A little help to adjust to life outside of prison

Medford, Oregon – Lives are changing every day behind an unassuming storefront in downtown Medford. That’s where you find Golden Rule ReEntry, a local nonprofit that is working to make it easier for those who were recently released from incarceration to join life on the outside of the prison walls.

Golden Rule, which recently got a grant from the Avista Foundation for a short film project on ReEntry, was founded in 2020 by Abigail Lewis. She spent a year doing research and learning about what was already available in the community before she started Golden Rule ReEntry – mostly using her car as an office.

“I got to be part of the Federal Reentry Court. So I worked with federal parole officers and their parolees,” said Lewis. “I got a phone number, and I went to pick up a guy and got him a coffee, and then we drove out to somewhere beautiful.”

Lewis said driving around is a great way to get the recently released to talk openly about how they need help.

“What they needed most was to really be heard, and seen, and respected,” Lewis said. “And then I helped them with the problems and issues they didn’t know how to handle.”

That could be getting a driver’s license reinstated. Or prepare for job interviews. Or something as simple as grocery shopping.

“One guy asked me to go with him to the store.” Lewis said. “Personal space is very different in a prison situation, and he just couldn’t handle it. I went with him and held space for him so he could shop.”

Last year, a large grant made it possible for Golden Rule ReEntry to establish two transitional houses and move Lewis from her car to a building downtown.

“Now we are working on a workforce development program as part of the housing,” Lewis said. Re-entrants get help with personal finance skills, computer skills, and health advice, while they live in the homes.

“It’s a wrap around program. We don’t send our people out to fail, we send them out to find a job,” Lewis said, adding that she really wants to get to people before they start in a job. “There is so much pressure on them to start working. They really need a little time to recalibrate and readjust to the outside.”

About 200 recently released from incarceration have come through the program so far.

Golden Rule ReEntry is for both men and women, though it’s predominantly men who are in the program. The focus is on reentry – how to leave prison and become a productive member of society again. Lewis said they are not equipped to deal with severe mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

“One of the things I always say is: just because you have a past, doesn’t mean you can’t have a future,” Lewis said.

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people’s lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited-income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. The foundation is a separate, non-profit organization established by Avista Corp., and does not receive funding from Avista Utilities’ customers through rates. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

To learn more about this program, visit goldenrulereentry.org.

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