Office of Re-Entry gives new hope

The Memphis-Shelby County Office of Re-Entry has found a home in Soulsville, USA where it works with people leaving incarceration and looking for a new start.
The effort to reduce recidivism and other challenges faced by incarcerated individuals as they re-enter society is led from Soulsville, USA.
The Memphis-Shelby County Office of Re-Entry is located at 1362 Mississippi Blvd. in the neighborhood. The office’s first permanent home opened there in June 2015.
The office serves as a one-stop shop for all services. A joint initiative of the state, city and county, all three entities have staff working in the office.
“What we knew is the governments wouldn’t be able to provide the services for all the people who needed them so it’s important to work with other service providers,” said Phyllis Fickling, Director of the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Re-Entry. “We are trying to build a success plan. That means although they want a job we peel back the layers and see what else they need – health care, child support, housing, benefits reconnection, do they have children that need other services or how are their family relationships.”
Understanding relationships helps. For example, if a person depends on a family member for transportation it’s important to understand if the relationship is fragile enough that a simple argument could mean that person doesn’t get a ride to work, and therefore loses the job. The office provides counseling for those family members.
It also provides job fairs so individuals don’t attend larger community fairs where they might compete with people without a record.
“We’re trying to provide an environment of positivity and dignity for them so they feel encouraged and confident,” Fickling said.
The need to prioritize re-entry success in Memphis and Shelby County was identified in 2006 by community leaders. The plan contained four pillars: prevention, intervention, law enforcement and adult re-entry.
The office opened in 2012, first in a location on Adams Street next to the juvenile court. Next came a temporary location in a former forensics science building on Madison Avenue before moving to the current location. At one time, the building housed a health clinic, but it’s been vacant for about a decade.
“This building made a lot of sense,” Fickling said. “It’s off the expressway, in a very dense neighborhood that is walkable with bus routes.”
The neighborhood location is important to help the office fulfill its mission, Fickling said.
“Because the neighborhood sees signage out they tell other people, ‘My mother drove by and saw the name and told me to come here,’” she said. “Because this is a dense neighborhood and a lot of traffic people see it. We haven’t had to recruit clients.”
The process begins while people are still incarcerated. It must be determined if a participant is employable.
The office works with Shelby County’s department of corrections as well as other corrections facilities. Fickling said the plan calls for visiting 11 facilities across Tennessee over the next few months to look at people who will return to Shelby County.
A partnership with Christ Community Health Services and Baptist sees a health van visit once a month to provide basic health care and prescription medications. Fickling said the long-term hope is to build volunteer and mentorship programs. That mentorship element could include participants mentoring other participants, serving somewhat like an accountability partner.
The types of jobs and employers who work with the office run a gamut of government services, hospitality, logistics and construction. 

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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