To earn a second chance in life is a rare and priceless gift. Sadly, Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers, according to nationwide data collected in October 2019. In 2015, Black youth’s incarceration rate was 5.0 times as high as their white peers, an all-time peak. The 29th Bi-Annual Community Re-Entry Network Program Graduation (CRNP) graduates were excited, full of hope, and proud of their accomplishment. This experience provided a new season to manifest in their lives, and every graduate was excited to take advantage of this second chance.
The program’s highlight was the testimony of Damion Walker, the Co-Producer of Truth & Justice, who was introduced by Vivian King, Producer of Truth & Justice. Damon told the audience, “On July 20, 2010, I was released after 17 years of incarceration. Not long after my release, I enrolled in the Community Re-entry Network Program and later graduated. Thirteen years later, I have the ultimate honor of encouraging the graduates of the 29th class as keynote speakers. I haven’t been this excited about a speaking engagement in a long time. I want to thank my friend Vivian R King for thinking of me in these moments and encouraging my gifts.”
Mr. Walker told a heart-wrenching story of being a sixteen-year-old young Black man who was a part of the wrong crowd, which led to his imprisonment at such a young age. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison and had to re-enter the Houston community as an adult with no knowledge of how to function in a world he wasn’t familiar with. Mr. Walker’s story is a reminder of the importance of working with our youth, helping them understand the importance of making the right choices in life, being careful of whom they surround themselves with, and how one wrong choice can take your life on a different path that could change it forever.
Forty-one percent of youths in placement are Black, even though Black Americans comprise only 15% of all youth across the United States. Since 2008, CRNP program of the Houston Health Department has been serving the Houston Community. Their caring, multi-disciplinary staff is committed to addressing the needs of the “whole” person with innovative, evidence-based programming, and linkage to services designed to meet the needs of formerly incarcerated persons to help stop the cycle of recidivism. CRNP’s mission is to work with the community to assess, plan, and implement effective strategies to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and successfully assist and support ex-offenders in transitioning to becoming productive, contributing members of the Houston community.
These recently returning citizens have been encouraged that their best years are ahead of them and not behind them. This program is in the Kashmere Multi-Service Center because most formerly imprisoned people are settling in the Kashmere Gardens area when they reenter the Houston community. According to LaTosha Selexman, MPA Bureau Chief of the Houston Health Department Bureau of Youth and Adolescent Health (BYAH) and CRNP, “128 program participants graduated. They graduated with 25 percent of participants completing all program components, becoming gainfully employed, and completing an educational or vocational program. The remaining program participants are supported with vocational training and workforce development.” This is a fantastic record and an excellent opportunity to help recently incarcerated people get the tools they need to create a better life.
The participants in CRNP receive invaluable resources such as reentry resources for ex-offenders, resources in Harris County, Texas, and Texas Southern University Center for Justice Research Reentry Dashboard. The Community Partners that help make this program possible are Career Gear, Dress for Success Houston, Gulf Coast Community Services Association, Harris County Area Agency on Aging, Harris Health, Houston Health Department, Houston Food Bank, Houston Public Library, Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office, SERJobs, Target Hunger, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD Volunteers of America. CRNP has supportive partners that provide various services that assist their participants on their rehabilitation journey. These partner services are after-school programs, community events, crisis services for basic needs such as utility, rental assistance, transportation, daycare centers, drug, and alcohol recovery services, food pantries, food distribution, information, and referral services such as legal aid, parenting classes, summer meals programs, and youth services. Congratulations to the graduates of the CRNP!