By Augie Ghilarducci
“What kind of world do you want to return to?”
Although I’d been going into jails and prisons to deliver 2nd Opportunity’s programming since early 2018 — not long after my own release from federal prison — it wasn’t until October 2020 that I started posing this question to program participants atop a two-sided handout filled with blank lines. We were going on month 8 of the COVID lockdown, and it was becoming apparent that the lack of visits and outside contact was wearing on the guys. More than anything, I just wanted to give them an opportunity to express themselves; I really didn’t have any expectations about participation rates or what, if anything, would come out of this little experiment.
To my surprise, probably close to 80% of the guys took the time to write an essay. Some wrote only a few sentences, while others attached four handwritten sheets of notebook paper to the handout. That told me they had something to say and they wanted to be heard. What’s more, all of the essays shared a common sentiment: that they wanted to return to a world that would give them a second chance to work hard and make an honest living, without being stigmatized or discriminated against because of their background.
One of the main reasons these guys opt to take our courses in the first place is that they want help better preparing to re-enter society after their release, knowing full well that there are some serious challenges in front of them with regard to housing, employment, relationships, and more. Their essays confirm that they have serious concerns about being able to overcome the challenges their background presents.
When I shared some of the recent responses I’ve gotten with my 2nd Opp colleagues, I think they were genuinely moved. Because while we talk a lot about the barriers of re-entry in our daily jobs and do our best to bring awareness to them through the work we do, there’s nothing like hearing it directly from those living it. That’s why we decided to start a new series called Voices from the Inside that will feature a sampling of the essays we’ve collected from our work inside Illinois county jails. We hope you’re as moved as we were — and as motivated to create a world that will give men and women who have served their time and are returning to society a fair shot at building a new life.
So, without further ado, here is our very first installment of Voices from the Inside, in the words of Michael M.:
What kind of world do you want to return to?
“When I envision an ideal world I can return to, a lot of things come to mind. Some things seem impossible while others seem like common sense. Above all, I just want a second chance. Although there has been some progress in this regard, there is still much to be done. In an age where a simple Google search reveals only the worst parts of my past, it is impossible for me to not be discriminated against. This not only affects my employability, but also my housing, education and relationships. Even with measures in place to prevent this, they do little good in my experience. I believe everybody deserves a fair shot at a second chance upon completing their sentence. If not, then why are we even released? In conclusion I would just like to finish my punishment and get on with my life. To live honestly and honorably. I am very thankful for the 2nd Opportunity program to help me do this.”
—Michael M., Kendall County Jail, Illinois