Civil Survival Board Co-Chairs Omari Amili and Chris Poulos recently spoke on a panel hosted by Governor Inslee in Olympia that addressed the many issues and challenges surrounding reentry following incarceration.

Mr. Amili described his difficult childhood with few role models and parents who suffered from addiction. He looked up to his older cousins who were involved in theft and other crime. While he followed a dangerous and unfulfilling path that led to 36 months in prison, he detailed his eventual decision to change his life by pursuing education to achieve success. Since his release, he has made it his mission to help others recognize their own potential and transform their lives through education. Mr. Amili ultimately earned his master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and went on to develop a curriculum for a college prep workshop for formerly incarcerated people. He concluded his remarks by stressing the importance of addressing people’s underlying issues in order to allow them to move forward and become productive members of their families and communities following incarceration.

Chris Poulos spoke about his journey from addiction and incarceration to law school and leadership. He is currently the Executive Director of the Statewide Reentry Council. Mr. Poulos said that successful reentry and reintegration are only possible when readiness meets opportunity. He echoed Mr. Amili’s emphasis on addressing people’s underlying trauma, addiction, mental health and other issues before society can expect them to succeed in reentry.

Mr. Poulos explained that the collateral consequence of incarceration can be worse than the original punishment. As an example, Mr. Poulos built on his success in law school and public service to an internship within the Obama Administration. He was granted security clearance by the Secret Service, but was unable to find housing because of the stigma and prejudice surrounding his prior conviction.

All of the panelists stressed the importance of doing everything possible to help people in prison to address their underlying issues and then removing the barriers to their success after reentry through education, legislative changes, positive role models and support from their communities.

Watch the entire panel discussion on TVW.