Reentry Manager Steve Amort and Reentry Specialist Christi Cheramie assisting client Paul on the computer

Reentry Team Changing Hearts and Minds

Each newsletter highlights a client success story. Parole Project is duly proud their accomplishments and how they are using their second chance. Behind each success is our reentry team, who prepares them for their new lives and guides them over, around and through each obstacle, hurdle, and hindrance.

The “ground crew,” as one staff member likes to call them, is made up of Reentry Manager Steve Amort, and Reentry Specialists Christi Cheramie and Louis Gibson. As case managers working directly with clients they do the bulk of the day to day lifting related to programming and services. The team identifies issues that may prevent clients from successfully transitioning back into the community, blending skill, instinct, and passion as they search for the best way to assist each client in reaching their reentry goals. 

Steve is responsible for scheduling client programming and services, along with the day to day operations of Parole Project’s Redemption Homes. While every client’s needs are different, he ensures program fidelity and that all clients are fully supported. Steve says that at times the job can be difficult, such as navigating the bureaucracy involved in obtaining clients’ vital records and coordinating healthcare services, but the work has been very rewarding. 

“There have been some challenges, but I always take them as a learning experience,” Amort said. “When you see the light bulb light up over someone’s head, when they start getting why we are here, and how important it is that we are here, that realization is gratifying.”

Reentry Specialist Louis Gibson updates a file to reflect a client’s progress through the five phases of the program

People who have been incarcerated 20 or more years often have unrealistic expectations about life on the outside. “They come out thinking they need to hit the ground running, when in actuality they just need to soak it in,” Amort said. “There is a certain mindset correction that goes on throughout the reintegration process.”

This is accomplished through developing trust with clients and their recognition that they are in a safe and secure place. Steve works to instill confidence that Parole Project staff is looking out for their well-being and assure them that the steps for a successful transition will be taken together.  

Reentry specialists Gibson and Cheramie mentor clients through their reintegration and assist Amort with programming and services. This includes opening bank accounts, applying for jobs and housing, transportation to work and appointments, and connecting with available services. 

A former Parole Project client, Christi began her job as a reentry specialist six months after completing the program. Since then, she has built relationships with volunteers, employers, and community leaders that have had a significant impact for those who have come after her.

“It is my life. I live, eat, and breathe Parole Project,” Christi said, who looks at every day at work as a new beginning. With each new client she assists she re-experiences her own reentry journey. Christi reminds every client of the importance of staying humble, recognizing that each one has both similar and unique challenges. She measures her success by the positive impact she makes on their lives. 

Based on her personal and professional experience, Christi believes that the “have you ever been incarcerated” question should be removed from employment and housing applications that regularly obstruct qualified clients from getting living wage jobs or prevent them from obtaining safe, secure housing.

Another a former client turned-reentry specialist, Louis understands the value of his experience when it comes to working with clients and willingly shares his story with them. “Me being vulnerable helps them be vulnerable,” he said. Louis also joined the Parole Project staff six months after completing the program. Ever since, he has been inspiring staff and clients with his positive mindset and motivational energy. 

While his job is to guide clients, Louis said it has helped him grow as an individual, proving to be therapeutic and serving as a reminder of just how far he has come. “It keeps me grounded,” Gibson said, adding that he gets the most gratification when the clients are confident enough in him to seek his advice on any number of issues.

Louis is passionate about improving access to mental health services for formerly incarcerated persons. He believes that many of the formerly incarcerated have experienced significant trauma in their lives and that recognition through counseling will increase the likelihood of successfully transitioning back to society. 

Steve, Christi, and Louis all believe that Parole Project’s holistic approach is what makes the organization unique and successful. “We can truly empathize with our clients and come from a place of understanding, not judgment,” said Steve. “Once a client always a client. We continue to follow after they leave the program.”

“We are not just a non-profit, we are a movement,” said Louis. “We are changing hearts and minds.”

Photo caption: Paul, a Parole Project client, receives assistance from Reentry Manager Steve Amort and Reentry Specialist Christi Cheramie

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