By Devin Blake
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Over a third of individuals who have been released from Wisconsin’s prisons into Milwaukee County returned to prison within three years, according to the most recent data from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Advocates say more work needs to be done to better serve this population and keep them in their communities.
The Community is finding ways to do this.
The Milwaukee nonprofit creates newsletters, videos and podcasts for and about people who have been incarcerated.
The reason The Community’s staff does this kind of work is because it believes that the problem of recidivism – being rearrested, reconvicted or reincarcerated – requires an intentional approach.
Successful re-entry work has to go deep, Shannon Ross, founder and executive director of The Community, said.
“We start a relationship with them (incarcerated individuals), helping them see themselves as human beings,” Ross said.
The Community does not employ social workers or case managers.
“What we do is more like a macro service rather than a micro,” Ross said.
‘A big information vacuum’
The Community publishes a monthly newsletter, which boasts about 8,300 subscribers throughout Wisconsin’s prisons.
This is roughly 40% of people who are currently incarcerated at such facilities, according to Prison Policy Initiative data.
“I don’t know very many people who did not receive the newsletter,” said Raini Moede, who was released from prison last December.
Although digital for a time, the monthly newsletter now is available in hard copy to reach more people and provide more content, said Roy Rogers, pre-entry liaison and information analyst at The Community.
“While you are incarcerated, you do not have immediate Internet access. You do not have Google,” he said. “Information is limited to if somebody sends you a letter or you get on a phone call. And so, there’s a big information vacuum: You want to know things, but you cannot find them out.”
Such a vacuum can make being incarcerated and preparing for re-entry challenging.
“For example, during the pandemic, the government began to issue out stimulus checks to the population to help. OK, so the question was, ‘Hey, does this apply to those who are incarcerated?’” said Rogers. “No one had answers. No one had adequate answers.”
The Community’s staff eventually learned that those who were incarcerated were eligible to apply for these benefits.
Ross said The Community was initially the only organization in Wisconsin that advocated on their behalf.
In a place where researching information is unusually difficult, trusted sources of information become all the more important.
The April newsletter, for example, has information about medical exams, screenings, infectious diseases and chronic health conditions.
“When you’re incarcerated, you kind of hear like, ‘Oh, they’re going to pass a bill that calls for this, or they just passed this,’ and it’s just constant rumors amongst inmates,” Moede said. “The Community does fact-checking. They clarify and give the actual, real information.”
For more information
You can connect with The Community via email at email@example.com
Information about events sponsored by The Community, and its partners, can be found on its Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram accounts.
Devin Blake is the criminal justice reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. His position is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, which plays no role in editorial decisions in the NNS newsroom.