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Stories of abuse and addiction define a semester for Lycoming freshmen studying reentry of those previously incarcerated

Stories of abuse and addiction define a semester for Lycoming freshmen studying reentry of those previously incarcerated

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In Lycoming College’s First Year Seminar course, “Returning Home: What Does it Mean to Desist from Crime?” freshmen get a first-hand look at the challenges faced by those previously incarcerated as they seek to create new lives, such as finding a job, reconnecting with their family, and staying sober. In a culminating project, students interviewed and wrote the stories of Lycoming County Reentry Services Center participants for publication, six of which were published over the course of a week in local news outlet, On the PULSE as part of a series entitled, “Stories of Reentry.”

According to a Lycoming County recidivism study completed by Kerry Richmond, associate professor of criminal justice at Lycoming College, over one-third – 37.5 percent – of sentenced individuals released from the Lycoming County Prison recidivate within one year of their release. Of those who recidivate, 69.2 percent are returned to prison on a probation violation, not a new crime, suggesting that they may struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse, employment, or housing, which impacts their ability to be successful once back in the community.

Richmond leads students in discussions about the experience of reintegration from the individual, family and community perspectives. Students also have the opportunity to work with local agencies in Williamsport to understand the role the community plays in an individual’s success. One such agency is the Lycoming County Reentry Services Center, which provides treatment services to individuals who are involved with the Criminal Justice System in order to keep them out of the prison system, or avoid returning to prison. 

Lycoming students Lisanahi Arenas and Alma Bermudez teamed up to tell the story of Bruce, who experienced personal trauma which led him to drug abuse and addiction. They wrote:

When thinking about individuals who are released from prison, society places labels on them without knowing the whole truth. The general public often makes assumptions and they do not clearly understand the challenges that individuals face each and every day… With the help of the reentry program and his positive relationships, Bruce has been able to rebuild himself into a better person… The program isn’t just something that Bruce does because he has to, but much rather something he is taking advantage of, in order to recover his relationship with his community.

All six student-authored articles are available through the following links:

“My goal for the course was to humanize the experience of reentry. As researchers, it is important to become familiar with the topic that we are studying and so most of the semester was spent raising awareness among students on the issues of reentry, people’s experiences, and the type of programming available in the local community,” said Richmond. “This provided students with a strong foundation going into the final project. They had a deeper understanding of people’s experiences and were able to really engage with the individuals they interviewed rather than simply document their stories.”

Richmond continued, “Instead of seeing the participants solely as individuals who committed a crime, students saw them as individuals who were trying to overcome various struggles and personal problems. Having students leave the course with this perspective was incredibly important. My hope is that they will continue to be open-minded and consider other people’s lived experiences during the rest of their time at Lycoming and in the future.”

“Returning Home: What Does it Mean to Desist from Crime?” is one of Lycoming College’s First-Year Seminars. Each First-Year Seminar meets a general education requirement, helping to advance students toward graduation. All students are free to explore any topic that appeals to them, including a seminar outside of their primary field of study, such as Medieval Food & Culture, Zen and Art, Introduction to Robotics with LEGO, and more.