EVENT HELPS EXOFFENDERS BACK INTO SOCIETY by Roxanne Escobales

10/13/06

Today an event showcasing re-integration services for ex-offenders drew nearly 500 people in South St Petersburg. This year, the Florida courts sent XXX number of people to jail, xxx of them are women. Phoebe Garrett considers herself one of the lucky ones.

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Phoebe was charged with DUI manslaughter after driving home with alcohol in her system when a man stepped off a curb and into the path of her car. She was released almost two years ago from Gadsden correctional facility after serving most of her five-year sentence, yet she is just now putting her life back together.

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This past year, nearly 33 thousand five hundred prisoners were released from Florida prisons. The largest number of those happened in Hillsborough County.

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Patty Harris works for the Florida Parole Commission and is the co-chair of the Pinellas Ex Offender Re-entry Coalition, which organized today’s event.

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But it’s not just social attitudes that ex-offenders need to deal with once on the outside.

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After being institutionalized and having their former lives destroyed, those who have spent time behind bars say having a support system upon release is essential. Probation officer Mike Jenkins says without it, an ex-offender is likely to re-offend.

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Former inmate Kimberly Porter is not an unusual case. In fact, like Kimberly, most of the women in prison were put there on drug-related charges. In February she was released after her fifth imprisonment. The first time the mother-of-four went to prison, she was 24 years old.

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Kimberly took an innovative course of therapy put on by the newly formed Cypress Initiative. She said along with her newfound clarity and empowerment, the support of her family helped tremendously.

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Kimberly now works for the Cypress Initiative as an outreach co-ordinator and attended today’s showcase of services, not as an ex-offender but as one offering help. The Cypress Initiative joined other services today to lend a helping hand to those like Phoebe Garrett who don’t know where to turn to move on with their lives.

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If you know someone who is about to be or has been released from prison, you can log onto the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition’s website at exoffender.org. For more information on the Cypress Initiative email cypressinitiative@tampabay.rr.com or phone 813 241 8786.

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