By Beatrice Codianni
I am the Managing Editor for Reentry Central. Most of the stories my colleagues and I write for Reentry Central are about other people -- people who are working hard to help reform our criminal justice policies and to help formerly incarcerated folks get a second chance on life. But this story is not about others. It’s about me.
I know from my own experience how hard it is to get that “second chance.“
Although I am now Managing Editor of Reentry Central, I used to be one of thousands of ex-inmates spread across the United States, each searching for a “normal” life, each clutching at every possibility to reunite with family, each hoping to get a decent job and become a productive citizen. I myself struggled for almost a year and a half to find work. No one would hire me because I had a criminal record, having spent fifteen years of my life at the Federal Prison for Women at Danbury, Connecticut. This is the prison now made famous (or infamous) by Piper Kerman’s Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.“
Then about three years ago, things changed. I heard about a local initiative called the “Reentry Roundtable” in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. The Reentry Roundtable was part of the New Haven Mayor’s initiative to bring corrections and support agencies together with formerly incarcerated individuals to help them reenter the community successfully. Frustrated by a year and a half of job turndowns, I decided to attend one of the Roundtable meetings.
At the meeting I raised my hand and expressed my anguish at not being able to find a paying job. I asked if even one person in the room would hire a person with a criminal history. One person stood up and strode over to me, handing me her card and asking me to call her. I did.
The woman was Dr. Sandra Martin, a business entrepreneur and the founder of Reentry Central. Dr. Martin told me about an idea she had for creating a website with weekly news on topics related to reentry and criminal justice reform. As she spoke about her vision, I was drawn in by the thought that if reports of best practices in reentry could be shared nationwide, all on one website, professionals in criminal justice would be able to provide better help to people like me.
I had no experience as a Managing Editor, but Dr. Martin took a chance on me. She saw something in me beside my past criminal history. She taught me the mechanics of publishing and professional journalism. She gave me a second chance. That was three years ago. Today Reentry Central is the nation’s largest non-government repository of information on reentry and criminal justice reform. Each week the Reentry Central News Headlines are distributed by email to almost 9,000 leading criminal justice professionals nationwide. Our work is making a difference.
The following article, written by Grace Merritt in the Connecticut Mirror, chronicles my story in more detail for those who are interested. I agreed to allow my story to be published in the Mirror in the hope that someone who was reading it might also give a formerly incarcerated person a second chance, as Dr. Martin did for me. I hope that my story will be shared with those who are going through the same struggles that I once faced, and that it will give them the courage to stay strong, and stay on the right path.
It’s worth it.