Get Help

Seek out people who can provide help with different aspects of your life (spiritually, psychologically, physically, legally, emotionally, and so on).

Contrary to commonly held belief, there is a lot of help out there. From local churches and ministries, to city and county services, to private foundations and companies, a whole community of helpers is ready and willing to assist you in taking the next steps, in all sorts of ways.

Now that you’ve gotten yourself organized, your job at this stage is to drop your pride or cynicism (easier said than done, we know) and start asking for and accepting that help. In fact, the biggest obstacles at this stage of reentry tend to be one of two attitudes we adopt. The first says, “Why bother? I can handle this on my own.” The second says, “Why bother? It’s never gonna do any good.” Both pride and cynicism stop us from asking for help. But ask yourself, “Where has my pride and cynicism gotten me so far?”

There’s a better way. When you find yourself starting to think those thoughts (and who doesn’t?), reground yourself in hope, humble yourself, and get on out there. And one day, when you’re ready, you can turn around and help the next person on his or her way back home.

Finding a church. With all the churches we have in our neighborhoods, you might think that it would be the easiest and most natural thing in the world for an interested ex-inmate to find one where he feels comfortable and productive. But you’d be wrong. For all sorts of reasons, bridging back into a church community can be tough.

It isn’t for lack of desire. We asked some current inmates about what they’d look for in a church when they get out. They came up with all sorts of wonderful things to hope for in a new church community. And these things can, in fact, be found in our neighborhood churches. Unfortunately, the picture they paint often looks more like heaven than our local church! That’s because our churches are also full of sinners like ourselves! We can thank God that our churches are full of sinners (there’s room for us), but that makes the reality of a church considerably less appealing than the ideal picture inmates often conjure up in their heads.

All too often, here’s what happens: We show up at a church and the spiritual temperature is less than we were used to in prison, and we feel let down by the worship experience. When we show up and people don’t welcome us with open arms, we can feel like they’re a bunch of hypocrites. When we show up with our untrusting prison defenses still up, we can be awkward and find it hard to connect with people. When we show up feeling conspicuous and self-conscious, we can isolate ourselves and end up feeling even more like an outsider than when we walked in.

Church is hard because life itself is hard. And yet, with all the things that can (and do) go wrong, finding a church where you can truly worship, contribute, serve, learn, connect, and love and be loved is probably the greatest spiritual gift you can give yourself. And that’s because God made us for community. We’re never going to thrive spiritually on the outside without being deeply connected to other believers. So whatever else you do, find yourself a church and dig in.

Know that there is a path to recovery that leads to hope. Hope leads to change. Change is who the real you is. You can lead a safe, sober, and stable lifestyle once you’ve embraced and incorporated the challenge to change. (addictions and mental health counselor)

Just because you’ve been locked up and not been using, doesn’t mean your problem is gone. The way addiction works, it’ll want to come roaring back with a vengeance. So keep getting help before you’re right back where you started. Use this opportunity to make sobriety stick this time. If you’re on parole, your parole officer will need to approve your substance abuse treatment program that you attend. Before you sign up for a treatment program, make sure it’s IDOC-approved. You may not receive credit for substance abuse treatment from a program not approved by DOC.

If substance abuse treatment is required as a condition of parole, you probably will be referred to Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) for assessment or treatment services. TASC is more fully described in the Get Organized chapter. If you’re not on parole, the DOC is not required to approve the treatment provider.

When you’re looking for a treatment provider, do a little research. Different programs may have different schedules and costs. Call the program and ask about the type of clients they work with.
Ask about the cost of treatment and the schedule of services. Don’t forget to ask if the program offers a “sliding scale” fee structure, in which the cost is based on your income. Sometimes programs don’t advertise that they offer a sliding scale. You must ask for it.

At some point you’ll need treatment for medical, dental, and mental health needs. There are many ways you can find a treatment provider. If you were receiving medical, substance abuse, or mental health treatment while in prison, you may already have a good sense of the kind of treatment you need to continue after release. But with all the changes going on in the health care system), you’ll want to check about the types of coverage available to you.

  • If you’re on parole, talk to your parole officer about your treatment needs. The parole officer must approve any provider you want to see for mental health treatment.
  • If you’re referred to TASC while on parole, the TASC case manager may do a treatment needs assessment with you and help you find an appropriate treatment provider. If you need medical, substance abuse, or mental health treatment after you’re released from prison, don’t wait until you’re in crisis or out of meds. Start looking for help as soon as you can. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help can be one of the best ways to solve problems and move forward in your life.

Keep your own medical records while you’re incarcerated. Ask questions about any diagnosis and medications. Write this information down, and keep it after you’re released.

  • What is the diagnosis? If a drug is prescribed, what is the name and dosage? A drug usually has a brand name and a generic name. Write down both of these if you can.
  • If you’re on medication when you’re released from prison, you should receive a 10-day supply of prescribed medicines, although some are given in a 30-day supply.

This section lists some mental health treatment providers in the Chicago area; however, it’s not a complete list. If you’re looking for mental health treatment, a good place to start is with the community mental health center serving the county in which you live. If you need help finding mental health services, you can call the Chicago Department of Public Health (see below for locations and numbers). Many mental health treatment providers also offer substance abuse treatment. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your treatment provider. If you need both mental health and substance abuse treatment, you may be able to find a single provider to do both. Or you may have (or prefer) two different providers. If so, make sure they know about each other so they can coordinate your care.

  • Treatment at mental health centers includes therapy (individual, family, and group), medication management, and case management. For more information about what a center offers, call or visit the center or look on its website.
  • Several community mental health centers have criminal justice clinical specialists trained to understand the needs of people in the criminal justice system. Many others have programs specifically for people who are or have been involved in the criminal justice system.
  • When you call, ask to make an appointment for an intake interview. During the intake interview, you’ll be asked about your financial and personal situation (homeless, indigent, on parole, discharged). Each mental health center decides its own eligibility criteria. The intake receptionist will explain this to you.
  • Many community mental health centers have multiple offices in multiple locations, but we’ve listed only the main locations below. Check the web for information about other locations.

The location of your treatment provider may become a factor in your success. It’s often harder to stay in treatment if the location isn’t close and convenient. Keep this in mind if you have input into the decision for your treatment provider.

Remember, if you’re on parole, you’ll need to use a treatment provider approved by the DOC. Always check with your parole officer to see if your provider is approved.

Part of pre-release planning is to think through and talk with your family and friends about getting out and reconnecting with them. What do you think the issues will be as you reconnect with the people you care about? What are your concerns about coming home? What are your expectations of your partner/spouse and family members? Your children? Friends and society? You need to acknowledge what you’re expecting of all of the people on the outside.

And then ask yourself, “What are expecting (or fearing) from me?” The only way to find this out is to ask. Daily
life on the outside has a lot of ups and downs,
a lot of stress, a lot of daily decisions. If you’ve been incarcerated for a while, you may have lost touch with how things actually are on the outside. If your relations with your family and friends are strained, you may want to see if any of these relationships can be mended before you’re released. One person who was incarcerated suggested that you write letters, apologize if necessary, and “find out where the relationship is.”

Life in prison is also very different from life on the outside. As you prepare for release, think about how you’ll let go of some of the survival skills you had in prison. You need different survival skills on the outside. The things that may have helped you cope with being in prison can make it difficult to reconnect with people after you are released.

You’ve probably dreamt about coming home for years. However, the reality of homecoming can be the opposite of the dream. Both of you may be disappointed or even shocked. We tend to idealize people when they’re absent. We forget about shortcomings and how much work it takes to have a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner. Another person put it this way: “My wife was perfect while I was incarcerated. When I came home, I met a person I didn’t know.” Every relationship can use some help. People are willing to help. It’s amazing what good can come of a couple of good counseling sessions. Take advantage of that.

Both you and your children may face challenges when you try to reunite after your release. Talk to the other parent/caregiver ahead of time. How are you going to rejoin your children’s lives? Will it be gradual? Will it be full-time from your first day out? Your children may need time to slowly adjust to your new relationship, even if you’re not going to be living with them full-time. Both you and your children must have realistic expectations about reconnecting. It may be easier on you and your family if you keep your reunion expectations modest.

Another thing to remember is that sometimes it’s hard for caregivers to switch back to you being the parent, especially if they took care of the kids for several years. It can be a hard adjustment for your kids, too. This is normal. Just remember, your children still care about you even if they’re sad or angry during this adjustment period.

You may find yourself trying to make up to your kids for lost time. Sometimes people feel enormous guilt and try to buy the affection of their children instead
of realizing, as one woman said, that “the child is
going to love you no matter what.” The best thing you can do, she said, is to “let your children see you doing something positive for yourself.” And then, “Be honest. Tell your children what you can do and what you can’t do for them, and why. Let them know your struggles, how you’re taking care of yourself, and what the parole officer or shelter or facility expects of you.”

Reconnecting with your partner and children will take time and patience, especially from you. It won’t happen immediately or magically. The resource section at the end of this chapter includes a number of places where you can seek help. More reconnecting advice:

  • Don’t make your partner into your caretaker or teacher.
  • Sex rears its head more than lots of things. There is a period of sexual adjustment, which can go on for years.
  • Don’t be a nag. Don’t make the other person nag you.
  • Take your time. Get to know the person. People, places, and things have changed.
  • You may need to be alone more than before. This could be different from what your spouse and family need, but you may need it.
  • Your partner was used to doing everything – holidays, kids, bills, having friends. Don’t get your feelings hurt when s/he disagrees with you.

The location of your treatment provider may become a factor in your success. It’s often harder to stay in treatment if the location isn’t close and convenient. Keep this in mind if you have input into the decision for your treatment provider.

Remember, if you’re on parole, you’ll need to use a treatment provider approved by the DOC. Always check with your parole officer to see if your provider is approved.

Twenty years ago you might have been able to fly under the radar screen, but with today’s technology they’re gonna find you. You know where you’ve been, and you know what mess is out there. Take care of it. (person who resolved several legal matters while incarcerated)

One of the most frustrating experiences is to finally get out, start getting your life together, and then get arrested unexpectedly for an old case, warrants, detainers, traffic tickets and fines. Sometimes these legal issues can be completely resolved while you’re still in prison. Some situations may be more complicated and will have to be dealt with after you’re released.

PIf you know you have outstanding traffic tickets, municipal tickets, or fines, either in Illinois or another state, you can try to take care of them before you are released. Here are a few reasons to try:

  • You may be able to resolve the matter with a letter or two. Several people said they wrote to the court and had traffic tickets dismissed while they were incarcerated.
  • Unpaid traffic tickets create a “default judgment” which may prevent you from getting or renewing your driver’s license.
  • Some unresolved traffic or municipal tickets, including from other states, may result in a warrant for your arrest. You can start by writing a letter to the court where the traffic or municipal ticket was filed. If the court is in Illinois, you may be able to get the court’s address at the prison library. If the court is in another state, you may need to ask for help from family or your case manager.

The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition published a publication called, Parenting from Prison, containing information on family law matters such as paternity, child custody and dependency and neglect cases. It also discusses ways to stay involved in your children’s lives even though you’re in prison. Your prison library may have a copy. It is also available for free online at

DOC pre-release specialists talk about child support orders in their classes. They can provide copies of the necessary paperwork, contact information for the child support enforcement units, and help you navigate the process of asking for a lower child support order.

You’ll be expected to pay your monthly child support obligation and make payments each month to pay off your child support debt after you’re released. If your child support order is being handled by a county Child Support Enforcement Unit, contact the unit before or immediately after you’re released from prison. Ask for the name and contact information of the technician assigned to your case.

Explain you want to work with the county. Ask if s/he will work with you on a payment plan that you can afford after you get a job. Tell the technician about any other expenses that you will be expected to pay while you’re on parole: UAs, BAs, treatment, housing, food, restitution, supervision, etc. If the amount of your child support order was lowered while you were incarcerated, the amount will most likely increase once you begin working.

  • Your child support order may be terminated if the children live with you after your release if you’re determined to be the residential parent. If a county Child Support Enforcement Unit is involved, ask them to tell you what to do.
  • Keep in regular contact with the technician, even when you’re no longer on parole. As with all business dealings, open communication is very important.
  • Remember, once you’re released it’s your responsibility to make sure your child support payments are sent to the right place.
  • If a county Child Support Enforcement Unit is involved, they’ll tell you where to send your child support payments. Remember to keep a record of all child support payments you make!
  • If a county Child Support Enforcement Unit isn’t involved, follow the instructions in your child support order. If you no longer have a copy, you can ask the clerk of the district court (where the order was entered) for a copy of the child support order. You may also find instructions for making child support payments on a county court’s website.

First, supporting your children is a good and positive moral thing, and can make a huge impact on their future. Your child will appreciate the help that your financial support gives. This could strengthen your relationship with your child. Second, failure to pay child support is a violation of parole. There are other legal reasons to pay your child support. If you don’t, the state can:

  • prevent you from getting a driver’s license
  • suspend your occupational and recreational licenses – even your fishing license
  • garnish(take) up to 65% of your after-tax income from your paycheck even before you get it
  • report unpaid child support orders to credit reporting agencies
  • place a lien on a house, land, car, or boat that you own
  • bring you back to court on contempt charges and put you in jail

You should keep all receipts of all child support payments, no matter who entered the child support order. If you pay your child support directly to the child’s other parent, you must keep all of your own receipts. There is no other record of payment. Keep these receipts in case of questions later on.

The location of your treatment provider may become a factor in your success. It’s often harder to stay in treatment if the location isn’t close and convenient. Keep this in mind if you have input into the decision for your treatment provider.

Remember, if you’re on parole, you’ll need to use a treatment provider approved by the DOC. Always check with your parole officer to see if your provider is approved.

Get Help Checklist

  • Explored a local church (or other faith community) where you can build healthy relationships and thrive spiritually?
  • Been serious about attending 12-step or other recovery programs in order to maintain sobriety?
  • Lined up healthcare providers so that you have access to medications and any other mental, physical, or dental care needs that may arise?
  • Arranged for individual or family counseling to handle the difficult transition back to resuming (or improving) your relationships with friends and family members, including children?
  • Received legal help to figure out any outstanding legal issues (old tickets, fines, debts, restitution, child support, divorce or custody issues, etc.)?
  • Are you pretty well connected to get all the help that you need (now and in the coming months), and that’s available to you? If so, then it’s time to Get Going.