Former inmates welcomed back into community during special event
IDAHO FALLS — Every time Whitney Widerburg was released from prison or jail, she felt like she couldn’t get her head above water.
“(When I would get out) I feel like I’m hopeless and I can’t find my way and I end up back in the same spot,” Widerburg says.
She felt she wasn’t progressing and it would perpetuate the itch to use drugs again. She has been incarcerated a number of times for various drug-related crimes.
“I have a long history of using meth,” Widerburg says.
Eventually, the pattern became tiresome and Widerburg wanted to change for good. She joined the Idaho Department of Corrections Free2Succeed program and got a mentor. Some volunteer mentors are former inmates themselves, and they help mentees reintegrate into society.
“Through the mentoring program, I’ve come a long way,” Widerburg says.
Widerburg and many other previously incarcerated men and women were welcomed as 2018 District 7 returning citizens at the Recover Out Loud event Friday.
“I really enjoy that I’m part of it,” Widerburg says.
The event was the department’s way of celebrating Free2Succeed mentors, IDOC staff and returning citizens in conjunction with National Mentoring Month. It was held at the River of Life Church and sponsors and community members donated almost $4,000 for the special evening.
Former inmate Cory Davis says that it took a lot of courage for him to face his community and that he’s isolated himself for the last eight years.
“It feels really good. I’ve been embarrassed with it at first, really nervous and anxious,” Davis says. “It feels good to have support instead of people looking down on you.”
Stephanie Taylor-Silva, the IDOC District 7 Probation and Parole Mentor Site Coordinator, was once formally incarcerated and is passionate about recovery. She spearheaded Recover Out Loud and says events like this are beneficial to former inmates and may potentially lower their chances of recidivism.
“When I was on supervision, something that my supervising officers always taught me was that I don’t have to recover in silence,” Taylor-Silva says.
Lead probation and parole officer Joyce Cumpton helped organize the event. She feels Recover Out Loud will be a step forward in personal healing for returning citizens.
“The people that I supervise sometimes feel like that they’ve wronged the community and they don’t belong. So, when they come back having that feeling like they’re being welcomed and they are a part of our community… (it’s) a very positive thing for them,” Cumpton says.
Guest speakers were invited to take part in the event. Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Danny Clark and Idaho Falls Police Captain Bill Squires attended. Taylor-Silva thinks that returning citizens left feeling like they are cared about on a local and state level.
“Just because you’ve become incarcerated does not mean you lose your citizenship. You’re still a citizen of the United States. You’re still a community member,” Taylor-Silva says.
Jeff Kirkman, the Free2Succeed Program Director, says 95 to 96 percent of those incarcerated individuals end up serving their time and returning to their communities. Silva says although the public may have hesitation with the returning population, it’s important to understand that not all who are incarcerated are bad people.
“It’s incumbent upon the community to accept them… We need to allow them an opportunity to change their behavior and change their life,” Kirkman says.