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‘The key turns twice’

Earnest Townes-160All too often when media coverage speaks of an individual who has been formerly incarcerated, it is usually in a negative context (i.e. arrested again, person of interest, not new to the criminal justice system, lengthy arrest record).

Following this coverage, depending on the gravity of the crime, there may be public outcry as to "why was he/she released in the first place?" As a result, seemingly all offenders are then cast into that same category.

It would be asinine to even suggest every offender returns to society with positive goals and the desire to be a productive member of his/her community. I, too, cringe upon hearing the news of another ex-offender having committed the same or a more appalling crime. Yet, I do contend that amidst that population is a sector with aspirations and hopes of moving forward in their lives!

Therefore the question looms, "Are we to stereotype all ex-offenders into one category?"

We entrust the Board of Parole and Probation as well as our legal and judicial systems to put in place policies, procedures and regulations to govern the incarceration, release and reentry of offenders. It is their charge and/or responsibility as decision makers to maintain the standards and provisions mandated by law to safeguard both the rights of society and the offender.

It goes without saying that they have a grueling job. I can't say I would want it – would you? In most instances, after the offender is incarcerated, little focus or emphasis is entertained by society as to what transpired and what efforts were made toward deterring future criminal behavior. Yet, the frowns and discontentment of society surface when the provisions of the law and the decision makers grant release.

Despite the sentiment of public opinion, one fact must be faced: "The key does turn twice!"

At some point, the bulk of those individuals incarcerated will be released. They will again be confronted with issues and concerns such as employment, housing, healthcare and livelihood. The manner in which they approach and address these areas will depend largely and foremost on their mindset and what tools of preparation they were afforded during the incarceration period (i.e. education, vocation, and behavior programs).

Additionally, it is even more dependent on their encounter of "the bars beyond the bars." If the doors of hope, opportunity and vision are closed, the door of progress may as well be dead-bolted.

(Earnest Townes of Shifting Gears Community Outreach can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Call him at 901-644-9215.)

NOTE: A Resource and Information Fair for Ex-Offenders will be held at the Pipkin Bldg. (Fairgrounds) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 23. Shifting Gears Community Outreach, along with 60 to 70 other agencies, organizations and service providers, will take part in a collaborative effort to address issues and concerns that may impair ex-offenders' positive reintegration within our communities. The endeavor is being sponsored and hosted by the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) and the Tennessee Re-Entry Collaborative (TREC) in partnership with the City of Memphis and Shelby County.

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