As someone who served time in the carceral system, John Bailey says he’s seen struggles with re-entry and recidivism first-hand.
“Guys would talk about how hard it was, some were afraid to go home because they didn’t feel prepared, and they’d end up back in prison” he explained.
As a 2024 funded partner, Bailey hopes to change that through his organization Life From Inside Out!
There are parts of Bailey’s past he’s not proud of. He was sentenced to 930 years in prison for selling drugs and served time from 1992 to 2020. He’s no longer the same man, though, he explained. And now, with the second chance he was given, he uses his time to serve other returning citizens.
“When I left, they told me, please let the people out there know what they’re doing to us in here. I left on a mission,” he said. “Every time I help one of those guys, it makes me want to do 20 times more. Those guys are always in my rear-view mirror, they’re sitting in the back seat of my car. They’re always with me. I don’t ever want to forget them. I keep them in my mind, keep fighting for them, keep searching for housing and food and healthcare so that when they come home, I can say, ‘I’ve got you.’”
Some returning citizens leave prison with nothing – no family to go home to, no shelter, no steady system of support. Bailey was one of the lucky ones. His family welcomed him with open arms, providing him with a place to stay, training on technology, and help re-connecting to the outside world.
Through Life From Inside Out!, he strives to offer returning citizens what his family so lovingly offered him: support and hope.
Six months after he returned home, Bailey began working at People Empowering and Restoring Communities (PERC), helping returning citizens find jobs and re-enter society. It opened his eyes to what was possible – and to what was falling short and slipping through the cracks.
Looking for ways to connect his clients with what they needed to build a life after their release, he started networking wherever he could, building connections to find more ways to help. That’s how he met his partner and collaborator Dr. Harriet Davis, a skilled educator and school administrator who was out in the community helping people earn their GED.
More than a job, his work became a calling. Soon, his plan for Life From Inside Out! was born.
“I’ve been doing this work for free for 2 years now. It’s not about the money. I had all the money in the world at one point and it didn’t make me happy,” he said. “It’s a beautiful feel-good thing I get from this. I see a guy come home and I can help them.”
With the grant funding his organization received as a 2024 funded partner, he’s been able to secure office space at the Sanderlin Center. Next on his list: getting inside the prison system so that he can begin working with inmates soon to be released. If he can begin working with people six months before their release, he explained, he can better plan to support them when they get out.
He also plans to start running a support group for returning citizens this spring.
“It’s healing for me to be able to help because we all bring trauma out of the system. I deal with mine by helping these guys, and every time I can help, it takes some trauma away. It’s a healing process,” he explained. “When you’re coming home, you want to talk to somebody who understands, who knows. These guys are out here, and they need someone like us. We can have something to eat and just talk.”
In his years doing this work, Bailey has formed partnerships with local organizations. He knows where to take people for clothes and food and can help get them medical care.
Finding jobs and housing for returning citizens are his biggest hurdles – and housing is the most difficult by far.
“Some places say they hire ex-felons but they have to be five or 10 years out. That won’t work for guys coming home. We’ve got some, but we need more companies to hire people coming home from prison and take away the stigma. It’s like no matter how much time you do, your sentence continues,” he said.
Still, he has hope.
“I’m going to get into the system so that when they walk out that door, I’m going to be ready for them with jobs, housing, support, food,” he said. “I just want to be there for them and say, hey, you’ve got somebody out here.”
To connect with Life From Inside Out!, you can reach out directly to Bailey at 727-383-6797 or via Facebook.