Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Difference a Mentor Makes

I recently checked in with a friend of mine whose uncle was released from prison about a year ago up in Michigan. She told me that he was on a positive track as he’d managed to secure both housing and work and was setting long term goals. Just four days before he was planning to take a bus out to California to live with family and to pursue higher education, he reoffended and was rearrested. His hopes for the future are again deferred.

I asked about her uncle’s support system.  She said he had no one. After spending twenty years in prison, he had no friends, and very little family to help him stay on track, stay focused, and stay encouraged. She said, “He could have used a mentor.”

Contrast my friend’s story with a couple of our Trusted Mentors’ mentees. Both mentees are re-entering our community from the prison system. Both men have high hopes for their futures. Both men recognize the benefits of having a mentor.

Joe is starting his life anew here in Indianapolis. He’s not originally from here; he came to a city where he knew very few people and had next to no support. Joe states that a benefit of having a mentor has been having a friend in a “foreign land” to help navigate a new city. “Aaron has helped me find an apartment, given me advice on money management and helped me while I was looking for a job.”

Joe shares that the best part of having a mentor is “knowing there is someone that I can always talk to about anything. Aaron doesn’t judge me and he listens to what I have to say. Most of all, he is very encouraging and always has a positive attitude.” Joe knows that he’s not alone as he surmounts the many challenges that lie ahead.  He says that Aaron’s positive attitude is contagious and has aided in boosting his self esteem, even as he hits road bumps. 

At age 49, Lavert too is transitioning into a new phase of his life. His mentor, Andy, has helped him move into a stressful workforce and has assisted with housing and other goals. Similar to Joe, Lavert states that having a mentor is a positive for him as “it helps me when I have someone to share what’s on my mind…no matter what it is.”

It’s common for mentees coming out of homelessness or re-entering society after incarceration to become overwhelmed and discouraged. The reality of re-entry presents with a myriad of obstacles including: institutionalization, lack of education/ job training, lack of housing and stigmatization. The most poignant thing that Lavert shared with me about his mentor Andy is this: “Best of all, he (Andy) gives me hope even when I can’t see it.” Hope out of hopelessness—I hear this time and time again from our mentees and the sentiment is felt as these “ex-felons” open themselves up to restorative relationships with a Trusted Mentor.  

Who knows if the difference between the successes of our mentees versus the uncle’s demise was having a mentor? We do know that having a mentor makes a difference.  Trusted Mentors reports that 89 percent of our re-entry mentees remain out of the prison system once they’ve been matched with a mentor. If you’re interested in mentoring for 2014, please visit our website at www.trustedmentors.org and click volunteer!