Stranger in a strange land: Re-entering society from prison

You are swept up and deposited in a strange land with nothing but the clothes you stand up in. You have no home, no money, no phone, no car. Not even a comb or a toothbrush.

Your support structure consists of a pair of alcoholic parents, some people who used to be friends who pay for their oxycontin habits by petty thievery.

By law you must check in with several agencies, you must be employed within a month. You must have a stable address and you have a mountain of debt.

And if you don’t accomplish all that and much more, you will be arrested and sent to prison.

Oh, and by the way everyone around you thinks you are the scum of the earth and are, to some degree, afraid of you.

I don’t know what I would do in that situation and I’m pretty smart and resourceful (she said modestly). I’m not sure anyone reading this would know what to do.

It is no surprise that some people deliberately choose to return to prison.

It is no surprise that more than 60% fail to run the gauntlet.

And in this era of mass incarceration all this constitutes a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions

But they get help, right?

The people who succeed at reentering society have a support system. They have intact families who are sober and functioning. They live in an urban area where there are social services, public transportation, and felon-friendly employers.

Without those things, the high failure rate is not surprising. Each individual failure ends up costing taxpayers millions. It adds up to billions very quickly.

When My God Mother’s House started our re-entry project we researched other re-entry programs hoping to partner with an existing agency. The two largest cities in the state had some charities and non-profits that focused on re-entry programs, but even the third largest city had nothing.

So My God Mother’s House was born

Before we began this project, our founder had already hosted a couple of people re-entering and when people asked to be introduced to her friends she would say “Oh, this is my godson John.” The people finding a safe home with her were her god children. Therefore her house is “My God Mother’s House.”

What we are doing now

Currently MGMH only works with women. Eventually we will extend our services to men as well. Men have a very great need.

When a woman is released from prison, we pick her up and take her into our care.

She can’t be released in her orange prison uniform, so she has been allowed to dress herself from the prison’s collection of donated clothing.

At home waiting for her is a gift basket with hygiene products — shampoo, toothpaste, underwear, etc. We will take her to thrift shops and Walmart to get any remaining necessities. Once a month, the Church of Christ has a free store where anyone may come and fill a bag with clothes, shoes, hats, purses — they even have a small collection of toys and books.

In the first few days our re-entry mentors drive newly released clients to their court-mandated appointments and work with them to create a personalized plan for everything else that needs to be done.

The prison provides them with a list of felon-friendly employers that may or may not be accurate. MGMH works on keeping a similar list that is frequently updated and more detailed

We also provide extensive job coaching — what to wear, what to say, how to discuss their skills and abilities. We provide training on how to look for a job, and most importantly, how to keep a job. We train clients in how to communicate and deal with bosses and co-workers.

And all of this is lovely and helpful.

But the most important thing

But the most important thing we do is mentoring and emotional support. Going to prison is emotionally devastating for pretty much anyone. Leaving prison — especially after a sentence of several years — is even more so.

You go from a familiar but hostile environment where the rules are harsh but clear cut. You know exactly when meals are and when you can go to bed and when you must get up.

You would think that leaving prison would be the happiest day of your life — and it may be. But then there is the next day and the next.

Once outside the prison gates there are thousands of rules and you will only find out about them when you break them.

You go from almost no decisions to dozens of decisions per day and getting any of them wrong could be catastrophic.

Fear and anxiety are inevitable. Anxiety attacks and meltdowns of various kinds are not inevitable, but not surprising. The volunteers at MGMH are trained life coaches. The organization’s founder has 40 years of training in personal development, human relations and social work.

MGMH provides mentoring, emotional and moral support on the spot 24/7.

The need

People power

Right now MGMH three re-entry mentors and that’s working fine. As we scale up we are going to need many more.

From time-to-time MGMH will provide training workshops for people interested in this kind of work.

And I have to tell you there are rough moments, but generally it’s kinda … fun. There are hundreds and hundreds of small victories that will make your heart soar. We laugh a lot.

Money power

Many transitional living programs are religious in nature and have draconian rules. Often they are prohibitively costly. My God Mother’s House is not a religious program. Any cost to the client is appropriate to the client’s income and resources. Generally we ask for nothing from the client until they are on their feet and are able to contribute. There is no charge at all to non-residents.

Right now MGMH has 4 beds. By the end of summer we expect we will have a second house with 4 more. We do have non-residential clients who have their own living arrangements, but the most emotionally fragile need a safe, supportive, drug free environment.

Right now MGMH is a work of love. None of the volunteers receive a stipend or salary and the work is supported by a few private donations.

We estimate each person we help will cost an average of $2000.

And so far we have helped only a handful.

Every year thousands more women are incarcerated and every year thousands are shoved out the prison gates with few, if any, resources.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have work to do!


I understand that many of the people reading this do not even reside in the continental USA. But if you would like more information please go to

Get our newsletter here:

If you would like to support us financially you can do so here:

And for a brief overview here is an article by Prof. Susan Sharp



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Susan Brassfield Cogan

Susan Brassfield Cogan


I write self-help, life coaching, and political opinion. I am a creativity and mindfulness coach