The Reentry Guide Initiative is one of EJP’s largest endeavors. The hundreds of pages for the two guides – Mapping Your Future and Returning Home – require research, interviews, writing and proofreading for each new edition.
This year, the RGI team had an even greater challenge: creating guides that included relevant information during a pandemic, when guidelines and rules around quarantine, vaccines and masks are ever shifting.
Mapping Your Future, the Illinois reentry guide, came out earlier this year, and Returning Home, for people facing deportation, will soon follow.
How does it all come together? RGI co-coordinators Linda Larsen and Lee Ragsdale answer some questions here about the 2021 editions of the guides.
So what’s new in these 2021 editions?
Linda: We focused on a few areas for revision.
We made changes to the section on getting your ID and documents together, as well as the section on parole and mandatory supervised release. There are a lot of changes happening there with the pandemic and within the Illinois Department of Corrections that we wanted to reflect. Our advisory council helped with correcting and clarifying those sections.
We also sat down with our advisory team and asked them to talk about relationships and the emotional challenges of release. From those conversations, we updated that chapter with new quotes and information that I think is really helpful for people seeking to rebuild relationships.
Lee: EJP’s Mindfulness Discussion Group and some RGI members felt really passionate about revamping the mindfulness section. Before, there were a couple of pages borrowed from other texts. They did a really thorough and amazing job, especially on the resources specific to Illinois and to people of color.
What did you do about the pandemic? How did you keep on top of the pandemic information as it changes so quickly?
Linda: We included an entire chapter about how the pandemic has impacted life on the outside and how to prepare for release during the pandemic. We also added a long section about the vaccine, urging people to get it and addressing any concerns they might have.
Things are changing constantly. We included a little disclaimer in the guide that this is how things were at the time of publication but they might have changed since.
With all that shifting information, how did you approach writing about the pandemic?
We erred on the side of safety. We were printing the guide even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had changed mask guidance. Our guide still tells people to wear masks. We’re encouraging people to still practice measures that will keep them healthy and safe. Things are opening up and hopefully will get better, but in the meantime we need to play it safe, and I think that’s how we put it in the guide.
What are some of the challenges of Returning Home?
Lee: There’s a lot of crossover between Mapping Your Future and Returning Home. We identified some of the chapters that would be similar – the pandemic and mindfulness, for example. Then we have to make changes and do research specific to Mexico. The vaccines available here are completely different. We have a member whose aunt is a nurse in Mexico, and they interviewed her about the roadblocks to people who are skeptical of the vaccine in Mexico. Those are likely very different from someone in the US, so we were able to get some insight there.
This is the first time the advisory council (a group of formerly incarcerated individuals) has participated fully in the process. How did that help shape the guide?
Linda: I feel so much more confident that our guide is communicating what it needs to. Without that first-hand experience, it’s hard to understand emotionally what’s going on. Accuracy is also a challenge – what are people actually going to experience when applying for an ID or job? It is absolutely essential we get that experience in the guide and that it’s accurate and that it speaks to people’s experiences.
I think it’s a more compassionate guide because of the council’s advice and a more accurate guide.
What are some changes you hope to make to future editions?
Linda: I’d like to get more women’s voices in the guides. There are a lot of quotes from formerly incarcerated people, but very few of them are women. That’s a priority we want to address.
We’re also thinking of adding something about the unique challeneges people on the so-called sex offender registry face.
Lee: For the first time this year we’re translating Mapping Your Future into Spanish. That should hopefully be available mid-summer.
The reentry guides are available on our website in PDF form. You can request print guides via mail, phone, email, or online form. We will mail one to you free of cost. Contact us at:
Reentry Guide Initiative EJP
1001 S. Wright St
Champaign, IL 61820
Online form: https://forms.illinois.edu/sec/1631272