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Ex-Offenders Face Trying Times Returning Home

Soldiers who return home from war are often haunted by graphic images of mutilated bodies, wake up in sweats and are paranoid of their surroundings. Quincy Lavell Anthony, who now goes by Q.L. Anthony, is not a soldier, but faces similar trauma — as a former prisoner of a maximum security prison.

“My mom tried to give me keys to her house. I was afraid because if you touch keys, that’s an escape charge,” said Anthony, who served 12 years in federal prison.

“If you’ve been taken away for a period of 10 years or better, and you’ve been home for a period of 10 days, you still find yourself doing things you’ve (become) accustomed to doing, like not touching keys,” said Anthony, founder and director of the Reaching for Success Foundation.

Anthony founded Reaching for Success in 2005 while still in prison, earning an award for outstanding community activism. With the foundation, Anthony hopes to empower and educate youth in Chicago.

Anthony currently resides in Bellwood, a western suburb of Chicago. Although he’s originally from Chicago’s West Side, Anthony does a lot of outreach work on the South Side of Chicago, working as part of The Black Star Project, an organization started in 1996 whose mission is to empower Black and Latino communities through education and outreach.

According to a report by the PEW Research Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., Illinois saw a slight decrease in prisoner numbers between December 31, 2008 and Janauary1, 2010. This marks the first decrease in prisoner counts nationwide in 40 years, and indicates a greater need for services that would ease ex-prisoners’ transitions back home.

Organizations like the Community Renewal Society have been urging the Illinois Department of Corrections and the legislature to implement transition units in prisons for ex- and current offenders.

“These would be units that are specializing in people transitioning home so they’ll be more focused on preparation, including how to reintegrate into your family, what to expect and how you need to understand that there’s a changing dynamic that’s happened since you’ve been incarcerated,” said Alex Weisendanger, lead organizer for the Civic Action Network of the Community Renewal Society.

The Community Renewal Society assists individuals in rebuilding their abused communities. Their current initiative, Children of the Incarcerated, is a combined effort with community leaders, children and parents of incarcerated persons. The goal of the initiative is to connect inmates with their families by arranging visitations between children and incarcerated parents and offering counseling services and funding for travel.

Resources for ex- and current offenders continue to increase as families and community organizers pay closer attention to the issues. Revin L. Fellows, director of the Mission Men Fathers Support Group for Family Focus Lawndale on Chicago’s West Side, has a men’s group that meets every Tuesday.

“My men’s group consists of young men, older men, single men, married men, divorced men, ex-offenders and next offenders,” said Fellows. Family Focus Lawndale provides services for the entire family, including parent-to-parent support groups and mentoring.

Child support is one issue that many ex-offenders encounter, Fellows said.

“They go to jail; they have a child support problem,” said Fellows. Many offenders fail to contact Child Support Enforcement to halt their payments while in prison, he said; then when they are released, their bill has tripled.

Fellows said many ex-offenders also face other barriers — for example, a spouse who lives in public housing. The Chicago Housing Authority has tough stipulations against ex-offenders dwelling with their clients.

“People stereotype him,” said Fellows. “They don’t want an ex-offenders living next to them.”

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