This article appears in the Fall 2016 "Giving People a Second Chance" newsletter
A Day in the Life of a Bridgeway Professional Mentor
There are many types of mentors. Some are "big brothers/big sisters." Others are those you look to in your professional career, or just serve as a listening ear. Occasionally, mentors guide you in the tough work of getting through crisis or transition.
Reentry to community life after being incarcerated is a big transition. Professional mentors employed by Bridgeway Recovery Services guide clients through this transition to a place of stability in the community. That can mean being a listening ear, but it includes much more than that. Acting as a liaison for returning offenders with supervision officers, community resource agencies, alcohol and drug treatment and housing is a lot of what they do in their work with their mentees day to day.
Ted Woodruff, a Bridgeway mentor for more than three years, uses his own life experiences of recovery from addiction and criminality in his work with men transitioning out of Oregon State Penitentiary. Here's how Ted describes some of what he does.
I visit OSP once a week to meet men who expect to release within six months. They wonder who I am and why I might want to help them. Some are willing; some are not. I keep the door open, returning again and again, in hopes of building a trusting and respectful relationship. They see that I'm for real, that I've been where they are, and that success is possible.
I started working with Jon at Oregon State Penitentiary almost one year ago. Before he was released, I helped him apply for transitional housing and we worked on his other needs and concerns in one-on-one and group sessions. These contacts happened weekly, and he seemed to be anxious about almost everything. Getting to know Jon during our pre-release program fostered a working relationship that would be drawn upon over the next year. Jon had been incarcerated for 17 years. He had a lot of catching up to do.
When a person has been incarcerated for a long time, their day of release is monumental. It is a time that can set the tone for the person's future success or failure in the community. I picked Jon up in the early morning on the day of his release, and spent many hours driving him to his intake appointment with the parole office, applying for food stamps, checking in to his new housing, and buying him his first lunch from a restaurant as a newly freed man.
Throughout the entire reentry process, there were unforeseen challenges. Jon struggled with directional orientation. Getting from point "A" to point "B" on the bus was a paralyzing and confusing proposition. I was unaware of his inability to navigate until he called me in an overwhelming state of panic. He was lost and had walked over three miles in the wrong direction. I went and picked him up where he called from. The next day, we started riding the bus together. He practiced riding the busses until he became comfortable with the routes and the landmarks. He continued to take notes and learn – to take it step-by-step and not give up.
The next challenge was employment. In addition to a limited job history, Jon is a registered sex offender. I was able to get him an individualized orientation with Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation. After his employability needs assessment, he was directed to work with a job coach. He spent most of his free time at WorkSource Oregon to learn computer and interviewing skills. After many months and tireless effort, Jon landed a job as a dishwasher at a high-end local steakhouse.
He has stated that before he gained employment, he found it difficult to get out of bed because he hated his life and his seemingly hopeless situation. He stated that he overcame this daily burden through the encouragement and support of his family and his mentor and counselor at Bridgeway. Jon continues to call me and check in weekly. Jon is now reconnected with society and has established himself as a productive member of our community.