Trying to reestablish oneself in society post-incarceration can be challenging for most people. Green Life, an Earth Island project which I direct, helps those reentering society by providing them the skills, tools, and opportunities required to make this transition a smooth one. We use a community-building and restorative justice approach to support and mentor participants as they integrate life skills and co-design their own reentry plans.
Last year, Green Life launched a pilot reentry program in partnership with Planting Justice, Impact HUB Oakland, Earthseed Consulting, United Roots Oakland, and Sustainable Economies Law Center. The 18-month “Pathways to Resilience” program is a unique and holistic approach to reentry and lowering recidivism. It is designed to evoke an ecological ethic in individuals and their communities, by integrating permaculture-design ethics, principles, and practices with best practices in the reentry field.
Central to permaculture are three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. These principles of permaculture design are also found in most traditional societies, and can be practically applied as much to growing a healthy garden as to sustaining a loving relationship with family, setting and achieving financial or life goals, or building a new business. The result? Participants adopted a new identity and sense of purpose, respect for others, and responsibility for self and community.
The program also provided hard skills through vocational certification and new employment credentials; taught relevant job search/readiness and entrepreneurship skills; and provided paid work experience and job placement support. Additionally, we integrated case management and guided access to a network of social service providers for housing, mental health, substance abuse, financial education, and legal services.
The Green Life component of Pathways to Resilience included workshops and meetings for the men and women in the program, which nurture the growth of a supportive community. Participants attended Green Life healing circles co-led by two former prisoners – Kevin Tindall and Jerry Elster – who are trained in restorative justice practices, and me.
“When I got out of prison, I wanted to continue with the work I had started with the Green Life at San Quentin,” says Tindall. “Through the Green Life circle process we were all able to connect and learn from each other, bringing up issues that we go through around housing, work, relationships, and how to be better stewards of the environment.”
In this co-creative, peer-educator learning environment, the men and women not only create, but also prepare, guide, and implement their own curriculum for ecologically sustainable practices, thereby helping them develop into facilitators, trainers, and leaders who can, in turn, help others in their community who are facing similar transitions.
Pandora Thomas of our partner, Earthseed Consulting, conducted the permaculture design course – which culminated with participants receiving a Permaculture Design Certificate, and Impact HUB offered a six-week workforce and entrepreneurship workshop. The participants were welcomed into the community and into the program with a multicultural “Rites of Passage” event led by spiritual leaders.
In the past year, 23 men and women have completed the Pathways to Resilience program. So far, 100 percent our graduates have stayed out of prison, thereby saving the state of California at total of $379,368. Our partner, Planting Justice, employed three formerly incarcerated individuals as staff members. The average cost of incarcerating one person for a year in California is $47,421. Our program helps these same persons stay out of prison and build a viable future for themselves for about $20,000 – less than half the cost of keeping them behind bars.
Green Life isn’t only training former prison inmates to become community leaders, it’s also growing a movement of changemakers who will tell a new story about what is possible for those impacted by incarceration.
To learn more about Green Life go to facebook.com/TheGreenLifeSanQuentin
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