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Untitled Document


The Reentry Struggles Of Kathryn Elwood

By Chuck Armsbury

She was in prison for six years, and has now been out for six years. "I will do anything I can to help and make people more aware that there is hope! It is very hard to live a life in the shadows of incarceration," wrote Kathryn Elwood in an email to our office. Yet, she writes with confidence and uncommon resolve to overcome the staggering difficulties finding employment. In a 2000 Razor Wire photo Kathryn was one of several female prisoners posing together whose combined sentences totaled over 227 years.

"I know that there is basically nowhere to turn! My fiance and I just moved back to San Diego from Arizona and experienced a system that's completely BROKEN! We were denied job placement assistance because we didn't just get out of prison. We were like, why is this happening? We were appalled! We were devastated!! Here we were, ex-felons that have been out of prison/jail for a very long time w/o incident -- 3 children to support, 1 on the way -- and we were being denied assistance because we didn't just commit a crime. It was the weirdest thing in the world! An Arizona job center (that said it helps felons) would not help us at all! It just seemed as though we were experiencing a brick wall for simply trying to work," wrote Kathryn.

She has been in contact with several California officials -- including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, CA. Majority Leader Alberto Torrico's office, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Senator Barbara Boxer -- to ask why ex-felons can't find jobs and why pregnant mothers like herself are being denied food stamps if once convicted for a drug felony committed after 1997.

For those of you that have, "be prepared to show proof of participating in some type of drug-treatment. This applies to anyone trying to get assistance in California. Arizona will just flat out deny anyone," claims Kathryn.

Kathryn Elwood is second from left, back row in this photo reprinted from the May/June 2000 issue of The Razor Wire. The women pictured were serving a combined total of 227 years at the federal prison camp in Phoenix, AZ.

Kathryn has put her in-prison organizing skills to good work on the outside on behalf of prisoners she left behind. Though many prisoners promise to 'keep up the struggle' after release, Kathryn is someone who really did, and did so because as she stated, "I am VERY passionate about helping people and making people understand that NOT everyone who's been to prison is a horrible person!"

A people's champion, Kathryn has strong memories of prison events she organized, of fighting for furloughs, toilet paper and recreation prizes, "to name a couple of subjects." She contacted our office with questions about how to get Federal legislation introduced to give people an option to have felonies expunged after several years successful reentry. How would it work?

"I would like to put together a message board or something of that nature featuring all of the felons (called "Faces of Felons") that have a story, are upstanding members of society, and the impact of having felonies and how it has made them somewhat "disabled, inferior, and unworthy" of obtaining viable employment. I would like to then present it to our legislators and see where it goes from there," offers Kathryn.

Can or should ex-felons become mentors for those still incarcerated? Kathryn definitely thinks they should; communities everywhere need a sponsorship program for people coming out of prison. "I know that I needed someone; prisoners soon to be released could definitely use the assistance of someone who's been there," she insists. "I feel it is our responsibility to help one another cause no one else will."

For comments, encouragement, advice or help to offer you can correspond with our office or by email with Kathryn:

"Finding my soul-mate and recently giving birth to a beautiful baby girl (Midori) has made me realize that dreams do come true; anyone can change, something I did a lot of while in prison, and why I feel so strongly about this subject! We are entirely different people as we age. There is a huge difference from being 24 and now 37! Maturity means something, and it's about time our lawmakers realize this," emphasizes Kathryn.

(Editor: Kathryn dedicates this story of successful reentry to her daughter, Breeanna Elwood, who graduated as valedictorian, the top of her 2007 class, despite losing both mother and father to prison; Lourdes Aragon for doing a lot of time with dignity; and the late Claudell White, "one person who didn't belong in prison, the sweetest person I have ever met.")

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