One of the first things Reggie said to me when we met was, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” This is the first sample I got of his outlook on life. It was one of a few things our discussion kept coming back to: Ask for help when you need it. Work for what you want. Never give up. At age 60 himself, he hopes it doesn’t take other people that long to learn these lessons. Sometimes, though, that’s how long it takes. Sometimes, it’s a matter of if someone has built the resiliency to get there.
Reggie’s experience with the justice system began in the 1990s. He struggled with chronic illness and used drugs to numb the pain. This led him to a lifestyle where he was incarcerated repeatedly during the ‘90s and the 2000s. He would come out of prison, do well for 2 to 3 years, and then end up back in prison. Anytime something didn’t turn out the way he thought it should, he would revert to his old way of doing things. His final incarceration began in 2013. He’d taken classes in prison before, but this time he decided to focus his energy inward. Knowing that he needed to break old cycles to move forward, he wanted to try something new. Before, he’d looked for the road of least resistance, but by the end of his last incarceration he believed that if you want something, you have to work for it.
It wasn’t easy work, though. When he was released in 2019, he expected to find a strong support system in his family, and instead he found challenges at home. He and the mother of his children had disagreements now that caused problems. After four new encounters with the police at his home, his PO advised him to contact Second Chance to find a new place to live. Reggie told me, “Me, back in the day, I would have said I don’t need no program. This time I said let me try something that’s different.”
At Second Chance, Reggie connected with a Resource Specialist who helped him break down barriers to the life that he wanted. Whatever Reggie needed, be it a new mattress, gas in the tank, or clothes for work, his Resource Specialist helped him get it. His Resource Specialist listened to him when he needed to talk about his home life and helped with technology, one of Reggie’s “give-up points.” Above all, though, Reggie says that the biggest help Second Chance provided was opening the door to employment.
Reggie faced unique challenges in finding employment. In addition to his background, he receives social security for his chronic illness, and he didn’t want to lose that. He also needed an employer who would be accommodating for his illness. The first job Second Chance helped him get wasn’t enthusiastic about hiring him permanently, so Reggie had to come back and find another job. His next job was as a floor tech for a health care center. He has worked there on and off since he started, taking occasional breaks from work for his health. Fortunately, he learned at Second Chance the skills he needs to budget and plan financially for times when he can’t work. When we spoke, he wasn’t working, but planned on going back in the next couple of weeks.
Although it can be stressful, Reggie loves his job. He told me, “I love helping people. I know that I’m truly here to be a blessing to someone. That’s how I get blessed.” Reggie says he has a simple life now and that he’s happier with the simplicity than with anything he had before. He had to overcome a lot for that simple life: multiple incarcerations, health problems, drug addiction, loneliness. Because he tried something different, because Second Chance supported him, because he never gave up, Reggie is able to be a blessing in our community today, in his work, as a father, and as a grandfather.