How did we come to do this work?
Before entering the criminal justice system, many incarcerated individuals live in high-stress-communities impacted by poverty, violence, and racism. This kind of stress can cause trauma, isolation, and detachment that affect individuals’ health and behavior, and can ultimately contribute to criminalization. This trauma is further intensified by the prison experience. Prison fundamentally separates incarcerated individuals from positive forces in their lives: home, family, church/spiritual community, education, employment, nature; and instead mark them as convicts, takes their freedom and control over their lives, and surrounds them with violence and criminal influences. This stress may lead to depression, mental health conditions, drug/alcohol abuse, or violent behavior that may persist after release.
Upon reentry, individuals are often thrust into hostile territory. They are released into the same community where they may have committed the crime that led to their imprisonment, potentially putting them in close proximity to negative conditions and influences that prompted their illegal actions in the first place. Many employers categorically will not hire anyone with a felony criminal record due to legal restrictions or concerns about liability and safety. Job searches are complicated by low levels of education, job skills, and work experience, and gaps in work history. The slow economic recovery means tough competition to get a job, and lack of reliable transportation and strict parole can conflict with employer expectations, making it difficult to keep a job. Few have financial savings or strong social support networks. Family relationships may be strained. Accumulated child support debt leads to the garnishment of wages, which complicates efforts to establish self-sufficiency. Many struggles with housing and homelessness, and depending on the type of conviction, they may be ineligible for public benefits such as subsidized housing, income supplementation, and food stamps. Some face mental health problems, or are in recovery from substance abuse, and may have no resources to continue treatment started during incarceration. Many lack knowledge of the agencies and options that are open to them and need help navigating the system. The social barriers are so daunting and the scarcity of dignified economic opportunities so difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals that many feel they must again resort to illegal activities in order to simply put food on the table and support their families, leading to the mass recidivism in California of almost 70%.
Partners from non-profit, educational, and private sectors have come together to provide a holistic reentry pathway that supports reentering individuals from incarceration, offering training and interpersonal and work-related skills, leading to successful reintegration into their community. We immerse participants in the principles of permaculture in a highly structured and culturally-relevant program that will help graduates see their place on the planet and in society, provide a sense of greater opportunity, agency, and purpose; foster positive relationship skills and empathy; build a supportive community of peers and mentors; provide hard skills through vocational certification and new employment credentials; teach reentry-relevant job search/readiness and entrepreneurship skills; and provide paid work experience and job placement support. Along the way, we integrate case management and guided access to a network of social service providers for housing, mental health, substance abuse, financial education, and legal services, etc. After this intensive experience, participants will undergo personal, interpersonal, professional, and perceptual healing and growth that will help them find and forge new, more positive connections and viable alternatives for themselves and their families.
Our program design incorporates many best practices in working with the reentry population identified in the East Bay Community Foundation’s ‘Putting the East Bay to Work’ (2009) study, especially around providing wraparound services, integrating Green Jobs, working directly with and educating employers about the assets of working with the target population, educating participants about the full range of vocational opportunities open to them, incorporating legal services, financial education, and asset building, and collaborating with other service providers.
What is Permaculture?
Why is it Relevant to Reentry?
Our program integrates permaculture design ethics, principles, and practices with best practices in the reentry field. Permaculture takes wisdom from observation of the natural world and creates a new way to look at life- one based on a healthy, sustainable connection with self, others, social systems, and nature. Central to permaculture are three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies.
There are also 12 principles of permaculture that include:
(1) Observe and Interact –By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation,
(2) Catch and Store Energy –By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need,
(3) Obtain a yield – Ensure that your work is leading to truly useful rewards,
(4) Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well,
(5) Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources,
(6) Produce No Waste – Value and make use of all the resources that are available to us,
(7) Design from Patterns to Details – By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs (or life goals), with the details filled in as we go,
(8) Integrate Rather Than Segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they become mutually supportive,
(9) Use Small and Slow Solutions – Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes,
(10) Use and Value Diversity – Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides,
(11) Use Edges and Value the Marginal –The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system,
(12) Creatively Use and Respond to Change –We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.
The principles above can be practically applied as much to growing a healthy garden as they can to sustaining a loving relationship with family, setting and achieving financial or life goals, or building a new business. Our partners believe that through this program, participants will learn to use the philosophy and practice of permaculture to heal wounds they have received and caused. They will adopt a new identity and sense of purpose, respect for others, and responsibility for self and community.
The program provides a seamless, supportive, comprehensive, and holistic reentry pathway that takes individuals from incarceration to self-sufficiency.