Imagine you’re a former inmate…

Think of yourself as a convicted felon.

It’s perhaps not as much of a stretch as you think. But for the grace of God, you could be.

Imagine being released from prison after paying your debt to society. You’ve EOS’ed (pronounced ee-oh-est) in prison slang, meaning you’ve served your time, reached the End Of your Sentence, and been released without supervision.

You leave the prison with a check from the state for $10 (it may cost you half that to get it cashed, if you need money immediately), the clothes on your back (which the state does provide), and a bus ticket back to the county you came from – the one where you were convicted.

And that’s all.

If you’re typical, you may no longer have a driver’s license or social security card, and the only place you have to go is back where you came from – where you’re not welcome.

To get a regular job – assuming employers would overlook your recent background, which most won’t – you need at a minimum your driver license and social security card. If you don’t have them, you don’t get a job. And getting them’s going to be a major hurdle, both timeconsuming and frustrating.

The only work you can get may be the kind that landed you in the pen to begin with; the only friends, the ones who got away when you got nailed – or others just like them. And while you had to have a documented place to “go home” to, when you get there, the reception you get when you arrive may mean it’s a place to live in theory only. You can’t stay there.

And people wonder why so many former inmates end up right back in jail within weeks or months of being released.

The above scenario is what the Blount County Community Partnership for Recovery and Reentry (CPR) is organizing to try to address. They want to identify as many individuals, organizations, and “resources” in the county as possible that can be brought to bear on the problem. The reasons are both compassionate and pragmatic.

Organizers of the Blount County CPR have set a meeting for tomorrow Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at St. Vincent’s Blount to begin the process of helping those released inmates who return to Blount County each year. They ask that anyone who has expertise in working with inmates in any context to attend the meeting. They especially appeal to church volunteers who would like to assist as a humanitarian ministry to attend and become part of the process.

Community reentry groups have been initiated by the Department of Corrections and Governor Riley specifically as a vehicle for the faith-based community to help solve a significant social problem. They ask that you please step up to the job. Without you, they say, it will fail.

Somewhere down the road, one solution may be a halfway house where released inmates can come and find assistance in reentering the postprison world: job search help, a place to live, transportation, assistance with getting basic identification, and other forms of support. Somewhere down the road – but it’s a ways away, and the way is not straight or easy. Getting there starts tomorrow night.