Since 2000, the Washtenaw County Jail has booked an average of nearly 3,400 new individuals every year. 85% of those individuals will eventually return to live in Washtenaw County, but what happens to them then?
Washtenaw County nonprofit A Brighter Way is asking that question and expanding its advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the issues formerly incarcerated people face. With recent funding from and in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, A Brighter Way will host a series of community education events on those issues. The latest such event will be held this Friday, Dec. 13, from 9-10:30 a.m. at United Way of Washtenaw County, 2305 Platt Rd. in Ann Arbor.
A Brighter Way provides assistance through mentoring and support groups to help participants evaluate options and prepare for the next stage in their life. The nonprofit was founded by formerly incarcerated individuals who understand the difficulty of the transition back into society from jail or prison.
A Brighter Way cofounder Aaron Suganuma says the organization can be a helpful outlet for formerly incarcerated people who don't have a family or community to lean on.
"Washtenaw County appears to be an area with a lot of resources, but often the people coming out don't know how to navigate those resources or have lost trust in those systems," Suganuma says.
At this Friday's event, formerly incarcerated people will share testimonials and there will be time for small group discussion on the main issues presented by A Brighter Way.
Suganuma says landlords and employers are especially encouraged to attend since housing and jobs are the biggest difficulties formerly incarcerated people face.
"People are aware of what happens to employment with a criminal record, but the difficulty gaining housing with background check isn't talked about enough," Suganuma says.
Going forward, Suganuma says A Brighter Way will provide more in-depth programming on wellness and employment retention for its members. The organization is teaming up with local employers and mentors to provide specific resources on securing and keeping a job.
"Most (formerly incarcerated) people want to do something different and they don't know where to start and have never seen what a different life can look like," Suganuma says. "We want to provide models and paths to show them."
Registration for the Dec. 13 event is available here.
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of A Brighter Way.