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VTANG Airman helps people start new paths

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Griffin Reid poses beside a static display missile at the Vermont Air National Guard base Sept. 2, 2015. When not on military duty, he helps people who have spent time in jail reintegrate back into the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Tatro)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Griffin Reid poses beside a static display missile at the Vermont Air National Guard base Sept. 2, 2015. When not on military duty, he helps people who have spent time in jail reintegrate back into the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Tatro)

South Burlington, Vt. -- Senior Airman Griffin Reid, a munitions systems journeyman at the Vermont Air National Guard and a member of the Total Force Integration, when not doing military duty or being with his family, spends time with people convicted of crimes. Sometimes he gives them rides, or shares common interests like nutrition and working out. What he doesn't do is see them as criminals. In fact, he sees them as brave people who may have hit rock-bottom and are now forging new lives.

For several years he has served as a volunteer staff member with the Burlington Community Justice Center in a non-mandatory program for inmates on conditional release status called Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA). In the program inmates are referred to as core members and are still serving their sentences while trying to build new lives in local communities.

"It's part of a restorative justice program to help these people who have been in and out of the prison system for 15 or 20 years," Reid explained. "They may have gone in at any early age and now are just coming out and don't have any sort of positive resources, influences, or people to guide them on their path."

CoSA uses a group of trained volunteers like Reid as a premade social network for the core member with professional staff support available as needed. The volunteers, however, get to know the person more intimately, and Reid said he makes sure that the core member gets to know him, as well. He's helped offenders enter college, find apartments or employment. They share dinners together, or go out for coffee, and talk about what's been going on in their lives.

Adjustment isn't easy; setbacks include working through social stigmas from serving jail time or getting used to new technology. For a person who has been out of society for a decade or more, little things like "Google it" and "text me" are unfamiliar terms that can form social barriers and make connecting with others difficult.

Stuart Recicar, an offender reentry program specialist at the BCJC who is familiar with Reid, shared in an email that having friends and people to relate to is important for offenders.

"Being available to listen and talk to is a huge way in which volunteers impact others," he wrote. "Being open to sharing your interests and experiences as well as a willingness to participate in activities and conversations that others are interested in in a pro-social and positive way also makes huge impacts."

Connecting with a core member is more than just a volunteer job for Reid and his wife. They share in the person's joys as well as the lows and when they've been forging a positive relationship with a person who slides back into negative behavior, Reid said it's hard not to take it personally. But Recicar wrote that Reid and his wife maintain a good balance as volunteers by sharing themselves but also expecting a level of accountability with the core members which helps the member navigate problems and accept responsibility.

What drives Reid to expect the best from those he works with is that he has seen the positive force programs like CoSA can have in the lives of people reintegrating into the civilian world. He said a relative of his had a mental illness and was addicted to drugs. After a long time in jail he was released, but had the support of volunteer community members which he said was pivotal in the family member's journey.

"I like the concept of restorative justice," Reid said. "Just dumping someone back into the community after they've screwed up and done their time isn't going to work. Now they are trying to better themselves."

Nobody's perfect, he said, and the core members in the CoSA program aren't inherently bad - they are people who have made poor choices at some point in their lives and are humble enough to accept help taking steps in the right direction. Every time he invests a little time and himself, he's adding to the strength of the community.