Words of hope for those reintegrating from incarceration

By Keeli Scarlett

For many formerly incarcerated individuals, reintegrating into society can prove itself to be a tough journey. That’s why some Flagler College students are sending encouraging words to those on the long road back.

Flagler College Student Government Association’s Public Service Committee held a tabling event Feb. 13 in the student center lobby, where students could make cards with encouraging words for graduates of Operation New Hope’s Ready4Work program.

The Ready4Work program is dedicated to preparing formerly incarcerated people for reentry into the workforce by offering job training, placement and financial assistance.

Ashley Neperud, chair of the Public Service Committee, says the idea to collaborate with Operation New Hope came to her after taking a Flagship class where she learned about college programs that help people in carceral systems.

“I was looking up halfway-houses and places nearby where we could connect with people when I found Operation New Hope,” Neperud said. “I wanted to do something where we would be connecting with a group in the community that would be based on a genuine connection. We wanted to create a sense of ‘we are here for you and we want to work with you in the future.’”

Ready4Work is made to combat high recidivism rates in St. Augustine. Recidivism rates for Florida inmates released in 2018 were 22.5% for men and 11.5% for women, according to a Florida recidivism report from 2020.

Neperud believes that the Ready4Work program is a chance for forgiveness for the graduates.

“For the community [the Ready4Work program] means more forgiveness and it will give more people an opportunity to enter the work force and realize their second chance and reduce their chances of being reincarcerated,” Neperud said.

Elly Bachman begins writing her message to the graduates of the Ready4Work program. Students were encouraged to make their cards creative by decorating them with markers and stickers.

Flagler students were provided with construction paper, markers and stickers at the table to create their cards for the graduates. Neperud hopes the words from students will help the graduates feel supported.

“If you’re going into jail for a couple years or even a decade, you’re going to feel a sense of rejection. You’re not going to be the top candidate for a job,” Neperud said. “I feel like having words of encouragement from college students is important because even though we may not encounter these people that often, these words will help them feel like they are important and they will gain a sense of belonging. Flagler has a lot of good people, and I feel like it would be a great source of encouragement.”

One student who took the time to create a card for the graduates of the program was Elly Bachman, a junior at Flagler College.

Bachman believes that it is hard for people to take the first step back into society after incarceration, so she wanted to support the graduates with kind words.

“I think it’s hard to take that first step and prepare for your future, especially when it seems like the whole world is against you. So I just wanted to write something nice because I feel like if I were in that position, I’d want to hear words of encouragement because it’s hard to do it,” Bachman said.

Bachman wrote in her card a congratulatory message that she hopes will inspire the graduates to keep going.

“I just said congratulations and told them ‘you got this’ and ‘just keep going.’ It’s really easy to see what’s right in front of you and it’s hard to think about the future, but just taking the first step to join the program is huge for them,” Bachman said.

Bachman feels that writing a message to the graduates was a small part of her day that could make a big impact on someone’s life.

“It took me like 30 seconds to write that. It took a little bit out of my day, but it could really help them and motivate them to keep going,” Bachman said.

After finishing their cards, students were rewarded with a stuffed bear and a smile from Neperud and SGA president, Brock Shepherd.

The Public Service Committee plans to continue working with Operation New Hope on future projects.

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