This article was originally published on Goerie.com September 15, 2017 by Madeleine O’Neill.
Tyshun Taylor is working to help ease the transition for ex-inmates re-entering the community. In 2012, Taylor was released from prison after an 11-year stay.
He spent more than a decade in prison.
He struggled to find employment and housing after his release.
But now, Tyshun Taylor has found his dream job: lending a hand to other ex-offenders as they go through the same transition.
The 43-year-old Erie native is working as a client advocate, a position created with grant funds provided to the Unified Erie anti-violence initiative in July 2016.
He knows how difficult the transition back into the community can be for his clients.
“When I came home it was such a complete struggle,” he said. “That’s one thing I knew, that I had to take this job because I had to release some of that stress and pressure when they come home, to give them my hand and to know they’ve got somebody.”
Taylor said he has worked with about 60 clients since starting his job earlier this year. He’s guided them through the same difficulties he faced when he was released from state prison in 2012, after spending 11 years incarcerated for drug-related charges.
More than once, he said, he was hired for a job only to be let go when his employer learned of his history. Finding housing with a criminal record presented a similar challenge.
For Taylor, who made money selling cocaine before he went to prison, it was a “humbling experience.” He had lost his home while he was incarcerated. He was used to being able to support his family financially, but found their roles were reversed once he was freed.
“I’m still not totally financially where I’m supposed to be, but I can’t by any means go the other way again,” he said. “The risk is too high for me.”
Instead, he is paid to counsel those who have made the transition from prison into the community more recently. He is employed through the Downtown YMCA, but works as part of the Erie County Re-Entry Services and Support Alliance, a Unified Erie program that pairs former inmates with three case managers who connect them with local resources.
Taylor is not a case manager, but offers advice and support based on his own experience as the sole client advocate.
Though he officially works 20 hours a week, Taylor’s job is essentially 24/7. He takes calls from clients at any time, encourages them when they become frustrated, drives them to work or appointments, and meets with employers to give clients a leg-up as they apply for jobs.
“I’m working with people’s lives, so I can’t stop short,” he said.” I’m working with people who are dealing with mental situations, or situations where they might need a home. Situations where it’s just dire.”
Former inmates re-entering the community face a host of challenges, said Sheila Silman, ECRSSA’s program manager.
“When you’re working with an individual that’s coming out of prison, the lay of the land has really changed, especially for those who have been gone 10 years or more,” she said. “The shape of the neighborhood, the people you knew when you left, but also technology. It can be very daunting and very overwhelming.”
Easing that transition can have a ripple effect on the entire community, she said, by helping ex-inmates find jobs and avoid slipping back into criminal activity.
ECRSSA has worked with more than 100 clients through its re-entry program, which began in September 2016, and the April call-in, Silman said.
The re-entry program is a component of Unified Erie, which has taken a three-pronged approach of prevention, enforcement and re-entry in curbing violence in the community.
Unified Erie sought funds for the program, and in July received a $1.2 million grant from the Erie Community Foundation and the United Way of Erie County. The funding was provided to the Greater Erie Community Action Committee, which oversees ECRSSA’s re-entry services and the call-in program.
Taylor’s role in the program is to provide the perspective of someone who has spent time in prison, Silman said.
“You have someone who’s actually been incarcerated and actually has gone through the reintegration piece coming back into the community,” she said.
One of Taylor’s clients, 29-year-old Josh McCloud, said he struggled to catch up after spending 10½ years incarcerated on assault charges.
“The streets changed,” he said. “I though that time would have stopped for me. … You can’t catch up with time, it just keeps going.”
Being able to talk with Taylor, who had already gone through that phase of his transition from prison, helped, McCloud said.
“He’s the one who can tell you, ‘Listen, I’ve been in that position,’” McCloud said. “Some people have only been on one side of the fence. He and I have been on both sides of the fence.”
Since his release from state prison in October, McCloud has worked to find steady employment. He’s hoping that he’ll soon hear back about a job washing dishes at a local hotel.
He’s faced a lot of rejection during the search, from employers who were concerned about his criminal record.
“It gets frustrating, but I know and I believe that God is going to (find) me a job,” he said.
And until he feels steadier, McCloud will have Taylor to call on.
“It’s very important that they get that chance,” Taylor said of his clients. “I’m not going to beg you to take my hand, but if you do, you’ve got it (for) the rest of your walk here.”