IDOC celebrates National Mentoring Month

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By Jeff Kirkman, Manager, Free2Succeed Community Mentoring Program

Boise, Idaho, Dec. 31, 2018 —Idaho Department of Correction celebrates National Mentoring Month in January with the Free2Succeed Community Mentor Program. The Free2Succeed program provides individuals who are incarcerated in Idaho’s prisons or on supervision in the community an opportunity to request a mentor who can be instrumental in assisting them during their reentry back into society and help them overcome anxieties, navigate societal norms, provide pro-social support, and engage with needed support and community services.

Mentoring works in many different areas but it is critical in so many lives of those who are being released back into Idaho’s communities from our prisons. Mentors can help strengthen pro-social behaviors, assist with finding employment, invite them to church, work to establish better family relationships, encourage accountability, work with and support supervising probation and parole staff, develop and recommend community support services, and so much more. 

Communities in Idaho are safer when returning citizens being released are provided with positive support, hope and friendship, good relationships, structure, and a sense of belonging. Mentors with the Free2Succeed Community Mentor Program can help returning citizens “plug in and connect” with communities. 

Free2Succeed provides an exciting opportunity for the community to get involved by becoming a mentor to someone that will be returning to the community. The Idaho Department of Correction has partnered with Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) to help with the efforts of the program throughout Idaho and your life experiences, knowledge, and desire to help change lives and your community is needed. 

In conjunction with National Mentoring Month, IDOC has a goal to recruit 50 new mentors and create 50 new mentorships during January. Become a catalyst for positive change in someone’s life and mentor with Free2Succeed. Please email us at mentoring@idoc.idaho.gov or visit www.idoc.idaho.gov for more information. 

Here are a few Free2Succeed mentors and their experience mentoring returning citizens:

Hailey Staggie, who is a mentor in Idaho Falls, says that she decided to become a mentor with the Free2Scuceed program because she believes she can be the difference in a person's life. She can be someone others reach out to, provide advice regarding things that have worked for her, and she is able to talk and help them through situations that were once difficult for her and show that she was able to overcome them. She can be a positive role model with kind words of encouragement that someone may otherwise not have in their life. 

Hailey recalls an experience as a mentor when she received a call from one of her mentees informing her that she was no longer needed as a mentor because she was absconding supervision and driving to California. When her mentee was about 200 miles from her destination with less than $20, Hailey helped her to see that the right thing to do was turn around and come back to Idaho. She returned to Idaho the next morning and Hailey was instrumental in identifying additional resources in the community for her mentee. Hailey says that without having a mentor for her to reach out to, her mentee would probably have done irreparable harm to herself and may no longer be with us. 

Selina Chocktoot is another mentor in Caldwell that states one of the reasons she is a mentor with the Free2Succeed program is that she has been in the correctional system for most of her adult life and she finally “gets it” and has learned how to stay out of the system. She is attending college and majoring in social work and addiction studies which will provide her with more tools to help others live a healthy and productive lifestyle. 

The most important thing she realizes about being a mentor is to establish and maintain healthy boundaries which keeps you safe and in balance. She has also noticed that people reentering the communities will watch to see if our actions as mentors are healthy and proactive. She says that if she leads by example, then others will notice and follow her example.

Bambi Calloway, a mentor from Boise, shares that when she was released in 2015, she had no one in her life that understood her situation and the people that were around her assumed that everything would go back to normal once released except for her addiction. After all the programming and self-reflection she did in prison, she realized there was no way she could just go back to the way things were and still deal with her addiction. When she faced difficult situations, she knew that if she didn't find someone to talk to, she would never be successful on her own, so she turned to the officers of the facility from where she had just been released. Those officers may not have walked her path, but they were more familiar with the struggles of leaving prison and going out into society than anyone she knew at that point in time. She realized very early on that she wanted to be the person that others could turn to after they were released, and she wanted them to have the same hope she did. When the Free2Succeed program was offered to her as an opportunity to change, she knew it was exactly what she was looking for and a way she could give back in a structured and healthy way.

Bambi shares this experience that speaks as to why mentors are so important in the lives of returning citizens. “There is a selfless element to mentoring. Experience is a unique resource that we as mentors can offer to returning citizens, on so many different levels. However, the day that someone comes to me with tears in her eyes and says, "no one has ever believed me or cared for me the way that you do," speaks volumes. When someone believes in their potential, it opens it all up for them to start believing in themselves. We were not meant to walk this path called "life" alone. Everyone needs someone. 

Mark Person is another mentor from the Boise, became a mentor with the Free2Succed program because he wants to help people and wants to pay it forward.  Mark wants to be a part of the solution and most of all, to give guys hope.  Having walked in their shoes and understanding their struggles first-hand, Mark knows how much a welcoming handshake and a hug meant to him, even if it was from a stranger. He has had and continues to have great mentors in his life and knows the value well.  

Mark has developed a simple but effective style of mentoring that he calls Day 1. It focuses on helping guys establish a solid footing as soon as possible after release by addressing their individual and pressing needs sot hey can focus on bigger things like looking for employment, so they can pay next month’s rent. Day 1 starts with Mark picking his mentee up at the prison gate and taking them right to the probation and parole office to check in. He then takes them to different places to get the essentials for survival and moving to the next step. Those stops include gathering resources like food, clothing, shelter, basic needs like toothpaste, and deodorant, and a state ID from the DMV which is necessary to get a job. Mark is passionate about being a mentor and focuses his efforts on giving others hope and assurance that there is at least one person who cares. He is driven to help returning citizens be successful and to provide them with opportunities to change.

One experience that speaks to the importance of what Mark does as a Free2Succeed mentor is with a mentee that he had just picked up at the gate for Day 1. His mentee had planned well and had nearly everything figured out for the first week of his release. He had shelter, food, and was starting a job, but was in need of one necessity; a second pair of socks. He had been planning to wash his single pair of socks daily until receiving his first paycheck and could afford another pair. I learned this through conversation we were having while driving around on Day 1.  He cried when I, a stranger, a mentor with Free2Succeed, surprised him later that evening with a pack of socks.

Shawn Taiji in Caldwell became a mentor with the Free2Succeed program because he wanted the opportunity to help others where he himself once was.  “I have the ability to reach others like many cannot, and if I was successful without a mentor just think how much that percentage of success rate goes up with a mentor.  I was unaware of the Free2Succeed program when I was released years ago but, now that I know about it.  I am a firm believer in the program.”

Shawn currently has a mentee who in the beginning was scared, and quite frankly just overwhelmed with the things that he had to do right after being released.  Shawn says that he could immediately sense his stress so, he just jumped right in with him, and helped him take care of everything that he needed to do.  About 2 weeks later they were having coffee and filling out some of his job applications and watching both of their sons playing in the kids area when his mentee looked at him and said, “Shawn.  Thank you for everything that you’ve done.  I Prayed to God to help me, and He sent you.”  The tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt a profound sense of Love, and gratitude.

From that moment I knew without a doubt that the Free2Succeed program does make a difference, one mentee at a time.  Each one will need different things but, one thing will always remain the same.  My desire, and passion to help every mentee that I can. I am immensely proud and honored to be a part of this program.

Story published: 12/31/2018
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