What does it mean to give someone a second chance?
Since 2013, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s Re-Entry Program has given second chances through empowerment and by believing in the best in people.
Re-Entry is becoming increasingly common across the country. They are programs that are intended to help people with criminal backgrounds overcome barriers to employment. Unfortunately, these programs show minimal success in helping participants get and keep jobs or overcoming addiction issues.
PGST Re-Entry is bucking this trend. Instead of creating a punitive environment that mirrors jail, prison, or probation, our program takes a holistic approach, giving clients the tools they need for lifelong change and reintegration into larger society.
Working exclusively with PGST community members, the program not only provides career counseling, computer training, and job skills, it also considers each client’s individual situation to cater to their needs. Clients are expected to maintain a rigorous schedule of classes, counseling, and drug testing to maintain their ongoing enrollment in the program. This includes weekly group therapy sessions and money management classes that will help clients formulate plans to pay off past debts, fines, or child support, as well as classes to encourage connection and pride in a client’s Tribal culture and heritage.
The PGST program has the results to back up the efficacy of their approach: to date, 56 percent of clients have graduated the program, maintained full-time employment, and have not relapsed into past criminal or drug behavior.
While this is an impressive statistic, it’s the personal stories that are even more compelling. Take, for example, one of our young Tribal members, Robert, who started abusing drugs and alcohol as a teenager. For well over a decade, drugs were a big part of Robert’s day-to-day life. He has an arrest record for drug-related offenses and had lost custody of his two children.
He enrolled in Re-Entry and the program helped him gain the skills and confidence he needed to turn his life around. Today, Robert, 28, lives with his kids and is working for Korsmo Construction on our new Point Hotel.
Earlier this year, our Re-Entry program won a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Ours was the only Tribal program of 10 that were recognized from around the U.S. This money will go toward expanding our program as well as coming up with a model that can be implemented by other Tribes and municipalities. Kitsap, Jefferson, and Chehalis county officials have all expressed interest.
What is the most striking about PGST’s Re-Entry program is that it’s about finding the good in people. It teaches accountability and good habits, but it does it by creating a connection between Re-Entry staff and clients. The staff truly care about the clients’ future and what they can achieve. As PGST Re-Entry’s Program Manager Janel McFeat said, “People just want to feel like they’re being heard and accepted. That they can make a real contribution. Our job is to give them that.”
This program is about forging relationships: clients, case managers, therapists. Also, this program would not be possible without the support of our partners, who give clients jobs with their businesses. In addition to Korsmo, Swift Plumbing, Coffee Oasis, Kingston Collision, Heronswood, Coho Concrete, various PGST departments, and others have all given a second chance to someone who needs it.
Giving someone a second chance takes trust and a belief that more is possible. That’s what our Re-Entry does. It’s a program that’s changing lives and I’m proud that it is now in a position to show others how to do the same.
— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, a signatory to the Treaty of Point No Point of 1855. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.