Circles of Support is a reentry program that matches formerly incarcerated individuals (Core Team Member) with volunteers in the community (Circle Members) to provide the social support and positive community the Core Team Member may be lacking. Many people return from prison to the same environment that encouraged the crimes they committed. The allure of the old life can be too much to withstand without support. Circles provide a safe place where the Core Team Member can be heard, encouraged, and respected while they discuss the challenges they may be experiencing as they transition back into the community. The volunteers are able to provide them with alternative solutions to problems and mentoring as they work through the challenges. The Circles of Support offer an environment that is positive, supportive and respectful but that also holds them accountable for achieving and succeeding in their weekly goals. In other words, the Circle offers the support individuals often need to be successful in their return to the community.

SH grew up in New Jersey with his family. While a child he experience some trouble with the law (theft, drugs) and eventually was charged with aggravated assault while in high school. SH ended up serving more than one sentence in a juvenile facility. While in those facilities he earned his GED, excelling at both academics and sports. After his release from the juvenile facility SH started college and got a job that required travel. SH was also expecting his first child and turned to drug dealing to supplement his work income. Eventually he was arrested. When he got out he moved to WI and got into an accident while driving drunk, killing the passenger in his car. SH went back to prison, he took some classes for culinary arts and got counseling for his drug and alcohol use. When he got out he got a job, things were going well until he again decided he wasn’t making enough money and began to steal from his employer. When confronted by the security guard at his workplace a fight ensued and he killed the security guard. SH went back to prison.

When SH was released from prison this last time he came to MUM. SH had met our Circles Coordinator while still in prison and he realized through those conversations that he was going to need more than himself to be successful. SH was matched with a Circle of Support, he was living in a Temporary Living Program through the Dept. of Corrections. SH needed support, employment and permanent housing. Working with his Circle and the Program Coordinator he brushed up on his employment skills, he applied for a job as a cook and was hired. He worked hard and quickly moved up to a supervisor position. When he was offered the Regional Manager position he was unable to accept the job because he was unable to obtain his driver’s license. His Circle helped him process the disappointment. While SH was working he was able to save the money needed for housing and was able to get his own apartment. Today SH is still in the community, he still has his own apartment, and was offered the position of Chef in a prominent area restaurant.

MUM’s Circle of Support Coordinator and Re-entry Volunteers also reach in to the prisons in Dane County, providing a re-entry orientation session and conducting intake interviews with men returning to Dane County from prison. These visits are held three Fridays per month and our staff is at Oakhill Correctional Institution, Oregon Correctional Center and Thompson Correctional Center.

In collaboration with the UW Law School, MUM trains Law School students to offer a housing curriculum, Rent Smart and Ready to Rent in the Dane County Jail. The focus of the class is to assist individuals who have had difficulty in obtaining or retaining housing. Law Students present the classes offering information on tenant rights, landlord rights, budgeting, understanding your credit history, responsibilities of a tenant, and how to effectively communicate with your landlord.