Not only is criminal justice reform about improving sentencing guidelines and keeping communities safer; it also means ensuring that people feel fulfillment through meaningful and positive contributions to the places they call home. Before he even left prison, Lamont Carey had a vision for how he would not only improve his own life upon release but also help others avoid the trap of recidivism. The goal of CONTACT VISITS, the program Carey began while incarcerated more than a decade ago, is simple: Help people in communities throughout the country fully realize the full potential of their lives.
Throughout the United States, networks of dedicated individuals and organizations are committed to solving today’s problems with tomorrow’s opportunities. With its broad support of programs like Stand Together, Koch stands for community-based solutions, including CONTACT VISITS that endeavor to help people improve their lives. Erin Keating, Stand Together’s vice president, communications and marketing, explored these issues at length with Carey during a panel at the annual convention for the National Newspaper Publishers Association in Norfolk, Virginia.
“What I found is that the first three months [after] release is the hardest part,” Carey said.
For a lot of people returning from prison, he explained, it’s a time of excitement for families, eating lots of food and taking longer showers. It’s a time of adjustment, too. By the third month, Carey said, things can get complicated. People need access to real programs that help them develop skills.
“If we allow individuals to do all this time in prison and come home without the minimum of a GED, then we are setting them up for failure,” Carey said.
Whether they are living in unstable environments, imprisoned, or transitioning back to society, Carey’s work focuses on cognitive and skill-based strategies that have made a difference in the lives of others. Through the program and his books, Carey emphasizes the importance of personal experience in shaping solutions that benefit everyone.
“We really believe that the local-based knowledge in communities, individuals like Lamont Carey, are the ones who can really, truly carry this personal transformation to individuals across America,” Keating said.
Stand Together is constantly looking for new ventures to invest in communities across the country.
“My job in marketing and communications is to make sure that we’re telling the story of all of these individuals and the transformation that is possible, to really inspire people in communities to become a part of the solution and to recognize that right next door, you might have someone who has a transformational program that could really help people overcome some of these external barriers that they face,” Keating said.
The session sparked a conversation among publishers as to how they could better portray individuals reentering society, as well as improving access to these stories for people currently in prison.
NNPA President & CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr. credited Koch Industries for its leadership on banning the box on employment applications, choosing to evaluate potential employees by their talent and fit in the position rather than past mistakes.
“Almost every hour of every news cycle, we hear about another situation where the inequities—the absence of equality, the absence of delivery of justice fairly seems to be more and more manifest in black America,” said Chavis, whose organization represents more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers throughout the United States. “If there’s any system that needs to be reformed in America, it is the criminal justice system.”