Khyentse Foundation’s grant to the FOCUS Offender Re-Entry Mentorship Program supports a powerful social service that is committed to helping former offenders transition into a healthier life outside prison walls. The FOCUS program (Facilitating Offenders Seeking Uplifting Situations) has been serving the Boulder County, Colorado community since 2005, with the goal of enhancing community safety and reducing the rate of recidivism–the rate at which ex-offenders commit new crimes and return to jail. The program’s success can be measured by their low rate of recidivism of 17%, compared to the national rate of 70%.
FOCUS Development Director Nicky Marone reports that at any given time, more than 2.25 million people crowd U.S. prisons and jails. With a national recidivism rate of 70%, it’s easy to see how overwhelmed the criminal justice system has become. Nicky emphasizes the clear need for formal reentry programs such as FOCUS to help ex-offenders navigate their way back into their communities in a positive way.
FOCUS attributes their success to the effective model of a mentor-mentee relationship between trained volunteers and offenders. Mentors meet with their mentees once a week and tailor their time together to the specific needs of the mentee. When offenders are released, their mentors are often their only source of noninstitutionalized support. Their presence plays a crucial role in those first 72 hours, and many of these relationships develop into lasting friendships.
FOCUS’ administrative staff is 75% long-term Buddhist practitioners, and its approach and training are based on fundamental Buddhist principles of absolute nonaggression, deep attentiveness, and active kindness.
Jennifer Edmiston is a former mentee of FOCUS who now volunteers as a mentor. A convicted felon with a 15-year history of methamphetamine addiction, she was labeled as a major flight risk. She attributes everything she has accomplished since her release from prison to the dedicated efforts of the FOCUS program. She says, “It’s all because of FOCUS. Everything I have.” She never thought she would be working at a steady job and regain custody of her two children. Today they are living together in safe long-term housing.
Above everything, Edmiston is most grateful for the life skills she learned from her mentor. “I use these skills every day,” says Edmiston, “to communicate with others, to see things from another person’s point of view, to be kind to others, and also to not make wild assumptions in my mind that makes me want to avoid things.”
Last year, FOCUS matched 25 mentor-mentee relationships, a number limited by funding and a lack of male mentors. Recent federal funding cuts have had a significant impact on nonprofit organizations like FOCUS. At a time when the program is suffering from significant loss of income, grants from Khyentse Foundation and others help keep their doors open, allowing them to reach out to a population in great need.