RROCI reentry leaders: Publicizing names of people released due to the pandemic exemplifies a system that demonizes those with records

We could not leave unanswered letters published recently in regional newspapers by State Rep. John Cabello (Machesney Park), State Sen. Brian Stewart (Freeport), a group of Republican state senators, and the Fraternal Order of Police (Chicago Lodge 7). Each letter represents a public act of violence against returning citizens like us.

Publicizing the names of people released from incarceration due to the pandemic, then painting everyone as a repeat offender or exploiting tragic loss of life, exemplifies a system that demonizes people with records.

With our lived experience, we want readers to understand the odds stacked against us. For generations, Black and Brown individuals have been set up for a life of poverty. People of color are disproportionately incarcerated, often enter the system with substance and mental health issues, and do not receive adequate resources during or after incarceration.

Our society prioritizes punishment over healing. After completing our sentences, we are never treated as full members of society. We are prosecuted in the court of public opinion. Every sentence becomes a life sentence.

We advocate for people to receive a fair opportunity to thrive after incarceration. As one of our grassroots leaders put it:

“It’s been three decades, yet I still face barriers to this day. A lot of us don’t get the chance to be seen past our record. It’s letters like these that build up that shame many of us have inside and keep us from moving forward.”

Submitted by the Reentry Leaders Committee at the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI)

RROCI is a partnership of the Reentry Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, Cabrini-Green Legal Aid, and Heartland Alliance.