Virginia inmate appreciates opportunity: 'This program will change you'

Posted at 8:00 PM, Sep 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-14 15:56:16-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford held her 13th annual re-entry forum at the Petersburg library Tuesday to provide soon-to-be returning citizens with the resources they will need to succeed.

"I'm from Petersburg and it's important to me that Petersburg thrives and we will have returning citizens," said Crawford. "So, it's important for them to be able to be productive citizens upon release from incarceration. So, whatever I can do -- since my career has been in corrections -- whatever I can do to assist them to be successful, I'm willing to do."

Crawford said the forum had several dozen in-person attendees and more online from prisons and jails across Virginia. Along with in-person stalls for state and local agencies and non-profits offering services (like mental health help, job opportunities, and free haircuts), they also heard from several speakers, including the new director for the Department of Corrections, Chadwick Dotson.

"As every single individual that reenters successfully, generates great benefits to themselves, to their families, to their communities," said Dotson, who is a former judge and said his thoughts on the power of second chances and the importance of re-entry support when he oversaw drug courts. "You have never been anywhere more powerful than a drug court graduation. When you see people who you just, you know, give a little bit of a hand to, a little bit of a help up, and watched them transformed their lives."

Petersburg Sheriff hosts event aimed at successfully reintegrating soon-to-be-released prisoners into society

Dotson said Virginia has the second lowest recidivism rate in the country and 12,000 people are released from incarceration each year.

One of the forum's keynote speakers was someone who had walked the same path and knew the challenges they would be facing. LaNay Harris served about 13 months for drug charges in the 1980s and went on to become what she calls a "serial entrepreneur."

She has also become a licensed broker, licensed builder, ordained minister, and author.

She encouraged the audience to take advantage of the resources that they have at their disposal and said the same level of support was not there when she was released.

"Being returned back into, you know, that returning citizen mindset not having any direction, not knowing what I was going to do, not having access to all of these great programs that you have now -- I just basically felt that there was no opportunity, so I had to create one," Harris said. "With the resources, I will say to anyone that's listening, take advantage of the programs that are out there. And a lot of times we don't think that there's programs, we don't think that we have the support. But, you see, and I saw today, the amazing things that they're doing here in Petersburg and that Sheriff Crawford is doing to make a difference to impact so many people's lives."

Crawford said if anyone is out there who is a returning citizen and needs some assistance to reach out to her office and she will connect them to the resources that could help.

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