FLINT, MI – In most cases people do the crime, then do the time, but the transition afterward isn’t easy.
The Changing Gears Summit: New Pathways for Returning Citizens (Ex-Offenders) & Their Families/Community event was held Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Second Chance Church, located at 1950 Burr Boulevard in Flint.
The event was organized by a grassroots team of people who have an interest in and passion for helping ex-offenders return to the community and their families, said Barb McGhan, one of the organizers.
McGhan said many people come out of the penal system and don’t know their way around and aren’t familiar with the resources that are available to them. She said those who participate in the Michigan Prison Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI) program have a leg up on others, so this event is to reach out and offer help to those struggling to re-adjust to life outside of the system.
“What we wanted to do was assemble ex-offenders and family members and get them some help, connect them with resources that they might not know about otherwise, and give them some hope,” McGhan said. “We would like for this to be the beginning of something that turns into something that is much bigger and much broader.”
The event had information available regarding jobs, reuniting with family, support services, entrepreneurship, mental health, substance abuse help, and mentor matching.
Bobby Simbler works with several organizations in the Flint community, including WOW Outreach Action, Neighborhoods Without Boundaries and Church Without Walls. Simbler also serves as a mentor to ex-offenders, as it is a path he is all too familiar with.
Simbler spent 21 years and 4 months in prison for murder. Simbler said he went to prison when he was 27 years old and was released in 2013. He said he was disheartened and shocked when he came out.
“It was different, it was a shock. Before I got out, the lady at MPRI told me I was going to be upset with what has happened in my community. I kept wondering what she meant, because I hadn’t been out here,” Simbler said. “But then when I got out, I was devastated. All the people that were here were gone, all the homes have had the copper taken out, guys walking around with their pants around their thighs. Just the mentality of our society is lost. So I was devastated, and I am still taken aback by it and frustrated by it.”
The devastation and frustration turned into determination to help people coming out of prison, Simbler said. He spent time getting comfortable with his surroundings and adapting to life outside. He works at the job he got through MPRI, where he said he has already been promoted six times.
“My philosophy on that is the same thing that I apply to myself. I had to change the way that I thought, so that I could make a better me. When I bettered myself, then I felt like I could help someone else,” Simbler said. “Doing the same thing and expecting different consequences, it just doesn’t work that way, and that’s my philosophy.”
Simbler said Saturday’s event is important for ex-offenders so they know there is a support system in place to help them, and so they know they aren’t alone.
“At least then a person will know that they aren’t going through it alone.” Simbler said. “At events like this, they can come together face-to-face and chat with someone who is going through the same thing they are going through and get information from a booth or a vendor that can help.”
This is the first summit the group has put together. McGhan said the plan is to hold more in the future.