A MN mother prepares for her son’s return from prison

“You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.”

Anyone who’s ever been a parent will recognize that as, perhaps, the most accurate statement on parenting ever uttered.

It’s in Charlene Briner’s incredibly poignant post on Medium.com today. Briner’s son, serving time on drug charges, is getting out of prison in two months. Briner, the chief of staff in the Minnesota Department of Education, writes that she’s worried — and rightly so — about the hardships that face an ex-con in this state.

His years behind bars have only hardened him, she writes.

Two of his moves were to county jails that contract with the state to provide overflow housing for inmates, which for Nick was the worst of his time served by far.

Offenders housed in county jails have no access to even the limited educational programming, job training or physical activity that is available in the mainstream system. During his last stay at a county jail he went more than a year without going outside or seeing the sun.

The irony here is that men considered the best-behaved or lowest-risk are the ones sent to overflow jails, or at least that’s what one of Nick’s caseworkers told me when I asked how the assignments are made. That policy creates a perverse disincentive to good behavior, and like many of his fellow inmates, Nick figured that out fast.

Once returned to the regular prison system, he started getting in trouble for fights and other infractions, thereby decreasing his chances of being sent back to county jail.

And while he was always relieved to leave the jails behind for the relative improvement that conditions at the prisons offered, the truth is that “tough-on-crime” policies of the past two decades has left fewer resources in the mainstream system — resources that could provide meaningful education, job training, and transition supports — to help prepare offenders for life on the outside.

These days, transition services consist of a few hours of classes that cover things like how to apply for food stamps and other social services.

As difficult as the 5 years have been for Nick, the challenges he’ll face in 60 days may be even harder. The hills he’ll need to climb will be steep and unforgiving, the barriers stubborn and unyielding.

The attitudes he’ll face will range from dismissive to disdainful, maybe worse. Life on the outside will test him in ways I’m not certain he’s prepared for.

She says the best thing she can do for her son is to continue holding on to hope.

Related: The future of drug sentencing in Minnesota (Faribault Daily News)

(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)