In any program designed to assist challenged populations a new perspective is essential.
Whether we are talking about marriage counseling, credit repair or prison inmate re-entry, a change of perspective that drives healthier thinking patterns is required. A change of thinking is the only way to keep destructive behaviors in check. Simply doing our best to maintain acceptable behavior without appreciating the damage our old modes of thinking create is a poor strategy.
This “white knuckle approach” pits us against our own belief system in a way that pulls us back into unhealthy choices. Everyone who has tried to lose weight or quit smoking knows this.
Wanting to do better is a start, but it is not enough!
So, what are the keys to successful re-entry? It is centered on dismantling an anti-social mindset and replacing it with a pro-social framework. This is easier said than done. All of us have core beliefs that reinforce the way we think and ultimately inform how we behave. It all starts with our thinking or it doesn’t start at all! Heather Bennett, Second Chance program director for Kenosha Vocational Ministry, says it this way, “New participants come to me with a set of anti-social processes that drive their decision making. Through one-on-one interventions, a person begins to build a pro-social narrative which ultimately becomes the engine for managing acceptable behavior.”
Dosage is a key word that is being introduced into re-entry as it relates to affecting change. If the intervention dosage is not enough, change will not likely occur.
Dosage is a term that helped me understand the basics of cognitive change. Analogies to more familiar illnesses can be helpful. If you break your leg, an aspirin will not be enough to alleviate the pain. An aspirin is good enough for a headache but not enough for a broken leg. If I have advanced cancer I will not be able to treat it with a better diet. These practices are good for routine daily life but will not be enough to impact a more serious illness.
Cognitive change is hard work. It is not about following rules but about choosing to think in a new way.
It has been recommended that up to 70 percent of a high-risk offender’s time should be structured with evidence-based programming for up to nine months prior to release. This is just the beginning. It has to be followed up on the outside, too.
Three basic questions must be answered by every re-entrant. Why should I change? What can I do to create change? What do I have to do to sustain change? For public safety and stronger families to be the result of inmate re-entry, real change must be the end result.
James Schatzman is executive director of Kenosha Vocational Ministry.