As a resident here at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, I am able to see all of those men who come in and go out of the corrections system, as WCC is the entry point for almost all men entering the system. There is an offender we know whom we have watched come in and go back out 16 times in the last seven years. It sounds depressing — and it is. This is one of the reasons why we started TOP. Before TOP, men who were getting released were given $40 gate money and a one-way bus ticket back to their community. Needless to say, this is not particularly conducive to success.
One such case is an offender who happened to be Native American. He went in and out of the system at least three times on violation in the past two years. For those of us who have plenty of time left, it is very discouraging to see someone who has so much going for him squander his opportunities.
In our peer-to-peer interview, we asked what we could do to help him. He replied that no one had ever asked him that before, and what he really needed was to go straight into drug treatment when he was released from prison.
We wrote a letter on his behalf to the Northwest Indian Treatment Center in Elma, Washington, explaining what he had told us about his situation. Two weeks later, he approached us and said that the director of the treatment center had been touched by the sincerity of our letter and had contacted his WCC counselor to arrange for him to be picked up outside the gate upon his release and taken straight to the center for a one-year inpatient treatment. He seemed a little discouraged by the one-year time frame, but we explained that this might be what he needed to save his life and give him the chance to have some measure of success in life.
To date, we have not seen him back in prison. That was three years ago.
TOP is a nonprofit organization inside the Washington Corrections Center (WCC), run by inmates under a contract with the Department of Corrections.
TOP began at WCC (the reception and diagnostic center for newly committed men) when we (WCC resident inmates) noticed that many of the same people were releasing from prison and then quickly returning, often several times.
In talking to them and exploring the reasons behind this "revolving door," we heard about homelessness, joblessness, addictions, lack of treatment programs as well as access to treatment programs, and the problem of falling back into old habits and associations once they had returned to their neighborhoods and friends. We saw a system that was falling apart and failing these people.
We began writing to food banks, apartment houses, medical clinics, churches, government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations, looking for resources that might be felon-friendly and that could be a resource for releasing inmates. We spoke to our friends, families, and the staff at DOC as well as the Garrett Heyns Education Center within WCC, to help us find more resources.
We now have a database of over 8,000 public and private organizations throughout the State of Washington. We use this database to build a personalized packet of information and resources specifically for the county an inmate is returning to. Before an individual leaves the system, we work with him on issues such as child support payments, outstanding driving violations, and cleaning up his credit history. We help him prepare a Personal Release Plan, with details on how he will reenter society, satisfy the stipulations of his Judgment & Sentence, and begin to build a healthy lifestyle.
TOP is currently working on an application that the incarcerated men and women can use with their JPay devices which are android tablets.
TOP was created by offenders for offenders, to make this information available to every individual prior to his release from the Washington State Department of Corrections.
POSITIVE COMMENTS FROM THE COMMUNITY
First, I so applaud your participation in this type of program! What an outstanding way to prepare for your 'Transition' back from corrections to City, or County life. The City of Richland supports the TOP Program concept. We cannot think of a more effective way of providing a transitional experience than to have a real life work experience, especially one that might likely lead someone to a long term career.
Gordon Beecher, Human Resources Director
City of Richland Risk Management and Safety Department
I am impressed by the work you and your colleagues are undertaking to support people as they transition from incarceration to their home community.
Ms. Erika Stanley, Manager
St. Joseph Hospital
POSITIVE COMMENTS FROM DOC STAFF
Wow! Did he do this release plan on his own, or is your facility helping offenders with this? I have never seen such a thing! Thanks for forwarding this to me ...
Lisa A. Lee
Community Corrections Officer
What a wonderful way for inmates to bring something positive to the Department of Corrections table. I had heard something was being created for inmates, by inmates. While being an officer here at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) I became familiar with the program. I see hard working incarcerated men building a huge database with just about anything a man, or woman, getting out of prison would need to know.
The beauty of this is it gives inmates something to be proud of. This covers the developers, the volunteers, and the inmates that know the information they receive comes from one of their own. The potential for this program to grow is huge. Congratulations to all involved for helping our prison population become aware of so many options they didn't know about, before TOP.
Polly Brooks, Corrections Officer
Washington Corrections Center
POSITIVE COMMENTS FROM OFFENDERS
I cannot express enough on how this program has helped me. This program has put a package designed just for me and all the resources to go to just in case I have troubles.
I'd like to thank you for the time spent putting together my packet. I'm now looking forward to going over it. I'm now at Larch Mt. C.C. and there's not a TOP program here.
I would like to know if I could receive your Transition Release Packet? I went over your packet that was sent to a friend of mine here at Stafford Creek. This could be extremely helpful in my transition back into the community.