Professionals working to reduce recidivism gather at this year’s reentry summit in the Mat-Su

Professionals working to reduce recidivism gather at this year’s reentry summit in the Mat-Su
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 4:52 PM AKDT
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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals who work in the reentrant industry gathered in person for the 2023 Mat-Su Reentry Summit held the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla.

The gathering, hosted by the Mat-Su Reentry Coalition, featured a number of guest speakers and panelists to share their experiences either being in or working with the prison system.

Barbara Mongar, the coalition’s reentry coordinator, said the summit serves as an opportunity for professionals to connect and build working relationships to support inmates looking to build their lives after lockup.

“The purpose is to get the information out there to let people know what reentry is [and] some of the things that can help reentrants,” Mongar said.

Guest speaker Ian Bick shared his experience reentering society after serving several years in federal prison for wire fraud and money laundering. Bick said he was fortunate to be able to figure things out after he was released, but the transition was a difficult one.

“Overall, it’s hard when you’re getting out and there’s no help for you, you don’t have good family support,” Bick said. “There’s case managers that aren’t necessarily focused on you and — no fault of their own — it’s just they have so many case loads. How do you prioritize one offender when you have 200 on your roster? It’s tough.”

Bick worked for Whole Foods Market after his release, but quit his job to start sharing his story full-time speaking at events and through his podcast Locked In with Ian Bick.

“When individuals that get out realize that they could go on and be successful by embracing their story and using it as a strength — and not some image where people are saying because you’re a felon your life’s over — I think if we can embrace that culture a lot is going to change, and that’ll start there,” Bick said.

In a “lived experiences” panel held Friday afternoon, three local Alaskans shared their experience navigating the prison system and what led them to incarceration in the first place, many of which had ties to drug and alcohol abuse.

One panelist from Juneau told her story about getting arrested and put back in jail while she was actively in a recovery treatment center getting sober.

Attendees made up almost every facet of the prison system, including case coordinators, recovery specialists, and probation officers like Ryan Blackmarr who works for the District of Alaska. He said listening to people’s experiences in the system has been the biggest benefit of the event, as much of the federal training for officers is data-driven

“Obviously, there’s great value in that because it helps us make our interventions as effective as possible, and helps us respond to what’s working,” Blackmarr said. “But on the same token, there’s some value in the human element — understanding from, you know, people’s individual perspectives — what worked for them, what didn’t, what made the difference.”