Resilient community can only function out of cooperation and reciprocity

My friend was recently released from prison after serving a seven-year sentence for a crime she committed. Not only does Kristin feel remorse, but she also understands the turmoil she created.

But returning to regular life is not simple. The reentry process presents the largest obstacle for a formerly incarcerated person whose goal is to become a productive member of society.

After appropriate housing, the most difficult hurdle is employment. Carving a life from scratch requires time and help from others.

Kristin needed weeks to re-learn how to sleep in silence, how to eat at a regular pace, and how to navigate her fears of interacting with men. Imagine what it takes to secure a place to sleep and a job.

Without help from people, Kristin and other formerly incarcerated men and women would be left to struggle, just to survive.

Taking one step forward and three steps back is the path that the label of ‘felon’ creates. Strengthening communities requires us to help people who are without a network of friends and family.

Because people need other people to thrive, social capital—a system of people and agencies—is necessary to allow us to participate in a civil society.

Ties of trust and relationships are critical to the success of navigating the search for housing, employment, volunteer organizations as well as knowing opportunities and risks.

However, Americans have become disconnected from one another, and the structures that once held us together are now dismantled. Better Together, an initiative at Harvard University, strives to answer the question of how to restore the American community. Authors and leaders of this movement believe in opening doors for others, returning lost items to strangers, and giving directions for free in order to reverse the downward spiral of civic apathy.

This civic reconstruction of society affects no one more deeply than persons who have been incarcerated. Kristin might be living in her parents' basement feeling dependent and useless if it were not for a couple who gave her a second chance and a room at their facility for struggling mothers. Her employment might be limited to walking distance if not for an organization that provided a vehicle for her use. She might be working a dead-end job if a small business owner had not listened with an open mind to Kristin’s story. And after a few weeks of hard work, she is being trained to become the office manager. A resilient community, that we all hope for, can only function out of cooperation and reciprocity.

Heidi Arnold is a communication professor. She strives to bring people of all perspectives to genuine understanding by using writing and communication skills.

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