“This is a very complicated situation and we have to be innovative because the need is there. They need support. Food. A way to work. Counseling.'”
“I volunteer at San Quentin State Prison and since March we have not been able to go back in. As you know, there's a massive number of people being released because of COVID-19.
When they are released, there are many fear factors, of which COVID is only one. How do I find housing? How do I eat? How do I take care of myself? How do I find work? Who’s hiring? Will my record keep me from getting a job?
If they stay in contact with the probation department for the first two weeks, doing everything they're supposed to do, they are given a computer tablet so they can do required virtual visits with probation officers, search for jobs, and do online support programs. But most of these guys have been in prison for long enough that they don’t know how to use tablets, surf the Internet, set up email accounts. So this is a very complicated situation and we have to be innovative because the need is there. They need support. Food. A way to work. Counseling.
Before COVID, organizations like mine would meet with these men in person and get a sense of the kind of support and counseling they needed. The personal, face to face, connection was so important. At Man2Man, we provide support services to help with behavioral health, family relations, conflict resolution, mental health, and life skills for job placement. The men were really actively coming to the classes and getting treatment before COVID. Now, though, they don’t want to do Zoom. We have a lot of online program materials, but they don't want to do online, FaceTime, or anything like that. They don't understand it's the same thing because they haven’t lived on the outside for so long.
They don't understand the technology. We tell them that it’s just like you being in front of me. We have to get them past this fear, teach them and tell them it's okay to tell us you don't know how to do it. What we're trying to do now is to make it very simple and just have a link so when they go online they just click the link and it opens directly into the services, class or therapy session. They don’t have to worry about putting in any numbers or anything. You just click the link and then the person who is there to help you is right in front of you.