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No one would question that an individual can be resilient – but the question of how an individual becomes resilient is much more nebulous. It is easy to assume resiliency is due to internal character, but it is more difficult to think that one can be taught how to look for the thing he or she can control.

This week, I researched statistics about the vulnerability of the population whom the Criminal Justice Resource Center assists.  At least half of those who have a mental illness of some form will also suffer from substance abuse at some point in their life. Additionally, 65% of incarcerated individuals have an active substance abuse disorder.  One can then infer that a large portion of individuals in the criminal justice system have some form of mental illness coupled with a substance abuse disorder.

If we look at a population plagued by mental illness, substance abuse, revoked rights, and more often than not, poverty and/or an unstable upbringing, how does one instill resiliency both within the individual and within the system in which he or she is trapped? How can we expect development of a desire for passion and perseverance in a population that has so often been neglected and beaten down?  One can not be expected to have passion and perseverance when he or she has often had to dedicate their time and energy towards the fight to live and overcome both internal and systemic set-backs – most have not had that privilege.

The work that the CJRC performs is a step towards helping inmates become more resilient in their daily lives.  The STARR program strives to show these inmates that they can control their substance abuse, they can beat their addiction, they can grapple with their mental illness, and they can live a productive life post incarceration.  These beliefs are promoted through educational components on the effects of one’s actions and the formation of positive relationships between counselors and inmates, supervisors and inmates, and between the inmates themselves.  The STARR Program encourages these inmates to have hope, to set goals and achieve them, and to celebrate and validate the small successes.

As Angela Duckworth explained in her Reimagining Education interview, grit and resiliency requires support.  Everyone needs to be told that someone believes in them, that their mistakes are not too large, and that they have the power to be better despite their stumbles – having this support propels one’s confidence and fosters belief in oneself. All have the ability to meet their goals, find their passion, and persevere through their struggles when their basic needs are met and their health is restored.  We can only see resiliency in the criminal justice system once those in the system and released from it receive adequate support. This means also providing ample support to the compassionate, selfless and overworked staff battling a never ending cycle. We aren’t there…yet.