A number of years ago I was on a panel with a number of criminal justice experts and formerly incarcerated people (criminal justice experts in their own right), and a formerly incarcerated woman was describing reentry. She said, “Reentry is like…walking through the Stargate.” She then asked the audience if anyone had seen the movie and or the series on the Sci-Fi Channel. She described how, when leaving one world and entering another, there’s this…this thing that happens to the body. On Stargate you see, I guess, she explained, the molecules of the body going through a subtle but visible change, because of the movement from one world to another.
I have been on almost countless criminal justice panels, conferences and the like, and this was the first time I thought that someone came close to describing reentry. Reentry can be so otherworldly that one has to use Sci-Fi metaphors and language to attempt to describe it.
I am relatively well-read. I have read widely across a number of fields, religion, law, criminal justice, literature, and for the most part am smart enough to understand what I am reading. Still, one subject matter always eluded me: physics. I have read Einstein and other scientists, and I might as well have been reading Greek (which I studied while in Seminary), and not until I read Stephen Hawking did I begin to understand the theory of relativity, black holes and the like. While reading another scientist, I had a Eureka! moment when I came across this definition of a “quantum jump”: “going from one state to another with nothing in between.” I said, “That’s reentry!”
We lock people up, America, that is, for long periods of time, and when they have served their time we release them. We send them through the Reentry Stargate, to a world that has dramatically changed since they were last in it, and wonder why the rate of return to prisons and jails (recidivism) is so high. Part of it, I think, is our fundamental misunderstanding of reentry. We think it’s simply an act, the actual return, but it’s a process. It’s a process that people reentering will need guides to successfully navigate.
Reentry is like….