Inland Empire Rebound Reentry Services
By Dianne Anderson
Watching how someone got over their addiction and incarceration may be just enough to help get others to rise above the huge obstacles that await them.
Such is the case with Owen Duckworth, who was formerly incarcerated, realized what landed him in the system in the first place, and what it would take to turn things around.
Many of those that he helps today are lifers with two or more decades behind bars. Depending on the person, he said they are usually ready for change by the time they get out.
“Incarcerated as long as I was, I had seen some of the needs and services of people coming home from prison and some of the gaps that needed to be filled,” said Duckworth, executive director of Inland Empire Rebound.
He wanted to step into that space to advocate for those men and women coming home that looking for housing, jobs, and mental health.
Duckworth started the program after working for the county of San Bernardino as a peer mentor for four years. There, he said many services were not reaching those in need so he started a similar but expanded model with complete wraparound services
He connects with men and women from 90 to 120 days before release to get them lined up with resources as they head home. They are prepped for the workforce, soft skills development, and many get employment at Walmart or Amazon.
Hardly any stumble back to the old life.
“We don’t have that many individuals breaking the law, or going back into the jail system or losing their jobs. Most of the time they are committed to it once they get started,” he said.
Through their first year of employment, his peer mentors make sure they have all they need. He said part of what makes his program successful is that the peers have also been in prison, and rebuilt their lives on the outside.
“Whether they need housing, assistance with a social security card, driver’s license, birth certificate, family reunification job, they try to have that all set up for them when they get home,” he said.
The program serves hundreds with a full scope of preparedness tools, job training and mock interviews. They learn life skills, classes on anger management, domestic violence, and parenting. They also partner in services with probation, the Sheriff’s Department and the State of California.
Duckworth said his main priority is getting them past the real challenges they face with a criminal background hanging over their head. But, he feels the biggest difference between his program and others is that no one is turned away.
Even so, his services are just scratching the surface of need.
“In San Bernardino County alone, we’re averaging about 700 releasees a month,” he said. “They reintegrate into our cities and county. They’re coming back to the Inland Empire and they need help.”
According to jail reports that he reviews, formerly incarcerated individuals usually go in and come out with addiction and mental health issues. Others cycle in and out of jail on minor offenses.
“This happens all day every day,” he said. “So many people are homeless because they don’t get the help they need, they have dual issues, they have criminal records, and they’re right back on the streets.”
Some of what keeps his programs going are donations and a few grants. He also gives out a lot of gift cards. Recently, one young man from Ohio came out and wound up homeless, and his mother said if they could get him back home, she would give him a place to stay.
“We got him a $230 ticket and pocket money,” he said. “He’s back home, and already working. One lady came in with two kids in a domestic violence situation. We put her up for three nights until we found other resources for her.”
IE Rebound is one of 16 nonprofit groups funded in the first round of grants awarded earlier this year through a partnership by the IE Black Equity Fund, IE Funders Alliance and Inland Empire Community Foundation.
Duckworth commended Dr. Sam Casey and Felicia Jones of COPE (Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement) for the work they’re doing to help Black nonprofits get a foothold in nonprofit capacity-building and training.
“They’re not just giving us funding, but coming alongside us and teaching us how to go after funding, they guide you,” he said.
For more information, see https://www.ierebound.org