A Letter from David Wolf: Earnest’s Story

Dear Friend,

I trust you know the wisdom of the words, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The idea is that parents are not enough to rightly raise a child to discover and realize their full, unique potential as they enter adulthood. It takes a whole community to do that job and to do it well — coaches, mentors, clergy, caseworkers — a community of Good Samaritans!

The same is true for “returning citizens” — individuals incarcerated for a long time who are reentering a new world, completely different from the one they left, with little or no preparation. 

Unless we’ve been incarcerated or are in close relationship with a formerly incarcerated person, I don’t think we can appreciate how challenging that reentry process can be — and how essential a village of compassionate support is to a reentering citizen’s success.

As every returning citizen will tell you, the most essential ingredient in making it on “the outside” is that village. Returning citizen Ernest Joyner knows this and that is what led him to Samaritan’s Next Step program. As you read Ernest’s life-changing story below, I hope you are moved to contribute a year-end gift to our life-changing work with participants like Ernest before 2023 closes.

Ernest was a model inmate and received an early release after serving 31 of a 41-year sentence in federal prison. While in prison Ernest learned self-discipline and how to use his time wisely, earning a GED and an associate degree in Entrepreneurial Management. He even learned the valuable and potentially lucrative trade of designing and creating handmade belts, wallets, and handbags. His work was so attractive that he was told it could compete with items made by well-known fashion designers. Eventually, Ernest started a prison leathercraft program and was paid to instruct other inmates.

Ernest did everything that he could to prepare himself for reentry, and you might think he was ready once he got his release date. But not so. Reentry is not a cakewalk. Today’s digital world did not exist in 1992 when he entered prison, and it was not accessible to him while he was incarcerated. While Samaritan Ministry provides him with digital literacy training, Ernest still describes himself as “digitally illiterate.” But that’s not the only reason. Even with his leathercraft work, educational progress, and workforce training, Ernest still struggles.

Ernest exited prison with tremendous potential. What he didn’t have was a compassionate community that would sustain, support, and challenge him in rebuilding his life — until he found Samaritan Ministry.  

After successfully completing the Jobs First training, Ernest worked one-on-one with Next Step Employment Specialist Diane Quinn, whom he describes as a “transformational figure” who is “like family,” a blend of his mother and aunt, both of whom he lost while in prison. Diane is someone who he says, “would go to war for him” not only to help him secure a job, but also to retain one, a distinction he emphasizes.

This reveals another major challenge of returning citizens, namely getting through the suspicion and skepticism that Ernest says is “baked into” the hiring process. In this regard, Diane is his advocate, as well as his coach and caseworker. Several times she “smoothed the water” with a potential but skeptical employer, resulting in Ernest finding sustainable employment. With Diane’s help, Ernest successfully incorporated his leathercraft business, putting his entrepreneurial training from prison to use. As Ernest develops his leatherwork business, he works in construction and bonuses have allowed him to obtain his own apartment and purchase a car!

This is transformational change — and partnership! But none of it would be possible without two ingredients: The most important is the soul-searching and determination that Ernest demonstrated. The second is the compassionate community — the Samaritan Ministry village of staff, volunteers, donors, and leaders that YOU make possible!

We know this village is an essential ingredient to participant success because, like so many before him, Ernest told us so. Yes, he mentioned the coaching and the training that empowered him to find sustainable employment and start his own business. But through Diane and so many others, Ernest realized not only that we had expertise that would benefit him, but also that we “cared and were a community that he could trust” to walk with him on his reentry journey.

On behalf of Ernest and all the Next Step participants we serve, thank you for playing your part in the village that is Samaritan Ministry. YOUR support allows participants like Ernest to be “all in” for the change they want to see in their lives, and indeed the transformational journey they walk.

Please make your BEST gift today at this link to honor the work YOU and I share in support of Next Step participants.

In the Samaritan Spirit,

Rev. David B. Wolf
Executive Director