We’ve heard it all before in movies, presumably from our parents, teachers, even friends: it only takes one moment, one person, one day, one action, or one poor decision for your life to change completely. For many of the roughly 7,900 people incarcerated in Scotland, one moment can mean everything.
It took one moment for Sheila to start her path towards reconnecting to God; it took one moment for Chris to realise he could obtain financial stability and security; it took one moment for Sandy to establish a friendship that would ultimately lead to finding new purpose in life – one moment for each of them to jump at the opportunity for a second chance in life following their prison sentences.
And those first, singular moments that changed Sheila, Chris and Sandy’s lives after prison began with Connect to Community.
There is no better day than today – World Day of Social Justice – to talk about the impact Connect to Community has made on the lives of hundreds across Scotland. Established to assist prisoners both currently serving time in prison and beyond their sentence with re-integration into society, Connect to Community works with churches across Scotland to train volunteers to become mentors to ex-offenders. As mentors, volunteers are the greatest supporters for men and women exiting the prison system.
As Connect to Community’s Reintegration Coordinator, David McAdam, states, for people serving time in prison “many of them are isolated from their family, from their friends, they have no one they can trust.” Facing prison time is one thing to fear but leaving prison without a clear path, plan or support system is entirely another fear men and women are facing. Without familial ties or permanent residence, ex-offenders must act quickly to avoid the streets in hopes of finding a new beginning.
McAdam argues that the most successful way for an individual leaving prison is to have a sense of belonging. Sheila, Chris and Sandy are testaments to Connect to Community’s vital work and efforts to creating friendships and an environment of encouragement towards starting over. Through the programme, Sheila was able to not only regain her self-confidence but she also found employment at The Wild Olive Trees Café. Chris, too, was able to find employment with a local catering company, Regis Banqueting, as well as strengthen his relationships with friends and family. For both of them, their initial experiences in leaving prison saved them from it saved them from reoffending and becoming at risk of homelessness.
For people like Sandy, Connect to Community not only changed his life but ultimately inspired him to become a mentor for men and women himself. Having served in prison for 14 years, Sandy understands the fears, worries, stress and panic that prisoners are feeling as they approach their release date. He works to transition them back into society, help them create a new life path, and for some, reconnect to their faith but for all, to regain their confidence, trust and hope in themselves and others.
World Day of Social Justice is not just a day to right the wrongs of the past, but it is a day to remember that every person deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and is worth a second chances. Especially for those who desire to seek a new purpose in life, work to reintegrate into society, explore their faith and ultimately avoid the harsh realities so often associated with prison and homelessness. Connect to Community is one organisation making a difference not just today, but every day.