Juneau resident Kevin Enloe talks about the obstacles and barriers he encountered leaving prison and reentering the community during a Juneau Reentry Coalition community dialogue on May 25, 2016.

Juneau resident Kevin Enloe talks about the obstacles and barriers he encountered leaving prison and reentering the community during a Juneau Reentry Coalition community dialogue on May 25, 2016.

Ex-inmate: After release, ‘Judgment everywhere I went’

For Christina Wigg, one of the hardest things about getting out of prison was other people judging her.

“Judgment everywhere I went,” she said. “Judgment from family, judgment from peers, judgment from employers trying to get a job, housing, everything. That moment you have to check that box and say you’re a felon, that’s with you for life, that never changes.”

“Every time I had to check that box, everything inside of me diminished. All my hard work that I did, everything that I pushed so hard to do just went out the door,” said Wigg, who completed six years of probation after spending a couple years in prison for drug-related charges.

She said she applied for at least 30 state jobs before she got one.

Wigg was one of five formerly incarcerated individuals who spoke during Wednesday night’s Juneau Reentry Coalition’s community discussion. More than 30 people attended the event at Northern Light United Church; most of them have not been incarcerated.

Alaska struggles with a high recidivism rate, rising prison populations and costs. The Juneau Reentry Coalition is a collaboration of individuals and entities committed to reducing recidivism by supporting individuals returning to the community after incarceration.

During the portion of the discussion called “fish bowl,” everybody seated in circular tables looked to the center table where Wigg and others shared what obstacles and barriers they encountered leaving prison and reentering the community.

Housing was brought up, as was finding employment and opportunity.

Kara Nelson, director of Haven House, said she was in and out of prison for substance abuse issues. When she got out, she struggled with how to ask for help.

“I was trying to pretend to everyone like I had it all together and was moving forward, but in reality I just had no idea what I was doing,” she said.

“It was impossible to rebuild even if I knew how to,” Nelson continued. “Being on probation and trying to be a parent, trying to stay clean and do all these things I was supposed to do, and really being terrified to ask for help because then it looks like you don’t have your crap together.”

Andrea Robinson, who finished treatment at Rainforest Recovery at the end of January, said the challenges associated with parenting is one barrier.

“When I got out of treatment, it had been so long since I was engaged with my kids that I had absolutely no idea what to do with my children, and it was scary,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t ever going to be able to be the mom that I used to be. You just forget how to take care of somebody else when you want to really bad.”

Robinson said peer support from other moms and dads would go a long way because seeking help for parenting is difficult.

Robinson said she was required to go through parenting classes before getting custody of her kids, but she had a hard time getting into one. A few places in town offer them, but “so many people are trying to get their kids back that they’re just completely booked up,” Robinson said.

“These are the voices and perspectives that need to be central to the Juneau Reentry Coalition,” said discussion moderator Sol Neely, assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Through a partnership with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Alaska Department of Corrections, the Juneau Reentry Coalition is working on a comprehensive community plan for successful reentry. It hopes to have a first draft in June.

Kevin Enloe has spent 20 years of his life in and out of prison. Despite his excitement each time he was released, Enloe described the outside as “a lonely world” where he had no “connection” to other people.

“Everybody that you knew before you went in doesn’t trust you and rightfully so,” he said. “I burned every bridge that I had. So you’re not really accepted into the normal society; it’s closed off.”

As for the “lying and stealing and drug using” community he’d been a part of, “they’ll always accept you back,” he said.

“You can’t go to this community because it will lead you to more chaos, and this community won’t accept you, so you’re stuck in this empty void. Where do you go? Who do you talk to?” Enloe said.

He doesn’t blame anyone but himself. “I created my storm,” Enloe said. But it’s a barrier he still struggles with today.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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