Carson City nonprofit seeks to help prisoners re-enter society
A local nonprofit has a different solution to helping ex-felons get back on their feet as they re-enter society, according to its founder Kathryn McCool, but it needs some local support first to make it happen.
McCool is spreading the word in and around Carson City about Reciprocity, the mission of which is to reintegrate offenders after imprisonment by equipping them with job and life skills and giving them housing and food to become productive citizens again.
“I worked for the Department of Corrections for a few years, and the huge piece missing from re-entry is where are they going to go, where are they going to live, what are they going to eat, what are they going to put on their backs, you know,” she said. “Those basic needs have to be addressed before we can get into the job training, the life skills, the substance abuse treatment. … They have to know there’s somewhere safe.”
She doesn’t want to just provide a halfway house. She specifically wants to help ex-offenders, particularly those who should return to their families and support their loved ones, to find a shot at having a normal life after prison.
“The goal is reduce recidivism, to let these men return to be husbands and sons,” she said. “We don’t want to help everyone. We want to help the ones that want to be helped.”
McCool was a senior program officer at the state Department of Corrections, where she managed the re-entry program at the Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs, Clark County since April 2013. Before that, she was a general contractor in Louisville, Ky., for seven years. She taught inmates in Indian Springs that having viable skills and developing a strong work ethic can lead to having a life to be proud of, she said.
“The goal was for them to have three viable skills by the time they leave, so if one of those didn’t work out, they’d still have a backup,” she said.
She concentrated on assisting prisoners, and she saw many cycle through the system. But merely correcting their behavior wasn’t enough. There’s a clear gap between getting them to serve their time and reintroducing them to society, she said. Her work gave her a sense of purpose that helping those inmates and attempting to reduce recidivism was her calling, so she decided to form Reciprocity and received 501(c)3 status and a charter. She also formed a board and received a commitment from local experts at the University of Nevada, Reno, Western Nevada College and Excel to assist.
UNR’s criminal justice professor Eric Lambert said joining McCool’s cause was an opportunity to help ex-offenders be successful and to use restorative justice to change the public’s outlook on re-entry approaches.
Lambert, who formerly worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said imprisonment merely institutionalizes people for their choices without truly helping them to understand that their actions have consequences.
“Just being punitive isn’t (Reciprocity’s) approach,” he said. “Second, they want to help build their skills and give support. One of the most important things is bad things happen every day, but (these ex-felons can say) ‘I have social support’ … realizing that it’s in the best interest of the offender, the victim and society.”
Lambert said Reciprocity is offering a new approach to ex-felons as they exit prison that offers them an opportunity as they rejoin society.
“I always tell my students this phrase that I borrowed, ‘Don’t send people to prison who you’re mad at and people you’re afraid of,’” he said.
McCool said she has a number of goals to ensure her nonprofit’s success. After securing the housing, she will be seeking a program supervisor to oversee and adhere to the Nevada Revised Statutes, make sure the participants’ needs are being met and that they make it to work on time and she’ll need a grant writer to help pursue the funding for the program. She’s also connecting with vocational rehabilitation services to provide employment and educational opportunities, and, one of the most important things, she added, is to help provide community service prospects such as cleaning out kennels, picking up trash or other activities to make amends for the crimes they’ve committed.
McCool said for now, she’s done much of the initial work for Reciprocity on her own but said it’s necessary for the community. McCool wants get the attention of the state’s judiciary committee to recommend her nonprofit’s solution to helping ex-felons. She’s also reaching out to the governor and some key legislators to introduce her program but said it’s difficult to get noticed. She’s persistent, though, and said she will stay the course. She’s already held a fundraiser and spoken before several local groups about her purpose.
“There are ways for us to do this,” she said. “But I need people who want to invest. … There are too many single women, too many single parents. Where are the husbands? Welfare is raising other people’s children. I think there’s a better way. I grew up with them. I know what their stories are. I know BS when I see BS. I’m not easily intimidated. I did all that when I was young. Truthfully, it’s my calling.”