The Dance of Collaboration

I am exploring the thought of coalition building as learning to dance in step with each other.  I spent the wee hours of the morning one day last week dreaming of the community dancing together welcoming home men and women who completed their sentence.  I have an idea that it was the combination of a movie I watched where the prince was teaching a young woman to ball room dance and the film by the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Inside Out, Leaving Prison Behind.  It reminded me that we are all learning to dance. The best possible to way to learn is from someone who already knows how, a good leader. Dancing together requires a shared vision and a passion for what we are doing together.

In my office each day I am listening to good leaders, people who have been doing the work of reentry longer than me, which isn’t hard as I started in April this year. Each day is a discovery and I follow the lead given by my new instructors. Last week I learned from five people who sat around my table as the new Peer Support Work Group.  All I can tell you is that I believe the honesty and vulnerability of this work group will most likely change everything. They are the hope for a human connection in reentry. Their stories of struggle, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, and incarceration are intertwined with successes and redemption that will change our thinking about reentry.  Their advocacy and desire for change are the inspiration our community needs.  We can empower them by training and job creation as we explore the idea of Forensic Peer Support Specialists.  What if this group of talented men and women were able to get paid to meet reentering citizens at the gate and help them navigate the first days in our community after potentially years of incarceration? What if sober, supportive housing was readily available for a year or two for every returning citizen who was ready for a change?

Take a moment and watch Inside Out again and imagine yourself being greeted by the staff at Haven House and your family. Would that kind of welcome make our community safer and stronger?

Linda Setterberg

As the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition Coordinator,  my job is to bring agencies and people to the table to give reentering citizens the keys to successfully achieve their personal goals.