How a Dallas Nonprofit is Helping Former Inmates Re-Enter Society

Once he's out, then what?
Once he's out, then what? kittirat roekburi/ Shutterstock
A little over a year ago, Kaitlin Bolger was in jail for gun smuggling — a felony in Texas. She was released in April 2017 and was expected to re-integrate into society with the mismatched men’s clothes on her back and a $50 check that she received upon release.

“I spent a lot of time planning before I got out, tried to have as many ducks in a row as possible and ran into one dead end after the other,” she says. “They just sent us out there like, ‘OK, good luck!’”

Bolger went from transitional house to transitional house after that and was homeless twice by June of last year.

Today, her life is completely different. Unlocking Doors, a re-entry nonprofit in Dallas, connected her with resources to find clothing donation centers, food pantries, a transitional home, free furniture and even bus passes.

The nonprofit focuses on helping ex-convicts transition into their second chance at life through collaborations with agencies and other organizations throughout the state.

“Honestly, I don’t have any goals right now because I didn't even think I would even get to this point so soon, so many people don’t.” — Kaitlin Bolger

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At a symposium on re-entry that Unlocking Doors held Friday, speakers talked about the hardships they faced after leaving prison as well as the type of work being done to help them.

Formerly incarcerated people in the United States are almost 10 times as likely to be homeless as the general public, according to a study by Prison Policy. Their report also found that ex-prisoners are unemployed at a rate of 27 percent. On top of that, re-arrest rates are higher among those who have already been incarcerated once.

The cards are clearly stacked against former inmates trying to reintegrate, but Unlocking Doors is attempting to bridge that gap with Pieces Iris, cloud-based case management software attempting to share client data — those clients being former inmates — so that nonprofits can connect people like Bolger to the types of resources they need.

“They assess each person with Pieces Iris, and then Unlocking Doors takes the data they get from people coming out of jail and maybe they’ll give it to the city so they can prepare,” says Sandy Stephens, a member of Unlocking Doors board of directors.

“They took some intake questions and wanted to know what my goals were and what my plan was so they could connect me with any and all resources and help me out,” Bolger says.

Bolger says she knows she’s one of the lucky ones. She got a job at a telemarketing call center, and today she’s an account manager for the company. Yesterday, in a room in front of about 200 people, Unlocking Doors gave her an award for outstanding achievement.

“Honestly, I don’t have any goals right now because I didn't even think I would even get to this point so soon, so many people don’t,” Bolger says.

“We’ve gotten so used to finding something for the client that we forget that they’re individuals,” says Christina Crain, founder and CEO of Unlocking Doors, about the re-entry nonprofit's mission. “We wouldn’t stay at a job we’re not happy in, we wouldn’t stay living in a place that we weren’t happy in, and it's about happiness and it’s about self-sufficiency and being able to really move forward.”
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Nashwa Bawab is an editorial fellow at the Dallas Observer and a recent journalism graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She's from Arlington and is excited to begin writing important stories from DFW.
Contact: Nashwa Bawab