Living Columns & Blogs

CentrePeace has been helping ex-offenders and their families heal for 25 years

CentrePeace is in its 25th year of providing supportive services to those who are or were incarcerated and to their families.
CentrePeace is in its 25th year of providing supportive services to those who are or were incarcerated and to their families. Centre Daily Times, file

Now in our 25th year of providing supportive services to those who are or were incarcerated and to their families, we at CentrePeace find ourselves — along with our many community partners — once again serving as change agents within Centre County’s criminal justice system. We are doing so by providing ex-offenders with the type of support that has long been needed, but only sporadically provided, in order to better ensure a smooth transition from jail or prison back home.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when, as prison volunteers, we were not permitted to communicate with those individuals with whom we worked on the inside once they were released. We were the very people who, in many cases, had the most intimate insight and knowledge into that person’s life at that moment in time and who had also gained their trust and confidence, to the extent possible.

Even so, the system insisted that there were too many risks associated with maintaining a relationship with someone who was incarcerated once that individual was released. Fortunately for all involved, that mindset is ever so slowly changing.

Most are now realizing that recidivism rates will not fall until and unless we, as a community, do a better job of intentionally helping the system assist ex-offenders as they return to their homes, to their families, to their communities. Furthermore, the argument can be made that the planning for that transition home should begin, and could begin, from the very moment an individual is initially incarcerated.

If we sit idly by for even a day of a person’s incarceration, we miss a valuable opportunity to make a positive difference in these lives. And when they are released, that care must continue, if not intensify. That doesn’t mean providing handouts — it means extending a hand up. A simple ride into town can mean the difference between making or missing a mandatory meeting with one’s parole agent. Or offering a part-time painting job, or a landscaping project. Every single effort matters.

CentrePeace, as one of our many support services, has recently begun hosting a largely peer-lead, re-entry support group meeting every Wednesday evening at our facility, 3047 Benner Pike, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. for ex-offenders and family members of those who are incarcerated. The gathering is designed and intended to be a safe place for folks to share their struggles, their fears and their successes as they begin or continue to navigate their lives outside of jail/prison. Whether a person has been out for a day or a decade, some challenges remain very much the same. We want folks to know that they do not have to walk this path alone. We’re here to listen, to care and to guide if/when appropriate and requested. It’s not rocket science — it’s people caring about people.

If you or someone you know is struggling with his/her re-entry back into their family and/or community or who has a loved one in the system, we welcome you to join us. For additional information about this program or any other offered by CentrePeace, please feel free to give us a call at 353-9081.

And finally, from all of us here at CentrePeace, our deepest thanks to all of our countless friends and neighbors who have supported us so faithfully these past 25 years. Here is to 25 more successful years working together to help others heal.

Thomas Brewster is the executive director of CentrePeace, which is a Centre County United Way Partner Agency.