Some jurisdictions are exploring alternatives to incarceration as a means to sanction nonviolent offenders. The incarceration of nonviolent offenders, including those who fail to pay child support, is a drain on limited state resources. It also compounds the criminalization process, making it harder for former offenders to find and hold a steady job and maintain family ties.
Holding a steady job can be even more difficult when former offenders experience homelessness. Former felons reentering the community after incarceration face an increased risk of homelessness while people who are homeless are more vulnerable to incarceration. In a recent survey in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, 7% of homeless individuals (85 persons) had spent the previous night in jail, prison or a detention facility.
I was born and raised in New York where I learned the brick-and-block trade [masonry]. I was in the union, married, and financially able. When the union went on strike, I joined the Army’s Engineer Corps where I was a Private 3rd Class in charge of a squad. Because of a drug charge, I received a dishonorable discharge. Although I did some light drugs—nothing heavy—I was innocent of the charge for which I was discharged.
I came to my parents’ house in Florida and landed a job helping to build Epcot. I was introduced to crack by a woman I knew but still got up and went to work every day. I moved to Sarasota and worked on many of the high-rise buildings you see all around you in downtown Sarasota. I had a car, a two bedroom apartment, a computer—everything I needed.
I went to the union hall every day and worked until the work disappeared. Five years ago, construction jobs dried up. I’ve been struggling ever since.
I’ve been to jail about twenty times for failure to pay child support. They come and pick me up and take me to Polk County where I do my time and then bring me back to Sarasota. It’s gotten in the way of having a steady job; if I had a steady job, I’d be able to pay child support.
The community needs Project 180 because there’s a revolving door at the jail. People get in and come back out and do the same thing that they’re used to doing. People need Project 180 because they need to know how to handle the world before they’re thrown back into society…somewhere they can learn a trade or occupation and get the motivation to do the right thing. They need Project 180 to put them in the right direction and to tell them they can make it in the world.