TRENDS Diary: Helping Inmates Re-Enter A Quarantined World

Nick Varra, immediate release coordinator for FOCUS Reentry, assembles backpacks for clients.

TRENDS Diary, a project of the Community Foundation of Boulder County, is a place for Boulder County residents of all ages to share personal experiences that relate to a pressing community need. The focus, for now, is on our shared need to connect and solve problems, despite the increased isolation we’re all experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dear TRENDS Diary,

FOCUS Reentry is a nonprofit mentorship program for the jailed population before and after they get released. Much of that has shifted. We’re doing remote work: helping our clients get medications, enroll in benefits, get necessary supplies, find work.

One exciting addition has been providing people with phones so we’re able to stay in touch with clients longer, and they can access services that are now remote. People in Boulder County jail are usually in there anywhere from a week to a year; we’re working with people who have been there at least a few months.

People lose so much when they go into jail — their job, their housing. If you’re somebody who is teetering on that edge, that tends to push you right over.

We’re taking donations: $33 gives somebody a phone and service for a month; $50 gives people food and a backpack with clothing and a sleeping bag, plus the phones. We’re also accepting supplies. Somebody donated a whole box of hand warmers; energy bars, sleeping bags and jackets are really helpful.

I’ve had a therapist offer their services. We’re helping people to navigate some of the online services that are hard for people who don’t have access to computers. It’s been amazing to watch how the community and other organizations have come together, getting creative about how to support people.

It’s important to have compassion. The jail holds a large amount of our homeless, addicted and lower-income populations, because they’ve lost support systems. A lot of crimes that homeless people commit are lower-level crimes like theft or trespassing crime or a possession charge.

I can only imagine what it would be like to see the world in quarantine and not have a place of your own to quarantine or the resources to make yourself feel safe.

– Lani Gordon, as told to Shay Castle