Forum focuses on ex-offender transition

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Anjie Waddlington was all set to re-enter society, or so she thought.

After acing an interview in 2006 with a local company that cares for the elderly, the Bay Shore resident said she was offered a job on a Friday and was asked to call back on Monday.

Monday came and she had already gotten fired.

"This isn't going to work out," she said the employer explained. She knew the change of heart came because she answered "yes" when asked on the application whether she had been convicted of a felony.

She had served 10 months in the jail in Riverhead and 10 months in prison for drug sales.

Waddlington's post-prison experience is typical of thousands of New Yorkers who, when released, feel the sting of a pervasive form of discrimination that blocks their transition back into society, said panelists at a conference Thursday in Central Islip dedicated to removing barriers to re-entry for ex-offenders.

"I was young and stupid," said Waddlington, who at 27 is a receptionist who also serves as a mentor to incarcerated women. "I don't feel I should have been crucified after I already did my time."

She read her story, written through the Herstory Writers Workshop, to 150 people at the conference -- Creating Positive Solutions to the Barriers of Reentry: A Family Affair -- at Touro Law Center.

The all-day event, sponsored by Prison Families Anonymous and the Suffolk County Reentry Task Force, touched on basic issues that newly freed people face and the bureaucracies they have to navigate. Whether it's housing, education, employment or dealing with probation and parole departments, newly released ex-convicts can face a steep learning curve.

The event could not ignore problems families face while a loved one is in prison.

"We're the forgotten people of the criminal justice system," said Barbara Allan, who in 1974 founded Prison Families Anonymous, a family support group. Speakers addressed the impact incarceration has on children, such as the stigma kids feel when a parent is in jail.

"We must create safe spaces for children to talk about it," said Allison Hollihan, program manager of the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, at the Osborne Association, who said as many as 105,000 children in New York have an incarcerated parent.

Others, like Mikel Green Grant, spoke of the problems he encountered seeking housing before finding a home at the Fortune Academy, a residential building in Manhattan run by the Fortune Society, re-entry organization based in Long Island City.

The group caters its approach to the needs of each person, which may be education, housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling -- or all of those.

"What am I saying about re-entry?" asked keynote speaker David Rothenberg, founder of the Fortune Society. "It is one person at a time. No formula or set of rules will do the trick."

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