“Health not incarceration” is one of the mottos of a group of medical advocates helping formerly incarcerated individuals with their health care and reentry needs.
The Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) operates 44 programs in community health centers in 10 states and Puerto Rico.
California has 21 programs in 14 counties, according to the network’s website.
“Inside, healthcare is institutionalized and many individuals are never given an opportunity to manage their own health conditions,” said Joe Calderon, Community Health Worker (CHW) at Southeast Health Center. “You’re told what to do and when. In the community, you have to be in charge of your own healthcare. TCN community health workers are here to help you with that transition.”
In their first two weeks of release, returning men and women are 12 times more likely to die or to be hospitalized, reported TCN.
“These deaths and hospitalizations can be prevented if returning community members get connected to healthcare at a clinic like the ones in our network,” said Calderon. “In addition, many people in state prison have chronic health conditions like hypertension, cancer, substance use disorder, or mental health conditions, which can also be treated at clinics like the ones in our network.”
The Southeast Health Center is located in San Francisco’s Bay View-Hunter’s Point neighborhood. It serves more than 150 formerly incarcerated patients every year, reported TCN.
San Quentin also has a TCN discharge clinic program. The TCN programs meet new patients one-on-one to create a reentry plan, based on the patient’s health and reentry goals.
They assist with medication-assisted treatment plans, help patients activate their Medi-Cal insurance and teach patients how to schedule their own appointments and refill their medications. TCN also has a technology coach to teach how to use computers, e-mails and cell phones.
“I feel like we are here to attempt to balance a scale,” said David Durant, CHW and Redding SUD Counselor/Case Manager for Hill Country Community Clinic. “There are many obstacles waiting for those who transition home — purposefully crafted restrictions designed to hinder one’s success, while simultaneously drawing attention to the fact one has a prior conviction, i.e., flashing neon sign, ‘CONVICT HERE. BEWARE!’”
“We are seeking to turn that around and bring balance. We see the formerly incarcerated as sons and daughters of our community to be welcomed home, embraced, stood beside, encouraged and helped in their journey,” Durant continued. “The flashing neon sign is a signal for us to get in, get involved, and embrace the opportunity.”
The TCN clinics also hired and trained Durant as a Community Health Worker.
Said Calderon, “We strive to provide meaningful employment for people with histories of incarceration. Many of whom have been systematically excluded from jobs in the healthcare field.”
Durant added, “…there is life after incarceration. I say this as someone who has been home for six years after spending three decades inside. I lived with the belief that I was not meant to live and die in a cement and steel cage and I began preparing while still inside for that life I wanted outside.”
The network also helps patients sign up for food stamps, find housing, and advocates on their behalf to resolve problems with their parole or probation officer.
“We believe that giving people access to the services they need to remain healthy and well in the community, will keep them out of prison and jail,” said Calderon.
Charleszetta Brown co-facilitates a support group called REMEDY for formerly incarcerated men and women and she encourages them to check on their health.
She is a Reentry Health Conductor in the African American Health Conductors Program, Contra Costa Health Services in partnership with the Center for Human Development in Pittsburg, Calif.
“(The program) is a call to action to all county health care systems and social services to address the glaring health disparities and social inequities facing the returning citizen,” said Brown.
She also hopes “ to provide more structure around addiction — it too is a health disparity.”
The medical advocates and workers want to provide solutions and hope to those returning home from incarceration.
“Hope is the key ingredient to change and hope is the medicine that will allow you to address your own trauma,” said Calderon. “I challenge you to become part of the solution. I look forward to hearing you call our hotline or seeing you in person one day.
“Know this: we do this work because we care. We’re here in the community, we want to help, and we’re excited to welcome you home one day.”
Global-TelLink TCN Reentry Hotline: (510) 606-6400 Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.