October 22, 2021

Corrections Corner / Brett Buskirk

Program assists former inmates in re-entering society

Brett BuskirkAfter 24 years of incarceration, I was released in January. Having entered the system as a teenager, I was tossed back into the world as an adult. It was not a familiar place. Prior to my release, I made a decision that would change my life in a profound and unexpected way. I joined a program called The Last Mile (TLM).

TLM is a program that offers technology and business training to incarcerated people in order to give them the tools necessary for successful re-entry into society. I spent a year learning how to be a full-stack web developer using cutting-edge technologies such as Node, Express, React and MongoDB. Equally amazing, I learned this without access to the Internet. As it turned out, I had a knack for programming and quickly rose to the top of my class.

Beyond the technical training, TLM supports its students with a variety of soft skills like elevator pitches and resume creation. Students learn best practices when working in a professional environment and learn how to interact with each other and TLM staff in a positive and productive manner. This prepared me for entry into a professional workspace, giving me the confidence to succeed.

My favorite aspect is the community and relationships formed during the program. TLM actively encourages mutual support and respect among its classes, working hard to rebrand the image of the “convict” or “inmate” by consistently using humanizing language. Program participants are called students, learners or people, rather than the former derogatory labels. It may seem small, but this distinction is important. It develops humanity, letting them know they have a place here.

After I graduated, I became a teacher’s assistant. I spent my time helping students understand the material and developed tutorials to assist them with their learning.

Because of the pandemic, the program was temporarily shut down. During this time, I wrote tutorials by hand, sitting at my bunk without a computer. I also began a study group, because I cared deeply for the program and wanted others to succeed.

Because of my belief in the mission, my skill at programming, and my desire to work hard and contribute to the community, I made myself extremely visible. When I filed to have the last two years of my sentence modified to home detention, I reached out to TLM and inquired about employment. Although not standard, my unique circumstances allowed TLM to find a way to offer me a job. It was more than I had hoped for, and I believe having that piece in place helped secure the modification.

In the months that have passed, I have been promoted to a remote instructor. I now teach our students remotely across more than 20 classrooms in five different states. I get to make a difference in the lives of others and be an inspiration to them, just as was done for me.

This gives my life meaning and purpose in a way I cannot explain. I am part of a community that cares about its mission, even beyond the prison walls. I am exactly where I want to be and grateful to be here.

(Brett Buskirk is a returning citizen who advises the archdiocese’s Corrections Ministry Advisory Committee. He is a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville.)

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