As I stood at the glass exit of the Allegheny County Prison this afternoon, it was hard to feel anything but hope. Waiting for the Corrections Officer (CO) to buzz me back into the world is always a moment of anxiety. I think of the prisoners who only know the inside, who are afraid of the big world outside the white concrete block walls of this jail. After my first few trips inside, I began to see familiar faces, hear familiar sounds and not be as surprised by now familiar occurrences.
Foundation of HOPE addresses the problem of recidivism by offering inmates support and direction both during their incarceration and after their release. Each year, about 30,000 people are arrested and brought to the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. The jail’s population – generally between 2,500-2700 on a daily basis – is growing. Of those in the general jail population, a significant number will return (or recidivate). This recidivism is primarily because once released, inmates face incredible obstacles in overcoming or avoiding the factors that contributed to their crime in the first place. Many inmates return to the lifestyles, communities, and loved ones who may have influenced their crime. Nationally, 44.1% of inmates will recidivate within one year of being released. This comes at a high cost. According to a study published by the University of Pittsburgh, each inmate’s incarceration, on average, costs $43,662.00 per year. When participants are matched with a mentor and participate in the HOPE Aftercare program, the recidivism rate drops to around 10%.
I have had the pleasure of becoming a mentor with the Foundation of Hope program. I was paired with a young lady and have enjoyed every visit with her. Although for her personal privacy and protection I can’t share any details about her, she easily found a place in my heart. Today is a huge day for her because tomorrow she will be released back into this big, big world. If the buzz at the exit door is a huge moment for me, I can’t even begin to imagine how it will feel for her. What I learned in prison is that not all of us get a second chance. Many of us are born with the odds stacked against us. We are all just one step away from an instance that could change our lives forever. Instead of ignoring that reality, many of us have the ability to inspire someone, to help guide others in a positive direction and truly make an impact in someone’s life.
For additional information about the program and how to become a mentor, please visit www.foundationofhope.org/programs/aftercare/. I have also enjoyed reading the many success stories that have come from this program.