Four years ago, Hassan Latif had a vision and a plan to help…no that’s not quite fair, to empower and shepherd former incarcerated individuals, such as himself to successfully transition themselves back into their communities.
“I came out of prison not knowing what life could hold for me,” Latif says. “I was gone for almost 18 years.”
Latif worked in the reentry field for Turnabout, an organization founded 25 years earlier as a homeless initiative, which eventually became a reentry program for formerly incarcerated individuals.
“But the board decided to change direction as far as their community outreach,” Latif says, “so that program was going to be closed.
A Brand New Day
Enter the Second Chance Center, 9722 E. 16th Ave. in Aurora, a non-profit reentry program founded by Latif in February of 2012. Latif says during his time as a case manager for Turnabout, he observed too many people continually going back to prison.
“Even though opportunity had been presented for training, and people had found jobs with sometimes a livable wage, they were still going back,” Latif explains. “I saw these gaps that I thought could be filled by doing things differently and improving the outcome for folks coming out of prison.”
So Latif embarked on a mission to put together an agency and a team who could best address some of these issues.
“The first year was spent in my car basically begging my way into halfway houses and groups for free, begging my way into prisons to do transition planning sessions with people who were preparing to come out.”
On April 1, 2013, Latif was brought on as sub-grantee from a Department of Labor grant through It Takes a Village, another non-profit organization. Armed with a little financial flexibility, Latif was able to hire his first two employees Sean Taylor, who had caught a life sentence at age 17, and did 22 years before then Governor John Ritter commuted his sentence as the result of the work he was doing inside the prison, and Adam Abdullah, who did 33 years and three months consecutively in a federal prison.
“So if you think people are wondering what is that guy up to when it was just me driving around in my car,” Latif says. “People were really wondering, what are those guys up to when the three of us got together.”
For the first couple of years, Latif, Taylor and Abdullah did a lot of work in the Denver metro-area contacting employers and promoting their clients and the tax breaks employers would receive by hiring formerly incarcerated persons.
“But we also wanted to find out what would make our people more attractive to employers,” Latif says, “so that we can adjust our job prep.”
Under The Microscope
In just three years, Second Chance has grown to be the preeminent reentry agency in Colorado, with a staff of nine, according to Latif. He punctuates the point that Second Chance has been under a microscope since its inception. Underlining the fact that the benefit of such scrutiny affords organizations a chance to see what they do:
Job preparation – Vocational training and education assistance
Mentoring – Group and one-on-one secessions help clients envision their future and what they can achieve
Transportation Assistance – RTD passes provided to get back and forth to work, to school and parole visits
Pre-release and Patrol Plan Development – Provide mentoring in facilities and assessment of the client’s risk
Cognitive Restructuring – Group meetings to help clients learn new skills and challenge criminal thinking
Addictions Counseling – Weekly group and individual counseling sessions
So Does The Program Work?
Latif says there are a lot of things to gage the effectiveness of their work. “The Department of Labor grant is primarily a vocational grant for folks who are still in halfway houses and people who are on intensive supervised patrol – which is ankle bracelets and those on house arrest. We call that BCPC (Break Through Path Ways Collaborative); we do that with a few other agencies in Colorado and the Denver metro-area. There’s a data system that collects all that information on those program participants.
“We have a lot of people who fall between the gaps,” Latif says. “One grant is for those on patrol, a medium to high risk. Another one is for men and women in halfway houses. But we have people coming out who are low risk and don’t fit either of those grants.”
Latif adds Second Chance have people coming out of prison under mandatory release dates who are not going to halfway house, or on parole. So they do not fit either one of those grants.
We have a larger number of people who are not grant eligible,” Latif says, “but we still find a way to service them. We are right around 2,000 people who have come through. We see about 900 people a month.”
“As far as retention,” Latif says, “we’re looking for ways to continue to track folks – even after they don’t need our services. We think this is important. To that end, we invited a group called the National Behavioral Health Innovation Center, which was begun by the Anschutz Medical Center, to fund and evaluate our program with an eye towards replicating it in other communities of need.”
Latif adds when it comes to retention numbers, Second Chance is tracking employment rates, of which we have the highest for its participants, and they are tracking recidivism rates, of which they have the lowest in the state.
“Our recidivism rates are around 11 percent over the course of these last three years,” he says, “and we’re tracking the education, that’s GED or vocational training that result in a state or industry recognized certification. We’re doing well in those areas.”
Latif says they are not framing the evaluation and are not involved with the process with the exception of making Second Chance’s data system and records available.
“We want them to say what it is about our program,” Latif says. “We already think we know what works. We want some official entity to do that and to tell the world basically what it is that’s working about this.”
Latif adds, “We think what we do is quite a bit different. One of the biggest elements in the reentry program is our mentoring curriculum.”
Second Chance’s mentoring curriculum is based on Latif’s book, Never Going Back: 7 Steps to Staying Out of Prison.
“It’s also been adopted to supplement prerelease classes in DOC (Department of Corrections) in Colorado and in other states as well.”
Own Your Own Crap
Latif had started writing Never Going Back: 7 Steps to Staying Out of Prison four years prior to completing it, and hadn’t written a page in two and half years. However, that all changed with the closing of Turnabout.
“I started thinking, ‘What does it actually mean?’” Latif says, “Two things I came up with were, start writing this book and finish what you started. The second one was I had seen these gaps, and I had ideas as to what could be done a little differently, and so stop being afraid to do it and to step up and try to get it done.”
The first step in Latif’s book is accountability – own your own crap. “In our population, a lot of times, that’s a big step,” he says. “It needs to be the first step. It puts an end to blaming others for your condition. And it accepts responsibility for poor decision making. We think that is an empowering thing. If you messed your life up so bad with poor decisions, then you should have an opportunity to make it just that good, with a change in your decision making process.”
Latif says what’s difficult for most people in general is the second step called Baggage Dump. He emphasizes those are the things people carry through life from one experience to another. It impacts how they process information how they interact in their relationships with others.
“It’s life management stuff,” he says. “Each one of those steps requires a person to really dig, and to really make personal investments. The quality of someone’s transition is directly related to their personal investment.
“When we started this program,” Latif says, “a lot of people were thinking it’s just a bunch of ex-cons codding a bunch of ex-cons. “But we hold our folks accountable, because we know you have to walk this thing in a certain way to be successful. You have to be honest, you have to be accountable, you have to have some integrity about the things that you do. You can’t cut a lot of corners. And this is a lot of what our curriculum is addressing.”
Editor’s note: Never Going Back: 7 Steps to Staying Out of Prison is available @ Amazon.com and from the Second Chance Center, 9722 E. 16th Ave. in Aurora, Colo. 80010