPACT) I am a 40-year-old, single and gainfully employed African American man. I have reunited with my family and I am chasing my dream, while living life to the fullest every day.”
For more information about Community Action programs in your area, visit www.oacaa.org. Note, not all Community Action Agencies offer re-entry programs.