Seeing the Light - Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization

Today’s post once again focuses on Lancaster – and an aspect of our community that’s often invisible: the challenges people face when transitioning back to the Lancaster community after incarceration. This is Ricky’s story . . .

Ricky* sees light at the end of the tunnel, and for the first time in nearly a decade, he’s able to say, “I feel blessed, like this is right where God wants me to be.” Ricky’s “tunnel” has been a long, dark journey through bi-polar disorder, PTSD, and obesity, to cocaine addiction, homelessness, and prison. He’s quick to add that his life wasn’t always this way.

“My father was a minister and my mother was an English teacher. Everyone else in my family has been very successful. They all have college degrees. I went to a private Christian school, and I grew up in the church.”

But Ricky also grew up with learning disabilities and some then-undiagnosed mental health issues. Compounding that, he says, “I was a really obese child. All of that put together was tough.” Then, when Ricky was fifteen, his father died. “That threw me for a big loop,” he says quietly. Ricky got into drugs. “Cocaine became my miracle weight-loss drug. My mental disorders and the drugs were a terrible combination.”

He never finished high school, but he did get a job, he got married and had a child. But his addiction and mental health disorders continued to drag him back down into that dark tunnel.

“I used to think I wasn’t like other addicts,” Ricky says, “because I had never been in jail. I saw myself as different somehow . . . until one of my ‘I never’s’ got me.” At age 37, Ricky was sent to jail for the first time. For the next six years, he cycled in and out of jail, homelessness, and addiction. “I saw people get killed right in front of me. There were some people who tried to kill me. I didn’t think it bothered me, but I’m realizing I just bottled that stuff up.”

In early 2010, Ricky was arrested again and sent to Lancaster County Prison (LCP).

“I lost a lot this time around,” he explains. “My wife got tired of thirteen years of me using drugs off and on. I would spend money on drugs that was needed to pay the bills. I wasn’t around to be a father to my daughter. And my wife got tired of it all. So she took my daughter and left me. That just broke me.”

Ricky served his sentence at LCP, but when he was due to be released, he had nowhere to go. A staff member in the LCP pre-parole unit told Ricky about the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). The RMO is a collaborative effort between the Lancaster County Prison, social service agencies, Adult Probation & Parole, area churches and others to improve community safety by helping people transitioning out of the Lancaster County Prison to become productive citizens and remain crime-free.

The Transitional Living Center (TLC) is one of the RMO service providers. When Ricky learned about the RMO and TLC, he asked to be considered for admission. Carissa Irwin and Doug Hopwood from TLC visited Ricky at the prison.

“They went over the rules for TLC and how the RMO works and everything, and I finally saw a little bright spot – like things could finally be different for me,” Ricky explains. “Five days later, I was released from the prison at 11:30 in the morning, and I went straight to TLC because their orientation (for new residents) started at noon.”

In addition to providing Ricky with safe, stable transitional housing, TLC staff got Ricky connected with mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, legal services and GED tutoring, all through other organizations that are partners in the RMO. This kind of coordinated, case management approach is key to the success of the RMO model. But success ultimately hinges on whether the RMO client is willing to commit to the kind of hard work and positive changes necessary to avoid returning to crime.

Doug Hopwood, TLC’s Director, observes, “Sometimes people have to hit ‘rock bottom’ before they’re ready to make the necessary changes.”

Ricky has seen rock bottom. Now he sees a different path for himself. “I’m determined that I want to change my life,” he says emphatically. “I don’t ever want to have to live that way again. The RMO program is truly on you. If you aren’t willing to change, no program can help you, but the RMO program gives you the option to get help if you want it.”

Ricky has learned that getting that help can be humbling, and it demands honesty and accountability. For people who have been in jail, that black spot on their record closes a lot of doors – to finding a place to live, a job, and other basic needs.

With help from the RMO partners, and Ricky’s own willingness to be honest and work to make changes, a few doors have finally opened for him. He’s connected with a church pastor who has been a mentor to him, and he has a sponsor/mentor in the NA meetings that he attends regularly.

And Ricky has finally gotten his own apartment. Doug Hopwood observes, “To Ricky’s credit, he was right up front with the landlord. He said, ‘If you do a background check on me, here’s what you’re going to find.’ The landlord appreciated that honesty, and he knew that through our program here at TLC, Ricky completed life skills and financial budgeting classes. So the landlord was willing to give Ricky the opportunity.”

Now, Ricky is working to re-establish his relationship with his daughter, “to be a real father to her,” he says. And he tries to give back to the community by talking with teens in a local drug and alcohol treatment program about getting their lives turned around.

“This RMO program is a blessing from God,” Ricky says. “If it weren’t for these people who were willing to give me a chance, who saw me as being worth it, I would be in jail or dead right now. They helped me see myself as worth it too. They saved my life.”

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For more information on the work of the Lancaster County Re-entry Management Organization, see the organization’s website

For a printable version of this RMO Success Story, CLICK HERE

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