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Ex-cons Talk Reentering Society in UAB Panel

By Danielle Merrill

Photo: Rob Davis of the OAA speaking, taken from livestream

Ex-convicts need more help from the community when transitioning from incarceration to freedom, according to representatives of the Offender Alumni Association (OAA), who led a panel held by the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy and UAB’s Institute for Human Rights Thursday.

Phyllis Richie, an ex-convict who was granted parole in 2018, said that she came from a long line of violence, which resulted in a lot of trauma.

“One of the biggest trauma events that I did not know affected me was the fact that my brother was shot and killed by my father in our living room,” Richie said.

Richie said that navigating life was a big adjustment after leaving prison and that there were so many things that she didn’t know existed since she had been incarcerated.

One of the biggest changes, according to her, was getting back into the lives of her children.

“They were 6 and 12 when I came to prison, and they were 35 and 27 when I got out, so that was another devastating event,” Richie said.

Passion Farley, an ex-convict who has only been out for 15 months, said that her transition from incarceration to being released was also overwhelming, and that she’s still trying to adapt.

The OAA has shaped many past offenders’ lives, as they provide a peer-to-peer support group that attempts to help people readjust to their lives outside of prison.

Farley said the OAA was tremendous, and that she had two mentors from the association to help her with everything that she needed once she was released.

“You can get somewhere to stay, you might get something to eat or some clothes, but that doesn’t help your mental state. To have someone that has been where you’ve been, and have been out, and have accomplished things, it helps you to know that you can do this,” Farley said.

Ex-convict Rob Davis said some of the hardest issues he had to deal with coming out of prison were everything from getting an ID and a social security card to receiving food and housing.

“For every little thing that’s taken for granted on a day-to-day basis, I struggle with,” Davis said.

Dena Dickerson, the program director of OAA who has been out of incarceration for 8 years, said that the association initially started as a group strictly for formerly incarcerated people in 2014, but grew to be much more than that.

“We’re talking about the collateral consequences of long-term incarceration. They’re unable to express themselves out of fear of what it may do, and so we’ve never been able to communicate properly and openly with one another, so we invite that to the space,” Dickerson said.

To close off, Dickerson told UAB students that they’re going to be future leaders when it comes to people who need help.

“We are depending on you,” she said, “There’s 27,000 other families in the state of Alabama that are depending on you.”

The full discussion is available here.

Edited by Breeze Yancie & Ryan Michaels

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