The Next Step Program

 
"The transition from prison to the community for released offenders is a time of fear and self-doubt.  Many have little support.  Some are far from home in an unfamiliar city. A few may even be in dire need without an immediate roof over their heads."

   The Next Step Peer Support Program for Released Offenders is a program founded on a belief that there is potential for good in each person and that each person has the capacity to change. Personal support and encouragement may be the difference between succeeding or failing outside prison walls…and trust comes easier when somewhere in the support system there are persons who are not perceived as part of the correctional system - people who have taken the time to build relationships with inmates before they are released and who will be available to debrief with them on their fledgling efforts to adjust to community life.

 

   Offenders  need to experience a sense of belonging to the community in general, but more specifically to a smaller group where they can share their daily struggles and victories, listen and feel heard, give and gain support. Released offenders need to experience the love and support provided by chaplains and volunteers who journey with them, and to see a hand of acceptance reaching out in welcome from  the community they are attempting to re-enter.
 

   It is our firm belief that these men are far more than the crimes they have committed, and we are ready  to give them our support when they choose to make positive changes in their lives, and we are also ready to hold them accountable.

 

   We acknowledge that the success of Next Step programming is built on a team effort. In practical terms this includes prison administrators, reintegration personnel, parole officers in the prison and community, halfway house personnel, chaplains in the prison and the community, professionals involved in treatment, volunteers, and all other agencies and community members assisting in the reintegration process.

 

 


 

The Purpose of Next Step: 
 
It is our vision that this program provide:
 
  • The support of weekly group meetings where participants can share their struggles and accomplishments  in an atmosphere of trust and the readiness to affirm/challenge.
  • Personal development programming, using psycho-spiritual tools such as the Enneagram and Non-violent Communication to help participants grow in understanding self and others, and become committed  to transparency and honesty in their daily lives.
  • Practical input on money management, addictions, nutrition, etc.
  • Personal support through one-to-one meetings, prior to release and during parolees’ first months in the community.
  • Limited financial assistance based on the resources of Next Step and the needs of the individual.
  • The support of volunteers who provide encouragement, friendship, and insight at weekly meetings and beyond.
  • A “corridor of support” into the community consisting of assistance getting I.D.s and birth certificates, in finding avenues to employment, housing, social assistance, opportunities for further education and/or job training.
  • Clear communication and networking with prison and parole personnel.
  • Accountability to benefactors and sponsoring faith groups in the form of updates on what is happening in Next Step and how donations are being used.

 

Who can participate?


   The number of members participating in Next Step programming  varies between 8 and 10 inmates and parolees, with 2 coming from Rockwood Institution on temporary passes and the others living at Quixote House, halfway houses, or with family. Participants come from every religious affiliation and no religious affiliation. They range in age from early 20’s to late 50’s. Some are single and some in partnerships; some have family connections/support and others do not.  Participants come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. 
 

They have a few things in common:

 
  • Commitment to taking their lives in a new direction.
  • Desire to meet in a group setting conducive to open and honest sharing.
  • Willingness to make Thursday night meeting a top priority.
  • Realization that they need support.

Guiding Principles:

 

1. Circumstance of the past and time spent in prison combine to produce men who are wounded. Support for parolees calls for a blend of gentleness and firm, structured presence so they will feel both encouraged and challenged.

 

2. While acknowledging their brokenness, offenders also need to see a reflection of their own potential and goodness in the eyes of those who journey with them, so they can eventually come to see it on their own.

 

3. Failure to succeed on a first release is not to be  judged as a permanent failure, but potentially the “one step back” preceding or following the “two steps forward” in an ongoing journey to greater self-knowledge including a deeper awareness of  one’s own weakness and a deeper understanding of the pitfalls for which one must be prepared.