Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) hosts a monthly Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column. This column is a space where we answer questions about health care and empower individuals to prepare for healthy reentry. We interviewed Joe Calderon, who is a returning community member and a community health worker (CHW) for the Transitions Clinic Network (TCN). He works with clinics in California to train CHWs to work with returning community members. He also has experience working with patients in a clinic in San Francisco.
What is the Transitions Clinic Network? How did Joe get connected to the organization?
TCN has a network of health clinics around California to serve people coming home from prison. TCN helps connect returning community members to CHWs with lived experience of incarceration who can support their reentry. For Joe, “TCN in a nutshell is community, community, community.”
Joe first found TCN as a patient. While in prison, his father died of a massive heart attack and his grandfather from a stroke. Joe was then diagnosed with high blood pressure at 29. All this raised his awareness about his health. With his family history, he was concerned, and nobody ever sat him down to speak with him about “the silent killer: high blood pressure.” When he got out and got connected to a TCN CHW for his health needs, he was inspired by the fact that TCN CHWs are returning community members who have been involved in the “injustice system.” Joe had always been interested in a healthcare job. Previously, he thought he would be an X-ray technician. Instead, he applied for a CHW job 2 years later.
What is a CHW? What does Joe do for patients every day?
As Joe explains, “Community health workers [have] been around since the beginning of time, but [with] different names. At its core, it is someone from the community.” They use their knowledge and experience to help others improve their health. Joe, after training countless CHWs for years, would tell you that great CHWs are passionate, empowering, strong advocates, and humble.
Joe has a 40-hour work week: 20 hours in clinic, 20 hours in community. In the community, he focuses on outreach. He looks for new patients and builds new relationships with partners, such as clinics, parole/probation officers, transitional homes, hospitals, and emergency rooms. Joe says, “From the streets to the prisons, I go. That’s what outreach looks like.”
In the clinic, Joe sends reminder calls to anyone who has an upcoming appointment. He helps patients sort out anything that might be a barrier to care, like transportation or insurance issues. He makes sure patients can reach him if they need help. For example, anyone could call if they need a medication refill or if they are having an anxiety attack. He fills pantry bags for anyone who needs food, which helps people get through the week or month. Some patients come to the clinic for food every week, or Joe even brings food out to patients’ houses. CHWs meet needs and provide social support.
What drew Joe to the work of a CHW?
In prison, Joe learned accountability for his actions by processing what he did and what he took away from society. In this time, he was also able to understand how he was damaged by the system. Joe explains, “I learned in prison that the United States did not seem to be for the people or by the people. It did not seem to be for people like us.” Coming home, Joe had a new understanding of society and what part he wanted to play in the solving poverty and inequality. Joe says, “My lack of knowledge of my potential allowed me to settle for quite less. My definition of life was more about survival than living. As I grew up and processed, I understood that I wanted to be part of the solution.”
Joe now finds his position as a CHW for TCN rewarding. He helps men and women from his community as they come home get what they need to address their health and other social needs that can impact health.
What positive impact do CHWs have on healthcare?
Joe explains, “CHWs are interpreters: they bring the clinic to the community, and they bring the community to the clinic.” They help people understand their resources and their rights, and they advocate for them when necessary. CHWs are bridges across barriers and biases in the community.
According to Joe, “CHWs help enlighten a community that historically hasn’t utilized medical services. They add quality to life.” CHWs do this by building trusting relationships with patients who may not trust the system, which encourages people to stay in care. Joe says, “Today, I do what I do to continue to give a voice to those who historically don’t have a voice on this side of the fence, and as an amends to a community that I have taken a lot from.”
If there was one thing Joe wanted people inside to know about reentry, what would it be?
In Joe’s words: “Healthcare is reentry. We have many competing priorities going on in our heads and in our plans: Where are we [going to] live and work, who are we [going to] date. Have a plan, and make sure healthcare is involved in that plan. If you’re not healthy, how are you going to work? How are you going to invest in that relationship? How are you going to chase your kids around? Everything centers from health, including reentry.”
We love to communicate with the incarcerated community. If you have healthcare-related questions about reentry, write to us at: Transitions Clinic Network, 2403 Keith Street, San Francisco, CA 94124. Or call our hotline Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm. Our number is (510) 606-6400, and we accept collect calls from CDCR.