Posted on December 2, 2020 | Jennifer Mendes Dwyer and Yves Brady, Progressive Maryland
Many formerly incarcerated people lack access to the resources necessary to readjust to civilian life. Since 2019, Progressive Maryland’s Reentry Workgroup has been fighting for rights and opportunities for returning citizens.
This past May, the workgroup held a forum attended by more than 80 returning citizens to hear about their reentry experiences. Many folks shared that, while reentry programs had been essential for them to prepare for release, there are still numerous gaps upon return. Based on participants’ feedback, the workgroup decided to circulate a survey to learn more about those gaps, as well as the skills and professional training they had learned while incarcerated but were having trouble applying after their release.
These survey responses laid the foundation for a list of five reentry priorities:
- Expansion of voting rights
- Transitional housing
- Establishing a centralized reentry resource center
- Creating a Prince George’s County office on Returning Citizens’ Affairs
In July, we held a town hall to introduce these priorities to the public. Several key policymakers within Prince George’s government including County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, County Councilmember At-Large Calvin Hawkins, and Reentry Advisory Board Chair Walter Simmons participated in the event.
Five Reentry Workgroup members, all of whom are returning citizens, presented one priority apiece. Lawrence Maynard raised the importance of stable housing. He describes himself as “one of the lucky ones,” having had a place to stay and a strong support system upon his return, which he views as having been critical to his transition back into civilian life. “It’s about getting a jump start on life,” he said, adding that adjusting to a whole new life can be challenging for returning citizens who are on their own.
Progressive Maryland leader Dr. Ron Garrett echoed Lawrence’s comments. When asked why he cares about this work, he explained that he was alone upon his release, without a home or a job, which he felt caused him to fall back into the old patterns that had led to his incarceration to begin with. “There is no support when you get out,” he says.
County representatives took these stories and comments back to Upper Marlboro to begin developing plans to address the needs of these returning citizens. This month, our Reentry Workgroup leaders and our Prince George’s County Lead Organizer, Kendall Stark, met with Councilmember Hawkins and State’s Attorney Braveboy to check in on the county’s progress.
Inspired by the discussion at the townhall, Councilmember Hawkins introduced a bill (CB 028-2020) that will provide financial incentives for businesses that hire formerly incarcerated workers. In addition, the county coordinated with state government to ensure voter registration applications were sent to all those awaiting trial or release from prison, as well as all individuals charged with misdemeanors in jails and prisons statewide. The county has also reached out to DC’s government to learn more about how they established their Office on Returning Citizens Affairs and to request that representatives speak at an upcoming Reentry Advisory Board meeting.
Currently, our Reentry Workgroup members are developing ideas for good transitional housing models to present to the county. Utilizing successful projects from across the country as a launchpad, our leaders are motivated to create a program that fits the needs of Prince George’s residents. The workgroup is also reaching out to state policymakers to figure out logistics for a “one stop shop” where returning citizens can apply for driver’s licenses, acquire birth certificates, and fill out other paperwork they’ll need to continue on with their lives.
Lawrence is optimistic for the success of these initiatives: “They’ve been done, we just have to repeat it.”
Jennifer Mendes Dwyer is Deputy Executive Director of Progressive Maryland. A Rhode Island native, Jennifer moved to Prince George’s County in 2004 to pursue a degree in Latin and Ancient Greek at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2013, while working on her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr College, Jennifer discovered Walmart had plans to build a 24-Hour Supercenter 150 feet behind her home in Bowie, Maryland. She organized her neighbors to stop the project–and they won!
She has worn a few different hats since joining the Progressive Maryland team in the spring of 2016 as Prince George’s County Lead Organizer. As Deputy Executive Director, she partners Prpgressive Maryland with foundations and allied organizations to build power for our movement.
Yves Brady started their journey in activism right out of high school as a street canvasser in DC fighting for human rights. They have helped organize and facilitate a number of street protests throughout the years including the DC Black Women’s March of 2018. In addition, they have used their canvass knowledge to help secure electoral positions for several progressive candidates, including delegates Vaughn Stewart and Lee Carter. After learning about Progressive Maryland, Yves joined on as a door-to-door canvasser helping the team promote progressive candidates across the state. After the 2018 election cycle when they helped lead Progressive Maryland’s independent expenditure campaign for Ben Jealous, they returned as an intern. Yves is pursuing a career in criminal justice law in order to become a public defender in the area to fight against unjust arrests.