TURNING POINTS—Encounters that Matter in the Classroom & Beyond


What We Talk About When We Talk About Prisoner Re-Entry


Bruce Noddin, Director of Maine Prisoner Re-Entry Network, realizes that one cannot talk about criminal justice issues without also discussing addiction, education, housing, and other problems in society. He also knows that individuals who are trying to return to society after incarceration do better when connected with key people. That’s why he helped establish Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network.


Just as certain personal relationships may have contributed to one’s incarceration, new connections with mentors, peer counselors, and recovery coaches can make a positive difference when individuals return to society. These encounters can prove to be turning points in the lives of formerly incarcerated Americans.


Like Bruce, Maine State Representative Rachel Talbot-Ross grasps that those connections between issues and people matter. (Both pictured below) At a recent MPRN meeting in Rockland, Maine, she informed a broad range of social service workers and volunteers about proposed legislation intended to help their efforts to assist formerly incarcerated men and women in the complicated challenge of re-entering society.


My background is with nontraditional college students. As I wrote about in OPEN ADMISSIONS, in my last semester of teaching, one of the most inspiring students in my Community College of Philadelphia class was a single-father who’d spent considerable time in prison.


He and his daughter had a roof over their heads, and my student was making new relationships with people who were helping him reinvent his life. Teachers helped him beyond the classroom, and counselors made sure that he knew about resources at the college and in the community, including connections with people who helped him with housing. With successful classmates in his social network, he acquired peer models for engaged student behavior. In short, he rewired his priorities and headed himself in a healthy direction.


Though not all of his steps were dramatic, they incrementally built knowledge, trust, and relationships. This is true for all of us. A private conference with a teacher may focus on a student’s next assignment but can be the spark a student needs to prompt another visit to talk about course selection or about how to deal with a not so agreeable teacher. Over time, a series of counseling sessions can build a level of trust that a student never has experienced with another person. After such a turning point, we see before us a person whose way of thinking has changed. And changed people behave in new ways.

Bruce Noddin was featured in a radio program earlier this year that brought to light the challenges faced by those returning to freedom after incarceration. Their personal triumphs are important for themselves, their families, and their communities. http://www.mainepublic.org/post/life-after-prison-insights-ex-prisoners#stream/0 When I listen to the voices of these determined people, I hear more than their words. I hear the impact of changed thinking. And I think of all the questions I want to ask them about the steps that brought them to where there are now. Listen to the recording with turning points in mind, and let me know what you think.



MPRN October 26, 2018 Bruce Noddin & Rachel Talbot-Ross