By Tracy Edwards
In California, about 36 percent of people released from prison return to incarceration within three years. That recidivism rate over the last decade has been around 50 percent. According to Derrick Hill, outreach specialist/peers navigator of Dad’s Back Academy, 85 percent of people who are re-incarcerated return to prison because of domestic violence.
“A lot of people come home and say, ‘Hey I’m home now, so everything is going to change, and I’m going to run the show,’” Hill said. “That’s a complete mistake. It’s a far-fetched mistake that a lot of guys make. I’m saying that because 85 percent of the reason why people re-enter into prison is domestic violence.
“When you come home, you need to know that she’s already been running the house, she’s already been taking care of you while you were gone. When you come home you need to say, ‘Hey, what do you want from me? What can I do to help around here?’ Not say, ‘Hey, I got this, daddy’s home.’”
Hill also said that with freedom, many people struggle with the structure of a family home and they will lash out at the significant other, or the person who they are living with.
“They’ll say, ‘You’re not my mother, you’re not my parole officer, you’re not the warden, I’m not in prison anymore, so I can stay out as long as I want,’” Hill said.
At Dad’s Back Academy, which is under the umbrella of Friends Outside L.A., formerly incarcerated men and women learn how to become reacclimated into the homes that they left when they went to prison. Many of them need to learn to let go of habits that they used to survive in prison, and relearn how to have positive interactions with people.
“We learn a lot growing up, and when you go to prison, you kind of throw most of those things out of the window, and you become a chameleon to wherever you’re at,” Hill said. “So manners and all that stuff, not in prison. So we retrain you into being the person that you once were.”
Dad’s Back Academy is a month-long course that has classes in parenting, job training and placement, character building, and healthy relationships. Hill is an alumni of the program, and it helped him transition back into society after he was incarcerated.
“Dad’s Back gave me some guidance,” he said. “It taught me to humble myself. You’re at your starting point, and where do you go from here. That’s what we teach our guys. How do we stay at home, and stay busy.”
The parenting course has helped people keep their children after they were released, as judges want to see that people have taken courses that will help them raise their children.
“People who go to prison have this myth that because they went to prison, ‘They’re not going to give me my kids,’” Hill said. “People don’t understand that in children’s court, the judge wants the children to be with their biological parent. They want you to get it together so that you can be with your children.”
The job training and job placement course gives people skills, teaches them how to create a resume, and improves their interviewing skills. According to Hill, the stigma of being formally incarcerated is not nearly as bad that it used to be.
“There’s so many jobs out there, and many of them hire felons,” Hill said. “This is not the ‘80s, the ‘90s, or the early 2000s. This is 2021. There are jobs everywhere, even during COVID. I come across jobs all the time and they like to hire felons because they know that felons come to work. If you were making $23 a month in prison for 15 years, wouldn’t you want to work?”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dad’s Back Academy partnered with Community Build to secure employment for 80 formerly incarcerated people.
"Derrick and I were childhood friends and although we went our separate ways as adults, I believe God brought us together for a time such as this," said Robert Sausedo, president of Community Build, who is also an associate minister. "Part of Community Build's mission is to develop human capital and that's exactly what our partnership with Derrick and Dad's Back Academy enables us to do."