Coming Home Program: Providing Assistance After Incarceration
This 18-week program absorbs women and men in transition into supportive communities following incarceration. Sessions typically meet on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Each session consists of a community meal from 6-7 (open to the entire community), followed by group work for participants only, where they learn life skills, set goals, and share personal stories in a safe, supportive environment.
Coming Home FAQs
Are the Coming Home dinners open to all congregants?
Yes. You do not have to be a mentor to attend the dinners. Each weekly Coming Home session is broken up into a program segment (for participants and staff only) and dinner (open to all congregants).
Is Coming Home a faith-based program?
Certainly, many congregants are motivated to participate in the Coming Home program because of their faith, and the belief that it is their Christian duty to help their fellow sisters and brothers. However, the Coming Home program itself is not faith-based. It is an evidence-based program that draws from the most current research on trauma and the ability of restorative community to heal that trauma. Data collected by Fordham University routinely shows that the trauma scores of participants significantly decrease as a result of the program.
Besides mentoring, what are other ways to participate in Coming Home?
Presenters: The Coming Home program is always in need of presenters who can share concrete skills like how to find a job, how to manage personal finances, how to be a better communicator, etc. Softer skills like mindfulness training and yoga are also welcome. If you have these skills or any other talents that could help Coming Home participants, please contact Dawn Ravella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meal Providers: We also welcome those who would be able to provide a meal for the weekly community dinners. Homemade or catered, cooked at your home or in the church kitchen – it’s up to you.
Circle of Care: It is the goal of the Coming Home program to embrace participants in a “circle of care.” Beyond the support mentors provide, other members of the RCB community often assist participants in any way they are able to, from driving a participant to a job interview to helping create a personal budget. In this way, the social capital of the entire congregation is leveraged for the benefit of the participants.
Community Meals: Of course, all congregants are invited to share in the weekly meals that are the cornerstone of the Coming Home program. It’s completely free, and the fellowship and connection you’ll experience are phenomenal!
What is the time commitment for mentors?
Mentors generally have to commit to about six (6) evenings over the 18-week program. One or two evenings at the beginning of the program will be for the mentors to receive training. The other four evenings will provide opportunities for mentors to meet individually with their mentees, and work on goals, build rapport, etc. Of course, mentors are always invited to attend the meal segment of the weekly sessions, which is open to all congregants. Mentors are also encouraged to connect with their mentees at least once per week – by phone, email, text, or in-person outside the program – to nurture and cultivate their ongoing relationship.
How are mentors paired with their mentees?
All potential mentors fill out an application explaining their skills and strengths, and why they are interested in mentoring. Mentors are not paired with their mentees until about 4-6 weeks into the program, giving the Coming Home staff time to get to know the participants and make the optimal mentor-mentee pairing. We usually have more mentor applicants than spots available, so some interested mentors may need to wait until the following year’s cycle to participate.
What support do mentors receive?
As mentioned above, mentors receive formal training in the principles of Restorative Community upon which Coming Home is based: Trauma-Informed Practice, Mindfulness, Empowerment, Solution-Focused Therapeutic Approach. They also receive training in the mentoring process. All mentors receive a binder full of useful information and resources they can refer to and access throughout the year. After each mentor-mentee session, the mentors also debrief with an experienced staff member to voice concerns, ask questions, provide mutual aid, and get referrals to additional resources.
Members of the congregation form a “circle of care” to support the mentor-mentee pairs as they journey through the program. A participant might need a drive to a job interview, or help creating a personal budget. The mentor can reach out to others in the congregation, who have the time and skills to help. In this way, the social capital of the entire congregation is leveraged to support and accompany mentors and participants.
What happens to the mentor-mentee pairs after the program?
A mentor commits to engage in the 18-week program until graduation. Some mentor-mentee relationships progress beyond the program, some do not. We certainly encourage the pairs to stay in touch, but the extent of post-program involvement is really up to the individual pairs. Program reunions are scheduled at RCB 4 times a year.
What are the greatest needs of mentees?
Formerly incarcerated individuals face tremendous obstacles re-integrating into society. Because of their record, they are precluded from many employment opportunities, and sometimes are not eligible for public assistance or housing. Affordable housing is a significant issue in Westchester County, because of the high cost of living here and the dearth of reasonably-priced rental units. Many individuals also do not have the educational background required for certain jobs, so schooling and degree attainment is a significant concern for this group.
Beyond these concrete needs, many mentees are simply in need of a trusting person who accepts them non-judgmentally as they are, and is willing to journey alongside them as they move forward in their lives. The isolation and dehumanization of imprisonment can leave individuals traumatized and reluctant to trust others. Mentors who can offer authentic friendship, listening to and supporting their mentees, will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the personal growth and emotional healing of their mentee.
Tips for Coming Home Mentors
Sometimes being a great mentor means knowing what NOT to do. Here are some things great Coming Home mentors AVOID:
Promising what they cannot deliver. Being true to your word is essential to cultivating a quality relationship.
Rushing the process. Trusting anyone is challenging for most participants. Each relationship unfolds at its own rate.
Probing about their crime. Respecting a participant’s privacy and right to share what they wish tells them you are their partner on a healing journey. The past is the past.
Dominating the conversation or over-sharing. Listening actively and sitting patiently with silence reminds participants you really are here for them.
Making decisions for participants, advising, directing or telling them what to do. Incarceration is a time when choice, power and control are taken away. Participants are empowered to chart their own course.
Assuming they have a lot in common with participants or know how they are feeling. Respecting difference and individuality, as well as acknowledging complex emotions, honors each person’s unique journey and experience.
Encouraging unrealistic goals. Goals that seem too small for a mentor may be a GIANT leap for a participant. Check out the stepping stones for goals to make sure they are “just right.”
Withholding relevant and constructive feedback. Once a relationship is established, mentors are poised to reflect to participants how they present or “come across” to the world. Be gentle and tactful.
Judging anyone in the program – including participants, mentors, guests or staff. Act as a model for the acceptance and love we are cultivating in the community.
Forgetting or violating boundaries. It is not OK to give or loan money to participants and doing their work for them may seem helpful but actually takes away an opportunity for them to grow.
Attempting to FIX a participant. Recall that you are here to walk with your mentee along his own healing journey.
Ignoring a gut feeling that something isn’t right. Reach out to your staff / program case manager to support your participant if the relationship is not going well or if he might be a danger to himself or others.
Breaking confidentiality. All that is shared with you is sacred and your word is your bond.
Resources on the Reality of Incarceration
Hard Road Home
A documentary film about the struggles of two formerly incarcerated men transitioning to life on the outside.
This Oscar-nominated documentary explores the historical, social and economic link between slavery and the modern-day prison system. (Free public access via Netflix)
This documentary chronicles the lives of those affected by incarceration in America’s most incarcerated zip code. (Free registration required)
Witness the personal journey of several men at Sing Sing Correctional Facility as they attempt to mount a behind-bars production of A Few Good Men. (Free registration required)
Learn how our partners, Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison program is changing the lives of scores of inmates in New York. (There is a charge to download this film)
The New Jim Crow
A groundbreaking book about the wide-ranging social costs and divisive racial impact of our criminal justice system.
The Needs of Ex-Prisoners
The needs of individuals returning to society from a period of incarceration.
The story of three Cure Violence workers who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed:
Resources on Race and Culture
Biblical Underpinnings of Restorative Justice
God created man and woman in his divine image, looked at what was created, and found it very good. There is innate worth in every individual.
Moses is someone who committed murder, yet he is chosen to lead the Jewish people. We are all called to do God’s work in the world.
At the crucifixion, Jesus asked God to forgive those condemning him “for they don’t know what they are doing.” The thief on the cross next to Jesus acknowledged Jesus’ divine nature, and Jesus said to him: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
When a woman is caught in the act of adultery, Jesus says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is teaching us that we all sin and that we are all way more than our sins.
Luke 5:29-32; Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus cavorted with sinners and tax collectors.
Slaves were to be released after they had served seven years.
Luke 7: 41-42
“A certain creditor had two debtors… when they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them.”
There is a relationship of faith and works. When acting out our faith, change follows.
1 Corinthians 12:12
As a global community, we resemble one body with many parts. When one part suffers, all parts suffer with it. Undoubtedly, the family and community suffer when a person is incarcerated.