By Dorany Pineda
LOS ANGELES — While many 19 year olds were working or starting their sophomore year in college, Shaka Senghor was being sent to prison for second-degree murder.
During the 19 years he served in the Michigan Department of Corrections, including more than five years in solitary confinement, Senghor used his sentence to reflect on his past and address the anger that drove him to a life of crime.
Now, among other things, Senghor is the executive director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), a nonprofit dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated men and women reenter the world and live crime-, gang- and drug-free lives.
Since its founding five years ago, hundreds of men and women like Senghor have avoided re-incarceration and instead enrolled in school, started working and are paying it forward in their communities.
“ARC functions as a really integral bridge for those coming out [of incarceration],” said Nicholas Reiner, the organization’s communications director.
“The members kind of lead each other. If you’ve been out for 15 years, for someone who got out Tuesday, you’re able to show them that there is a way to succeed on the outside,” he added.
And ARC provides the resources to help the formerly incarcerated triumph after their sentences. People can sign up to be members of ARC, which gives them access to mentorship, mental health services and counseling, supportive housing, access to jobs and education, and more.
A membership, Reiner said, can help them “stay on a better path, to not recidivate.”
Part of the effort to reduce recidivism is to provide temporary housing for those recently released. Its two housing programs, which have supported more than 50 people, rectify the housing insecurity that newly released men and women often face.
Instead of worrying about where they will sleep when they leave prison, they can focus on their educational and employment goals, and work towards transitioning to a permanent and stable home of their own.
For those still behind bars, the organization offers programs in which “ARC staff and members regularly travel to prisons and detention facilities to provide rehabilitative programming on the inside,” Reiner said. “[ARC affiliates] become that bridge to the outside.”
Another essential branch of ARC is criminal justice reform. The nonprofit’s members can participate in policy training, where they learn how to work with state legislators on justice reform bills.
The training focuses on public speaking, persuasive writing and trauma-informed storytelling.
“Our members share their stories in Sacramento and locally to try to achieve more just laws,” Reiner said.
All of ARC’s efforts to offer hope and a new beginning in life to those currently in prison and those released seem to be working.
Not only has the coalition grown to a network of more than 450 members who offer advocacy and support, but ARC’s success is apparent in its numbers: while 60 percent of those formerly incarcerated in California end up in jail again, only 10 percent of ARC members do.
But their work is not over yet.
“[ARC] will continue to lobby legislators to continue to ride some waves of justice reform, to try to counteract why we’re here in the first place: that there are so many people locked up … and to get that recidivism rate down across California,” Reiner said.
Executive Director: Shaka Senghor
Years in operation: 5
Number of employees: 55
Annual budget: $5.2 million
Location: 1320 E. 7th St., Suite 260, Los Angeles, 90021