Everyone deserves a second chance, no matter how they got to where they are today. If there is a need to start over and try again, people deserve an opportunity to give it a shot, especially if their intentions are to remedy past wrongs whenever possible and begin in a fresh, positive direction.
Though theoretically most would agree that second chances are an important part of growing and learning, when it comes to drug addiction and crime, stigma very often limits the opportunities of those who are ready to start over in recovery – especially if they have a felony history due to choices made under the influence.
What might you face in your journey to recovery, and how can you best overcome those obstacles?
Drug Crimes and Blocked Resources
According to the American Bar Association, there are about 45,000 obstacles facing those who are released after being incarcerated for a choice related to drug addiction. Some of these obstacles include:
- An inability to return to work for at least five years if a drug felony was committed and the person works in the medical field
- Discrimination and barriers to getting a new job in many industries with a felony history
- Inability to get any public assistance, including food and financial assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), with a past that includes a drug felony (12 states have a lifetime ban)
- An inability to get financial aid for higher education or study grants for people with drug convictions
Dealing with Injustice
It is true that these sanctions and others that stop people in recovery from accessing the same resources that anyone else may use to better their lives are unfair. It is also true that these obstacles can limit opportunities to achieve the basics in life – food, shelter, education and employment – and again, this fact is not fair. There is a great deal of legislation [e.g., Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), REDEEM Act, REAL Act] and other movements in the works that are focused on remedying these issues and opening up the playing field to those who demonstrate that their past with addiction, criminal and otherwise, is most assuredly in the past, and that they are focused on living a life that is defined by sobriety and positive choices.
However, waiting for these changes to take place and then, if passed, to be implemented and become accessible may not be the best approach. The fact is that you don’t need any of these programs to get your life back on track. There are numerous ways to get over that initial hump after getting out of jail and to begin to move forward in creating the life that is most authentically you. For example, you can:
- Take advantage of free resources. Food banks, food kitchens, and homeless shelters are not convenient. They often require you to stand in line, spend a good portion of your day waiting around for your spot, and surround yourself with people who may not be as focused as you are on moving forward in life. But they can be incredibly useful, and they will help to ensure you have a place to sleep and food in your stomach as you get started.
- Take any job available. This is not the time to let pride get in the way or to be picky. If you can get a minimum-wage job doing anything, or even work on the side painting or cleaning houses, go for it.
- Save your money. Whether you are paid in cash or get a check, your first order of business is to start saving. Keep using free resources for food and shelter until you can get enough together to rent a room and then slowly move up from there. You will need a bank account so you aren’t carrying cash around with you (if you get paid in cash) or to deposit checks, and for this, you will usually need an address. Use your first paycheck to set up a PO box if needed, and be vigilant in saving every dollar you can.
- Find a stable living situation. It only takes a few hundred dollars a month to rent a room in a shared housing arrangement or to secure a room in an SRO. You may not find the most ideal situation right out of the gate, but you need a place to live as you rebuild your life. The key characteristic of your new home should be stability, offering you privacy. If you live with roommates, they too should not be living in active addiction.
- Utilize local libraries. When it comes to higher education, a library is a great place to start. The librarian can help you locate places to get your GED if you don’t have a high school diploma, find books that will help you master the basics in college-level math and English classes, apply for any scholarships that may be appropriate to your situation, find free classes for college credit, and enroll in community college classes as your resources grow. Taking even one class, if that’s all you can afford, can help to lighten the load later on, and it may be better for your grades if you go slow and focus on each course, especially in the beginning.
What options have you found to get through the first year in recovery after jail or prison time? What tips can you offer others in the same position?