A Hummel Report InvestigationMore than a third of the men and women released from prison in Rhode Island return to the ACI within a year - nearly half within three years - often because they have no support system when they get out. This month Jim Hummel takes a look at a decade-old program, run by a non-profit organization, that has reduced the recidivism rate of its participants dramatically, laying the groundwork for employment and sobriety.
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It is a graduation with no gowns, or music, or the obligatory walk across a stage.
But for Raphael Ribera this is a major milestone in his life - and one that may well save his life.
Raf, as his friends here call him, has just completed a 90-day reentry and recovery program run by The Blessing Way, a non-profit organization founded nearly a decade ago by The Reverend Joyce Penfield, an Episcopal priest who had worked as a chaplain with both men and women at the ACI.
Raphael: ``Sobriety, faith, and just getting my life back to together. I was pretty broken when I got here and other pieces are coming back together again.’’
Raf’s story is a familiar one. He has had substance abuse problems and was periodically homeless. Others who make their way here are fresh out of prison, often with no support system or resources - and with a good chance of winding up back behind bars.
Rev. Penfield: ``The prison can’t keep up with all of the needs of what people have outside, they can’t, they just don’t have the resources.’’
When Rev. Penfield began working with female inmates back in 2001 she quickly learned getting out of prison brought mixed emotions.
Rev. Penfield: ``They were afraid to leave - and then when I started listening it was because they had no place to go, they had no job, they had no network of support.
Hummel: ``And a record.’’
Rev. Penfield: ``And a record, and also mental health problems and whatever. Mainly they had nothing.’’
In her job as chaplain Rev. Penfield eventually met all of the women admitted to prison - and quickly found she knew many of them - because they had reoffended and were sent back to the ACI.
And that was the inspiration for The Blessing Way, which is operated out of St. Peter’s and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Providence, where the Rev. Penfield is the part-time priest-in-charge. She devotes the majority of her week to The Blessing Way as its executive director.