North Carolina nonprofit visits San Quentin,
aims to improve reentry opportunities in NC
A mentor of incarcerated people in North Carolina said that a recent visit to San Quentin’s Media Center opened his eyes for ways to improve the reentry program where he volunteers.
“The rest of the country needs to take note,” said Jerry Campbell, executive director of Stars Behind Bars.
Stars Behind Bars offers incarcerated people who meet clear-cut criteria a “taste of freedom” by temporarily taking them out of prison. While out of prison, participants and mentors visit libraries and go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, religious services or similar community-based activities.
“The library was really cool because it has a conference room,” Campbell said in an interview Sept. 23. “We could shut the door and just talk. We’d get a measure of peace — find out what needs attention.”
The passes include having lunch at a local restaurant to give participants a sense of normality. Campbell likes to take mentees to Bahamas Breeze, where he knows the general manager.
“He understands what’s going on,” Campbell said. “[Other] people don’t know what we’re doing. We just chillin’ and blending in.”
The program has served 477 incarcerated people by assisting them to write plans for their future. Participants are matched with mentors and are assisted in getting driver’s licenses.
Campbell said he wants Stars Behind Bars to be a well-known program among North Carolina prisoners as well as prison staff at the Franklin Correctional Facility in Raleigh.
Participants who finished their sentences and got out of prison have stayed out. “We have a 0% recidivism rate and it’s documented,” Campbell said.
He said he wants to bring a program like the San Quentin Media Center to North Carolina to highlight Stars Behind Bar’s reentry work.
“I’m trying to find out how to do programs the best — so I watch a lot of your videos.” Referring to the Media Center, he added, “It’s going to revolutionize the criminal justice system from within. It’s the men that’s making it happen.”
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People serving sentences in North Carolina are given a “Map Program,” which is a list of requirements the a person must complete to get out of prison. Campbell explained that prisoners work to earn lesser custody levels to qualify for the Stars Behind Bars program. Campbell noted that even lifers qualify for the program, but it’s determined on a case-by-case basis. Many of the people he’s taken on passes were once serving life sentences.
Typically, he said those in the last quarter of their sentence are eligible to participate.
“The programs in North Carolina are geared at finding leaders and connecting them with resources in the community,” Campbell said.
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Campbell was asked if he’s been impacted by the criminal justice system.
“I’m definitely impacted, but I’ve never done prison time,” Campbell said.
He talked about how divine intervention prevented him from going to prison, which changed the trajectory of his life.
“I was at a space in my mind to say, this didn’t happen for no reason. I got something that I wanna do — I didn’t know all the terms or lingo. All I knew is I wanted to help the men behind the wall. That’s all I knew,” Campbell said.
“If I mess up and do the wrong thing, they got a cell down there in Raleigh, North Carolina, that will fit me. They got a cot that’ll fit me. They got a size 13 slipper — they might give me a 15, they might give me a 12 — but they gonna put me in something. They gotta jumpsuit for me. I think about that every time I come in prison. I’m not comfortable. Prison is very real.”
He talked about how youngsters in the community are paying attention to what he’s doing.
“I think about that in everything that I do,” Campbell said. “So, am I impacted by prison? Yes I am.”
He hopes to bring the Stars Behind Bars program to the Wake Correctional Facility, which he said is two minutes from his house. He bought the house, he said, to be close to the prison and to work with prison officials dedicated to making reentry services available for the incarcerated population.