Opinion: We need to receive the formerly incarcerated re-entering our community with hope and love

I’ve been re-entering the community from incarceration since the age of 18. Imagine being removed from everything you know and the life that you’ve been living. You are put into a situation that is completely foreign and completely controlled by people in uniforms with badges.

Everything is controlled by someone else—from the clothes that you wear, to the food that you eat. You are disconnected from everyone you care about. Many of our community members do not have to imagine this. We lived it. We got used to it. We became institutionalized.

In the last decade, there have been countless criminal justice reforms that have allowed thousands of people in the state of California to be freed from prisons. Thousands of those people have come home to the county of Los Angeles, and to Long Beach. The expectation is that when these folks come home, they don’t reoffend. My questions to our community and our leaders are these:

  • What are we doing in order to make sure that these community members have the resources, the networks, and the services that they need in order to be successful in their reentry process?
  • What are we doing to build community with those who are coming home to Long Beach?
  • How involved are we going to be in the process of restoration and reconciliation with those hundreds of people of color that were pulled into our systems of criminalization and mass incarceration?
  • What are we doing to support people in that transition from having their lives completely controlled by someone else and all of their basic needs being met by the state to all of a sudden having to be a productive member of our community?
  • What are we doing to deinstitutionalize our neighbors?

Having worked for almost a decade at Homeboy Industries for Father Gregory Boyle, I choose to build community with the demonized and the marginalized. I choose to do this because I have been demonized and marginalized. I know what it feels like to stand at the fringes of society and be told through words and actions that I was not worthy of having a healthy and positive human experience.

Because Father Boyle chooses to see the formerly incarcerated through the eyes of hope and love, the formerly incarcerated start to see themselves through the same eyes and lives are transformed. I am neither naive nor a hopeless dreamer. My life was transformed because Father Boyle saw me through the eyes of hope and love, and he had a place for me to go. I saw hundreds if not thousands of lives transformed in the same exact way. When I left Homeboy Industries, the community had supported and embraced me in a way that allowed me to transition from a participant in the program to the organization’s Director of External Affairs and part of their executive management team.

Through my consulting practice in creating spaces to uplift the voices of the formerly incarcerated and through my grassroots work with Restore INK in building community with gang impacted folks, I choose to see all community members as I wanted to be seen when I was living the gang lifestyle or spending years in prison– as a human being. A human being that had paid a debt to society and wanted to get on with my life.

The city of Long Beach is stepping into the reentry space because it has no other choice. More and more of us are coming home to Long Beach. No matter why we are stepping into this space, we have an opportunity to either do it right by not only providing resources, services and networks for our community members that are coming home from incarceration, but we also need to embrace them as part of our community. We need to see them through the eyes of hope and love. There is only one Homeboy Industries and there is only one Father Boyle, and that’s OK, the city of Long Beach, our community, WE, need to find what it is that we need to build so that the formerly incarcerated will come home.

Jose Osuna is a formerly incarcerated North Long Beach resident who spent almost a decade working at Homeboy Industries before working with organizations that help individuals impacted by the justice system. He is a member of the Post’s Community Editorial Board.

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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