On Dec. 31, 2010, the Bureau of Justice counted more than 1.6 million inmates in state and federal prisons. During that same year, 708,677 inmates nationwide were released back into their communities.
Some of those ex-offenders might live next door to you. Some attend your church, stand in front of you in the grocery line or sit next to you at youth softball games.
They look like us, talk like us and have the same dreams as we do.
The difference, though, is that they have messed up and have paid for their mistakes by spending months, perhaps years, in prison, and rightfully so.
But when those men and women earn the label "ex-offender," when they have served their time, what then? How do they find food, shelter and employment while they regain our trust?
It is not easy.
In 2010, Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said, "A felony is the equivalent of economic capital punishment."
Many who work to help ex-offenders become viable tax-paying citizens again agree. Some of those they work with haven't committed a crime or been incarcerated for a number of years. But their past handcuffs their future.
"There are ex-offenders who leave prison, come home and can't find a job," said Bobby Clark of the Bluegrass Reentry Council. "There are no breaks, no second chances. Who wants to hire a felon? People have a misconception that just because you've been in prison, you will steal things or do other kinds of things."
The Bluegrass Reentry Council, a group of about 200 people representing 17 counties in the Bluegrass Area Development District, formed a network of agencies, organizations and family members who want to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society.
Instead of providing direct services, the group is a referral agency, networking with state and federal prison officials, with vocational rehabilitation organizations, churches and employers. The group also interacts with the nine other reentry councils in the state to address issues faced by ex-offenders in each region and to advocate for those men and women.
Mark Johnson, chairperson of Bluegrass Reentry, said the council also hosts training sessions periodically for professionals who work in the prison system, with ex-offenders and with faith-based organizations that offer support.
"Most of us in the group have been in this business for years and understand the importance of having properly trained people and volunteers," he said.
To that end, the council, along with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, is hosting "Reentry Toolkit: Practices, Theories and Models," a six-hour training event featuring Patricia Taylor, correctional programs specialist, National Institute of Corrections, and DonaLee Breazzano, reentry affairs branch administrator, Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Discussion on June 28 will include how a collaboration between the ex-offenders and those who support them can improve their chances of finding and keeping jobs.
That means identifying the ex-offenders' skill sets, emotional or behavioral problems that might have led to their incarceration and their educational levels.
Also, the ex-offenders must use self-examination to ensure they are committed to a law-abiding life. They must learn to reshape what led to their imprisonment.
All of that will lead to reduced recidivism, a reduced drain on taxpayer money and greater safety in the community.
"We are not talking about taking the jobs away from someone," Johnson said, "but about giving a fair chance."
David Boggs, president and CEO of Opportunity for Work & Learning and a member of Bluegrass Reentry, said the training is especially helpful for faith-based organizations and others who can't afford an additional expense for training.
"This opens the door for people to come and hear great speakers and to network," he said.
Next week's training is for anyone interested in helping people successfully transition from prison to a new life, Boggs said. The Reentry Council is also open for anyone to join, he said. It meets at 2 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month at National College, 2376 Sir Barton Way.
"If we can ... get more people involved, those people are networks to potentially helping one person," Clark said. "We need everyone to ... understand that we have a human community problem."