Former inmate Shannon Ross starts The Community to combat stigma and help those reentering communities
Milwaukee has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. Although the 53206 zip code has become synonymous with the impact of mass incarceration, Wisconsin’s criminal justice system has an impact on our entire community — both when people enter prison and when they leave.
A local organization known as The Community was created to focus on the people who are reentering our greater community after serving time in a correctional institution. Shannon Ross is the executive director of The Community and a former inmate himself. Ross says some of the biggest challenges about reentering a community may not be as obvious as you think.
“There are a variety of needs that people have when they get out, but underneath the variety of housing and family support and mental health is the very common issue of self esteem,” says Ross.
Being a former inmate, Ross says that not only did he struggle with this when he was released, but in his work with The Community he found it to be a common hurdle that individuals were having trouble with.
“They’re viewed as, and treated as, and told the narrative that while they are incarcerated that they are less than, that they are not human beings and that they are burdens now in society,” says Ross.
To combat this stigma that Ross describes he, in his work with The Community, has created hashtags he hopes will nullify the negative narrative and ideally lead to a more thorough conversation on individuals who have been released from prison.
“The hashtag is ‘be an entry point’ and what that means is that when we go anywhere and talk to people we are representing the issue, and by representing the issue we are representing people who are systematically impacted,” says Ross. “But even beyond that, we are representing the overall society and community that benefits from those who have records achieving things.”
As for what Ross thinks anyone can do to help people who are reentering a community; he says to truly put effort into understanding various people’s situations.
“Don’t be a lazy thinker, that’s one of the worst things that has gotten us in this problem — we believe what we hear on the news and from politicians,” says Ross. “Really, really ask whether that record has anything to do at all with the question at hand, when you look at the numbers people who have criminal records can do these roles just as well as other people.”