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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Family ReEntry's Testimony on Criminal Justice Before the Connecticut State Legislature Appropriations Committee Faith & Dignity 
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Family ReEntry's Testimony on 
Criminal Justice Before the 
Connecticut State Legislature 
Appropriations Committee 

Public Hearing:
Weds., Feb. 22, 2017, 6:30 pm


Good afternoon, Senator Formica, Senator Osten, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee.   

My name is Jeff Grant and I am Executive Director of Family ReEntry.  Founded in 1984 in Bridgeport, Family ReEntry’s mission is to develop, implement, and share innovative and cost-effective solutions to the unprecedented numbers of people involved in the criminal justice system.  We contract with the Connecticut Department of Correction and the Court Support Services Division, as well as other state agencies, to provide services inside and outside of prison, in support of DOC’s mission to “protect the public” and “provide offenders with opportunities for successful community reintegration.”  

Our high-impact services for youth and families tackle the root causes of violent crime through evidence-based social, cognitive and behavioral interventions that restore healthy family functioning and assist returning citizens in becoming positive contributing members of society. For example, participants in our court-referred domestic/family violence programs (n=1539) for 2014-2015 had a re-arrest rate of 8%, which is 60% lower than the program benchmark for re-arrest rates set by the state (20%). 

I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the bold steps that this administration has taken to reduce the numbers of people in prison through criminal justice reform and Second Chance Society legislation. Having served thirteen and a half months in a federal prison myself for a white-collar crime I committed in 2001, I can personally attest to the humanitarian value of second chances. Without the support from my wife, the faith community and opportunities to volunteer with Family ReEntry when I came out of prison, it is unlikely that I would be standing before you today as a tax-paying citizen, non-profit leader and advocate for returning citizens.  

All taxpayers in our state will benefit if Connecticut’s prison population levels can be sustained or further decreased, so long as public safety is not jeopardized.  With these goals in mind, Family ReEntry opposes the proposed one-million dollar cut to DOC’s community support services, and requests that the amount remain at the same level as last year ($34,803,726). 

While we understand the pressing need for a balanced state budget, we believe that cuts to community-based services are not in the best interest of public safety or the longer-term fiscal health of our state.  

With more individuals returning from prison and jail to our communities, it is all the more urgent that we maintain our investment in community services to ensure that recidivism rates do not increase.  Research shows that when individuals returning from prison do not have the social supports and resources they need to rebuild their lives, they are much more likely to commit another crime and return to prison within one to three years of release.[i] The first six months in reentry are a critical time for intervention and for linking individuals without the necessary supports to much needed behavioral health, housing, legal aid and other rehabilitative services.[ii]  Reentry service providers are on the front-lines in preventing other critical problems our state faces as well, including overdose deaths[iii] and children from witnessing domestic violence.

Evidence-based community programs yield significant returns on investment by reducing recidivism.  As stated in a PEW Center on the States report[iv]

Policy makers must confront the reality that, for the foreseeable future, roughly seven out of every ten offenders will continue to serve all or part of their sentences in the community. Ensuring public safety and balancing a budget, then, require states to strengthen badly neglected community corrections systems, so they can become credible options for more of the lowest risk offenders who otherwise would be in prison. 

The non-partisan Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21rst Century (CT21) report[v] concerning the fiscal future of our state---recommends that, “The current Department of Correction reentry programs both internal and community based need to be funded and sustained” and they also warn that “Connecticut must resist temptation to reduce funding for these programs.”  A 2006 national opinion survey likewise indicates that the general public also favors rehabilitative services for offenders, as opposed to a punishment-only approach by an almost 8 to 1 margin[vi].

As the state continues to garner cost savings from criminal justice reform measures, it would behoove the state legislature to maintain the state’s investment in reentry services as part of justice reinvestment. Everyone will be the beneficiary from front-line investments that will help restore healthy families, increase public safety, rebuild our communities and continue to reduce our prison population. 

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Executive Director

Family ReEntry, Inc.

75 Washington Avenue

Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(o) 203-290-0855

(c) 203-957-0162

[i] Kempker, G., Gibel, S., Giguere, R. A (2010) Framework for Offender Reentry. Silver Spring, Maryland. Center for Effective Public Policy.

[ii] Source: Draine, J., & Herman, D. B. (2007). Critical time intervention for reentry from prison for persons with mental illness. Psychiatric Services58(12), 1577-1581.

[iii] Yale’s 2016 plan for Connecticut Opioid Response (CORE) states that 44 percent of fatal overdoses in Connecticut occurred among individuals who had a history of having been detained by the DOC.  For individuals with an opioid disorder released from DOC, 60% of overdose deaths occurred within six months of their release. Retrieved from

[iv] Source: One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections; PEW Center on the States; March 2009; page 22

[v] Source: BlumShapiro (2010). Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century: Assessment of Connecticut’s Correction, Pardon and Parole (Report No. 2). Retrieved from page 37 [emphasis added].

[vi] Krisberg, B. & Marchionna, S. (2006). Attitudes of U.S. Voters Toward Prisoner Rehabilitation and Reentry Policies. Oakland, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Inside the Heart of a White-Collar Criminal, by Will U. Lystn - Guest Blogger Faith & Dignity 
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Inside the Heart of a 
White-Collar Criminal

by, Will U. Lystn - Guest Blogger

The author writes about the gratitude 
he feels on his third anniversary 
home from prison. 
He is a member of our 
confidential online Tuesday evening 
White-Collar/Nonviolent Support Group

Today is an anniversary of sorts: it is 3 years ago to about this very moment when I began the process of exiting that awful and woeful place. Three years ago, right @ this very moment, I found myself:

·         Saying goodbyes to the kind men that were to soon be left behind
·         Giving away the last of my personal items to those in deepest of need
·         Hugging and sharing both this moment of celebration for me and condolences for those not yet ready to gain access to the freedom tarmac
·         Walking up that paved incline happily for the final time and this time, turning and heading towards the outside of the orientation and processing center
·         Sitting patiently and waiting for the prison official to give me the time of day
·         Exchanging my clothes and getting my own clothes back---and then putting them on
·         Waiting for my get-away vehicle
·         Climbing into that cold van and making small talk with the inmate driver
·         Winding down that serpentine road and heading to the exit
·         Waiting patiently for the cab to arrive that would whisk me away to freedom
·         Getting into that cab and nearly breaking in two
·         Closing my eyes and asking the cabbie to speed away @ light-speed
·         Asking him to not judge me, closing my eyes and asking him to let me know when the misery was no longer visible in his rearview mirror (he told me that others asked the same thing many times over)
·         Opening my eyes and seeing the brightness of the morning sun and the fresh vistas of mountains that rose like earthen diamonds on the horizon. Earthen diamonds that represented scalable freedoms yet to be discovered and conquered
·         Drop off at the airport and clinging to my little ditty-bag and wondering if I looked suspicious
·         Purchasing with my prison-issued debit card my first tastes of freedom-laced foods
·         Boarding the plane and heading to my home…wondering what this might look like and if it would welcome or repel me
·         Taking off and vowing never—ever to head that way again
·         Landing @ LAX and watching in wonder as the people milled about in such ease and with such unfiltered awareness of their luck and fortune to be so free
·         Boarding the small commuter plane that would take me back to my home
·         Watching out the window as we passed by Anytown, USA and seeing where my house sat and marveling that once again I was ‘home’
·         Greeting my wife and realizing this was going to take a while to heal the wound that I created
·         The Drop Off @ The Half-Way House: that was tough and the 30 + days there were not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination
·         Coming Home: that day I exited incarceration and found my way back to my house
·         Chico and My Homecoming: opening the door and there to greet me: Chico!
·         In the Middle of The Floor: there I sat, in the middle of the floor sobbing and hugging Chico

More…so much more. But that is pretty darned close. Wow! Three full turns of the calendar and I am still nowhere near to that province I thought would easily reappear: ‘recovered’. I mean nowhere near.

Struggles and Challenges Abound:
The struggles and challenges abound. There are plenty of days when I feel overwhelmed and ostracized. But I would NEVER, as in EVER want to head back to that literal bondage.

The smell, taste and deep-pleasures of freedom way supersede and repress the powers of that awful and woeful place.

Freedom = home + courage + capabilities to try again + tiny victories + 10-S! + Family and time with my wife and kids and grandson + friendships rekindled + opportunities to speak and teach and write and broadcast + leadership leanings + this general sense of well-being.

I am home. I never take this lightly. I never approach this, or my relationships, or my sobriety or my intellect with a casual callousness. I am Uber aware that life can snatch these bounties and blessings and special moments from us, ‘in the twinkling of an eye’.

Like the speed of flight from which a bat exits the deep chasms of hell, life can turn on you. And the fact that I get a 2nd and 3rd and 4th chance = pure and lasting amazing grace.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The PTSD I Couldn’t See, By Amy Oestreicher - Guest Blogger Faith & Dignity 
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The PTSD I Couldn’t See

By Amy Oestreicher
 Guest Blogger
We met Amy online and were inspired by her story of 
courage and resilience. I think our community 
can learn a lot from her about overcoming 
huge obstacles in life.

I grew up thinking an “illness” was either a fever or croup. Illness was a stuffy nose – a sick-day, an excuse to miss a day of school. At 18 years old, “illness” took on an entirely different meaning. Illness meant waking up from a coma, learning that my stomach exploded, I had no digestive system, and I was to be stabilized with IV nutrition until surgeons could figure out how to put me back together again. Illness meant a life forever out of my control and a body I didn’t recognize.

What happened to me physically had no formal diagnosis. I had ostomy bags and gastrointestinal issues, but I didn’t have Crohn’s disease. Doctors were fighting to keep me alive, but I had no terminal illness. There was so much damage done to my esophagus that it had to be surgically diverted, but I was never bulimic. I didn’t fit into any category. Suddenly, I was just “ill”.

I became a surgical guinea pig, subject to medical procedures, tests and interventions, as devoted medical staff put hours into reconstructing and re-reconstructing me, determined to give me a digestive system and a functional life.

I eagerly awaited the day I’d be functional once again – the day I was finally “fixed” and back to normal. Once I was all physically put together, I’d be eating, drinking, walking, and feeling just like myself again.


Not completely.

I desperately dreamed about the day I’d be discharged from the hospital. I’d be happy, healthy and would finally know who I was again. I’d feel real. I’d feel human. From there, I could do anything.

Reality Sets In

However, after 27 surgeries and six years unable to eat or drink, I learned that the body doesn’t heal overnight. You don’t wake up in the recovery room to a “normal” life.  Stitches had to heal one by one. Neuropathic nerves grew back one millimeter a month. Learning to talk again took weeks. Learning to walk again took months. My skin’s yellowish glare from the IV nutrition I was sustained on took years to fade. Not only was there no “quick fix” to healing, there was no “permanent fix” either. Wounds reopened and I became accustomed to new “openings” in my body leaking at any given moment. I learned that the body is delicate, precious, but incredibly strong.

My body never went back to normal. With no other alternative, I learned how to accommodate and embrace it for its extraordinary resilience.

I was shocked and saddened that I could never get my old, unwounded body back. But what really startled me was realizing what had happened to my mind.

PTSD. I had never heard those letters put together before. I knew what “trauma” was, but I didn’t know it could cause so much internal dis-ease and dis-order – illness that I couldn’t see.

But that was the biggest shock to me – waking up in a new body and a new mind, troubled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Waking up to Dis-Order

Not only had I woken up in a new body, but I also now had a mind troubled with anxious thoughts, associations and memories. Overwhelmed with confusion, I used the best resource I could think of – a search engine. I didn’t realize I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder until the internet defined it for me. NAMI – the National Alliance for Mental Illness – is an amazing resource with local chapters across the country. Reading about the symptoms of PTSD, I was able to realize that I wasn’t crazy. There were reasons why I was experiencing so many strange sensations – sensations that made me feel alienated from the rest of the world.

Identifying Symptoms

According to NAMI, these are common symptoms that PTSD survivors experienced:

Intrusive Memories

Gaining back my physical health, I was unprepared for flashbacks, images and memories that I thought I had repressed. People always ask me what the very first food I tried was after the doctors gave me the go-ahead to start eating.  After a few months of baby food, I was eager to dig right into my childhood favorites - like fries.  I’ll never forget the first time I had a French fry once I was hooked up anatomically to eat again. I had been unable to eat or drink for years, and now that I was surgically reconstructed, the world was my endless buffet. I expected relief, fullness and normalcy. Instead, I was jolted back to life with every emotion that I had not wanted to feel for all of these years. I learned that the French fry was my “trigger”. Putting food back into my body made me feel. Now that I could “feel”, I was feeling everything – including the pain I had tried to swallow for years of medical uncertainty, surgical interventions, and countless disappointments.

Soon, intrusive memories were unavoidable. I would be sitting in a car, buckled into a seatbelt and all of a sudden I would start to panic. I felt locked in, restricted, confined and unsafe. Suddenly, I was remembering what it felt like to be chained to IV poles, unable to move and constricted to a tiny space. My heart started beating rapidly and I started to panic as my memories intruded on what appeared to be a perfectly calm moment. It wasn’t as if I was recalling a painful time. It was as though the doctors were right there with me, peering over my open wound, dictating my uncertain future, and confining me to a world of medical isolation.


Whenever I started to feel these scary memories at any given time, I felt like I had to avoid any stimulant that might make me feel anything at all. Nothing felt “safe.” I lived my life like I was constantly running or fleeing. I spent years locked in my room, journaling for hours with my blinds shut, careful to shut out any outside stimulation that might make me feel. When I was unable to eat, this was a survival mechanism – if I felt, I might actually feel the deadliest sensation of all – hunger. When I was finally reconstructed, I was so used to avoiding my emotions, that constantly feeling was a tremendous struggle for me.  I had grown accustomed to staying numb.  It was too painful to remember every setback and struggle, too overwhelming to recall everything I had lost with every surgery – my innocence, my old body, my sense of self…


Once I started avoiding my intrusive memories, I got used to the feeling of numbness – so much that I became dissociated. When trauma left me emotionally and physically wounded, I froze to protect myself... I went numb so I didn’t have to feel pain. I went numb so I didn’t have to re-experience what had happened to me and mourn my losses. Becoming numb made my world a blurry haze. The world didn’t feel real anymore as I learned to stay “out of my body.” I would walk around almost like a zombie, compulsively pacing hallways and walking in circles – anything to keep my feet moving rather than my thoughts. Through dissociating, I could avoid really feeling what I need to feel – grief.


Staying out of my body and dissociating was how I coped with anxiety. Feeling tormented by my memories, which felt like they were not memories at all, but real and present dangers. I was extremely anxious and irritable. If I couldn’t constantly fidget or find another way to “numb out” I would start to panic, and would be overwhelmed with even more intrusive memories and raw, forgotten emotions. My anger would end up being misdirected at others, when really, I just wanted to shout at my circumstances. My anxiety manifested in all the wrong places – I couldn’t sit still in classes and couldn’t function as a calm, responsible adult.

Soon, these symptoms were controlling my life.

This was a list of instilled, irrational beliefs I created for myself that helped me stay “numb”:

- If I don’t keep moving, I will feel awful emotions.

- I cannot pause to look at anything. If I do, I’ll remember awful things.

- I must keep doing, and I must always know what I am doing.

- I get a nervous feeling inside if I am in a small space.

- When my body feels pain I am in surgery.

- I cannot stop moving. If I do, I drown.

- If I go outside I will feel too much and it will hurt.

Owning My Trauma

My life changed when my stomach exploded, ten full years ago. PTSD is something I still struggle with because my traumas happened to me, have affected me, and will always be a part of me.

But, I’ve learned how to thrive in spite of what has happened to me, and for the first time, my life feels bigger than my past. I’ve found healthier ways to deal with memories, flashbacks and emotions.

Learning to Cope

The PTSD term for finding healthy coping skills is “self-soothing.” To live a healthy thriving life, I’ve had to befriend my past, embrace my experience, and express what had happened to me. I needed to tell my story in order to heal. But first, I had to hear my story for myself, rather than avoid it. Once I learned how to hear my own heart-shattering story, and feel the pain, the frustration, the anger, and ultimately, the gratitude, I was able to speak to it. I was able to gently teach myself how to live in the present moment rather than in the world of the trauma.

Healing didn’t come all at once. Every day I tried to face a memory a bit more. I called it “dipping my toes” in my trauma. Finally, I could put words to my grief. I was able to write, “I am hurting.”

Befriending My Past

As soon as I was able to write words like “sadness” and “pain”, I allowed myself to explore them. Soon, I couldn't stop the words that flowed out of me. My memories started to empower me, and I wrote with feverish purpose.

I started to journal compulsively for hours as every memory appeared in my mind. Soon, the words couldn’t do justice to my traumatic experience – I needed a bigger container. I turned to art, drawing, scribbling. I filled pages with teardrops, lightning bolts and broken hearts. For me, creativity became a lifeline – a release. It was a way to express things that were too overwhelming for words. Expression was my way of self-soothing.

Once expression helped me face my own story, I was able to share it. And the day I first shared my story with someone else, I realized I wasn’t alone. There were others who had been through trauma and other life-shattering events. And there were also people who had been through the twists and turns of everyday life. Being able to share my story emboldened me with a newfound strength and the knowledge that terrible things happen, and if other people can bounce back, then so can I.

Reaching Out

I found wonderful resources. The National Alliance of Mental Illness started as a “small group of families”, and has blossomed into a supportive, educational organization. Active Minds educates and empowers college students through nation-wide chapters, spreading awareness and lending support. The Jed Foundation offers more coping strategies for college students through mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs.

PTSD: The Mosaic I See

My perspective on illness has changed since I was a child, and it’s also changed since my last surgical intervention. I’ve learned that illness isn’t always in the physical scars. I’ve learned that some wounds aren’t visible, and some wounds even we don't know we have, until we choose to take care of them. But I’ve also learned that I’m resilient, strong, broken and put together again, differently, yet even more beautiful than before – like a mosaic.

PTSD has not broken me. It’s taken me apart, and I’m reassembling myself day by day. In the meantime, I’m learning to love what I can build.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.  As the creator of  "Gutless & Grateful," her BroadwayWorld-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences.  She has studied as a playwright and performance artist in the National Musical Theatre Institute at the world-renowned Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.  Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer's Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual.  To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events.  "Detourism" is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.  As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she's spoken to hundreds of healthcare professionals at national WOCN conferences, and her presentations on diversity, leadership and trauma have been featured at National Mental Health America Conference, New England Educational Opportunity Association's 40 Anniversary Conference, and have been keynotes at the Pacific Rim Conference of Diversity and Disability in Hawaii, the Eating Recovery Foundation First Annual Benefit in Colorado.  She's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.    Learn more: