Houston Health Department
A sea of second chances — Community Re-Entry Network Program celebrates 21st biannual graduation
In a season of commencements, a sea of 81 hopeful faces in blue caps and gowns excitedly walked across the Kashmere Multi-Service Center stage, leaving their pasts behind, restoring their dignity and committing to become contributing members of society.
These men and women are all ex-offenders who just became the 21st biannual class to graduate from the Community Re-Entry Network Program, which provides ex-offenders the opportunity to complete a 4-6-week program to learn the skills to turn their lives around. Several members of the class have already obtained employment, workforce training, and certifications.
The Community Re-Entry Network Program serves the whole person with one-on-one counseling, anger management, case management, family reunifications, life skills courses, and peer support groups. The program provides a supportive environment that offers referrals, career development, job readiness, and assistance in making positive life decisions.
Participants also receive help with access to healthcare, transportation assistance, and social service information and application. The overall goal of this program is to assist and support ex-offenders in their transition to becoming productive, contributing members of the Houston community.
The June 6, 2019 graduation ceremony was attended by numerous dignitaries, family members and community partners, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a longtime supporter of the program. The ceremony included rousing words of encouragement from keynote speaker, Chief C. O. Bradford with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition, there was an unveiling a special multimedia banner collaboration featuring reflections by re-entry participants and images created through Texas Southern University Art Museum entitled “What Re-Entry Means to Me” borne of an initiative from the National Re-Entry Center for National Second Chance Month. The class also received a Certificate of Recognition from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, commending their program accomplishments.
Among the recent program were moving reflections by participants who shared their journey from incarceration to successful re-entry. One such participant was Ms. Ariana Mellinger, who recounted her early struggles arising from a disjointed family of assault, abuse, truancy and drugs which led to incarceration. Ariana says that during her early years her father was in prison, and her mother battled with addiction.
Arianna stated that she completed high school due to the strong will of her grandmother, but she continued to act out on feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. She recalls struggling to survive, chasing a materialistic lifestyle and making bad decisions and poor choices, until “All my bad doings caught up with me.”
Arianna found herself serving time in the federal prison system looking for direction when a friend and former re-entry participant introduced her to the Community Re-Entry Network Program. She said, "I needed the Community Re-Entry Network Program 100% at that exact moment. It helped me see where I have been and fill in the gaps. Each class came at a time to help me with exactly what I was struggling with.”
Arianna hopes to use her new skills to complete recovery coach training, study social services and follow her passion to help at-risk children and individuals in recovery. She is also taking steps to establish healthy relationships with family members.
The Community Re-Entry Network Program was established in 2008 and is a program of the Houston Health Department. The program remains steadfast in its commitment to support formerly incarcerated returning citizens with evidence-based services to reduce crime, increase public safety, create healthy communities and empowering participants to become productive, contributing members of the Greater Houston community.