“Nothing About Us Without Us”

During my time as the Peer Policy Fellow, I’ve had a personal interest in the cross section of substance use disorder and reentry. This has lead me to provide public testimony during the 86th legislative session on reentry issues and to become apart of the Travis County Reentry Roundtable (TCRRT) and an active member of the Reentry Advocacy Project (RAP). In 2019, I became the RAP Representative on the Executive Board of TCRRT.

My personal connection to the issue of reentry is my son Isaiah, who is serving time in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Being directly impacted by the criminal justice system doesn’t mean that you are the one behind bars. As a parent of an incarcerated individual, I suffer my own trauma. The self-blame that has gone on in my head because I take on some of responsibility for his incarceration “Was it something that I didn’t do that contributed to my son’s incarceration?” “Was it the fact that I was using and unavailable mentally, physically and spiritually to parent my son?”.

During my interaction with members of my Hogg Fellowship Cohort who were formerly incarcerated, I learned about the term “Collateral Consequences”. The National Incarceration Association defines Collateral Consequences as the:

Direct consequences of a criminal conviction that are NOT part of the civil state penalties (i.e. Incarceration, fines or probation.) They are further actions that are triggered as a consequence of the conviction.

These are those consequences that make a returning citizen ineligible to vote,  hampers his or her ability rent an apartment, or fill out an application without disclosing the facts of their incarceration.

In my making amends and being his dad, I want to do all that I can to make my son’s return back to the community less restrictive once he has paid his debt to society. So I have a vested interest in the work that I am doing for the remainder of my fellowship.

As the RAP Representative, I proposed to TCRRT the “RAP Focus Group & Community Forum”. This initiative is designed to hear the voices of those for whom we are advocating. Webster’s dictionary defines the term “Advocacy” as follows:

  “Advocacy is the act of speaking on the behalf of or in support of another person, place or thing.”

The slogan “Nothing About Us without Us” communicates the idea that the development and implementation of policy should not be decided by any representative or representative organization without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) effected by said policy. To that end, since January of 2020, RAP has facilitated a participatory planning process that has drawn broad-based participation from different segments of the of the Travis County Community. All of them coming together to create an opportunity for the voices of  formerly incarcerated individuals living in Travis County to be heard.

We are now in the implementation stage of our planning strategy. Our goal with this initiative is twofold.

  1. To have fifty (50) formerly incarcerated individuals participate in a series of five (5) virtual focus groups during the week of July 18, 2020. We are very close to meeting our goal. However there are still some slots available. Each participant will receive a $50 gift card from HEB.
  2.  To complete 300 surveys that focus on looking at the barriers that formerly incarcerated individual and/or loved ones of those individuals have faced as collateral consequences of their incarceration. We have not reached our goal.

The end result of this initiative is to utilize the data collected to:

  • Provide information resources for legislators and their staffs to help shape policy during this legislative session
  • Real time data to be utilized by RAP, TCRRT member organizations and our Community Partners to improve services and to create initiatives that positively impact the lives of formerly incarcerated living in Travis County

If you are a formerly incarcerated individual or family member and would like to participate as a focus group participant and/or just fill out a short survey, we welcome your participation. I have attached an information flyer so you can join in on making an IMPACT!!!!!

Continue to be GREAT on PURPOSE!!!