October 10, 2019
By: Dennis Paris 

On the day of my release, I walked through the gate with my wrist watch, 3 public transportation tickets, and $20. I felt both elation and fear. I also realized that I was still in the system and with the slightest infraction I could find myself back inside.

I had personal priorities like seeing my family, finding shelter and food. I also had court-imposed requirements like getting a job, treatment, urine testing and reporting to my probation officer.

Time was not my friend. The clock was ticking, and I had to get a roof over my head along with food. My mom agreed to let me stay with her until I could get my feet on the ground. And my first order of business the next day was to get a state ID and start looking for a job.

To conserve my transportation passes, I convinced a friend to drive me to the DMV so I could renew my state ID. He violated a traffic signal and we were pulled over by the police, who identified my friend as having an outstanding warrant for a previous traffic ticket. When I failed to produce an ID, the police ran a background check and took me into custody for being in the company of someone who had an outstanding warrant.

Just two days following my release, I found myself back in court and guilty of a probation violation. I was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet and move into a halfway house. As time passed, the challenges of securing a job and earning money for essentials mounted. Left only to sell my blood and my watch, I felt a loss of dignity and clarity as to what my priorities were. Before long, I found myself back in jail, this time for panhandling. I started to lose hope that I would ever get my life back.

On October 4, 2019, I represented the Philadelphia chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (PSHRM) at a “Day in the Life of a Returning Citizen” high-impact reentry simulation hosted by Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Among several groups who collaborated with Fox on this simulation were the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, JEVS Human Services and Looking Forward Philadelphia.

During the simulation, I pondered not only my own experience but those of the 100 students with whom I assumed the role of a returning citizen. I discovered that a vast majority of the students’ experiences were similar to my own that a way back into a normal life was difficult, if not impossible. We were unable to satisfy court and service requirements no matter how hard we tried, unable to get a job quickly enough to stabilize our income and housing, and found it nearly impossible to exit the court and prison system. I am convinced that everyone left this simulation with an experience that they will long remember. And it will leave an indelible impression with us that many who experience homelessness are direct outcomes of this reentry cycle.

While the simulation was in no way meant to compare to the reality of what Returning Citizens experience when attempting to regain their lives, it did reveal that among others, the business community has a critical role in the discussion on how to help raise the probability of their success.

PSHRM is dedicated to helping bridge the Workforce Development, Education and Business Communities. PSHRM would like to enlist the support of Human Resource professionals to help generate awareness and a desire among CEOs, Business Executives and Owners to engage in this discussion.

PSHRM’s Thought Leadership Team would love for you to send us your thoughts and opinions on this article to: thoughtleader@phillyshrm.org

About the Author Dennis Paris is Co-Chair and Vice President of Thought Leadership for Philly SHRM and an Assistant Professor of Marketing Practice at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, where he teaches MBA and Master of Science students market analysis, strategy and planning. Dennis has consulted and advised international businesses and local government on market growth and economic development strategies.