When Rocco Jones was released from Springhill prison three weeks ago after serving time for a break-in, he walked out the doors and into a new support system aimed at helping him reintegrate back into the community.
The Halifax resident is one of the black former inmates that will participate in the Second Chance For Better Futures project, a program launched earlier this week by the Health Association of African Canadians.
The group is teaming up with the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative — a health program for black men and boys — to connect released offenders and their children with black health-care professionals and social workers for medical treatment and mental-health services.
"This time I just want to try to do the best and try to help my children in the best way I can so they don't get caught up in any kind of situations that they can't handle," Jones said.
"And if they got support out here and resources, they'll have a better opportunity."
'I wasted my life'
The father of five, including two teenage sons, doesn't want any of them to follow his same self-destructive path, which includes over the years arrests for drugs and uttering threats.
"It's not a good path … it's almost like a dead end. You're just there doing time and it's almost like a waste, waste of life," Jones said. "So the years I did, I wasted my life."
Occupational therapists will also help former inmates struggling with disabilities put together a rehabilitation plan to help them find housing, go back to school, find a job, parent better and deal with addictions.
As well, some of the children and their parents have the option of spending four days together at the Southend Community Garden in Yarmouth, where they will learn about harvesting, entrepreneurship, marketing and money management.
It's the kind of connections and interventions the former inmates haven't had before, said Sharon Davis-Murdoch, co-president of the Health Association of African Canadians.
"It will increase, we hope, their quality of life, reduce recidivism — going back to prison — and perhaps taking preventive action against the future incarceration of their children," she said.
Dr. Jacob Cookey is one of the psychiatrists who will help the families. He said it's vital that inmates have access to community resources upon release.
"One of the big challenges for those who have been institutionalized or incarcerated, especially for several years, is there's a certain way of thinking, acting, a certain culture to those institutions that once you're out into society it makes it quite challenging because it's a whole other set of ideals, values and cultures that people operate on," he said.
"Supporting inmates and being able to bridge that gap can go a long way in order to facilitate their ability to actually rejoin society in a positive and healthy way."
Children of people who have been incarcerated are at much higher risk of falling into patterns of behaviour and thinking similar to what their parents did, Cookey said.
"The better we are at being able to support parents in their transition back out and helping them to stay in a positive, healthy lifestyle that's well-adapted to society enables our children to follow suit," Cookey said.
The Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage's 150 Forward Fund contributed $55,000 to the four-month project.