Thrive DC hosts panel with returning citizens
Local nonprofit Thrive DC hosted a panel discussion entitled “A Deeper Look at Second Chances” on April 21 with three returning citizens working to re-integrate into their communities after incarceration. Meg Bailey, Gene Downing and Curtis Patterson who all work with various D.C. based programs for returning citizens, engaged in a vulnerable conversation about the stigmas surrounding their experience reacclimating to society.
“These last five months felt like five years, I’ve done so much,” Downing said. “After doing 21 years, obviously the world has changed considerably from the time I went to prison and the time I came home. Plus I was a teenager so reentry for me was not only an adventure but also like being born again … I’ve been blessed.”
Although all of the panelists expressed feelings of joy and relief about being released, they also described having an overwhelming amount of fear.
“There were so many uncertainties about what life would be like, so many what ifs, I had constant questions running through my mind like: Where will I live? Will I be able to find a job? Will my family accept me? Can I afford new clothes?” Bailey said.
But she was pleasantly surprised with the resources available to those living in D.C.
“I’ve had really good experiences with these great organizations and so many opportunities have presented themselves to me,” Bailey said. “I maintained a little bit of contact with some of the girls I was in [prison] with and they’ve gone to all these different places and they don’t have the support we have in D.C.”
Each of the panelists have found a unique support system here in the District. Bailey is a cohort member in the Community for Life Services Speaker Bureau which provides women opportunities to speak about their experiences. Participants educate the community while earning an income and gain public speaking skills that aid them in their current and future goals.
Downing is a father and husband. He works as a staff member for Free Minds Book Club and is currently a 2022 Congressman John Lewis Fellow. The position entails leading the “On the Same Page” youth violence prevention initiative, chairing their member-led Leadership Council and assisting with re-entry/community engagement programming.
Patterson started his own business upon release entitled, “Here2ThereLLC.” He worked directly with Thrive DC in their New Directions re-entry program, a six-week course for citizens currently reentering society. It helps build social, problem-solving and communication skills. On the call, he shared how small but practical interactions provide more stability than what people might expect.
“Events like this the ACT Initiative puts on so people can know what it’s like to come home … and hopefully change the perceptions of the people we’re talking about,” Rockwell said.
The conversation was sponsored by Thrive DC’s ACT Initiative which stands for A Chance to Thrive. Their director of development Greg Rockwell facilitated the discussion and aided in the question and answer online session.
“These are normal people who made a mistake and they’re looking for a chance to get their life back to normal,” Rockwell said.