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STL Reentry Collective focuses on trauma-informed workshops to keep people out of prison

Cornelia Li

STL Reentry Collective is helping formerly incarcerated people control their own narrative through its new documentary project, “Our Time.

“The videos allow people that aren't necessarily familiar with formerly incarcerated folks see us in our own light — instead of the way that the media is portraying us,” said Harvey Galler, who co-founded the organization in 2020, less than a year after he was released from prison.

The documentary will highlight the experiences of formerly incarcerated people from the St. Louis region about their time in prison and reentering society. It’s funded by a $10,000 grant from the Divided City Initiative and will last throughout 2022.

Galler plans to screen the interviews at workshops in St. Louis County libraries designed to help people address the trauma that often leads to incarceration — as well as the trauma that results from time in prison. Eventually, he wants the collective to launch a reentry program of its own.

“So many people are dealing with trauma that predates even before going to prison,” Galler said on Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air.

Reentry is tricky, Galler said. It’s like a bouncing ball you can’t quite get a grasp on but continue to chase.

James Granderson served 18 years in Missouri prisons and is the subject of the latest documentary released on Saturday. He said on St. Louis on the Air that the psychological effects of prison still linger.

"The intensity, the environment, the anger, the tension is at an all-time high 24/7," Granderson said. "It never lets down."

Granderson is now a paralegal who aims to assist other incarcerated people to understand the law and their cases.

You can watch James Granderson's reentry story here:

In Missouri, 96% of incarcerated people will eventually be released from prison. On average, 47% of those people end up back in prison within five years. And the pandemic has further complicated reentry.

What sends people back to prison, Galler said, is unaddressed trauma. Re-offenders are often blamed for bad personal choices, but he said a lack of programs to address trauma within the Missouri Department of Corrections is also to blame.

“So many services out there still offer the same thing, and recidivism rates, however you want to look at it, continue to go up or stay the same,” Galler said. “If it's not working, why are we continuing to do that?”

Unlike other reentry programs, the STL Reentry Collective workshops will be led by people who have been incarcerated.

“Other programs don't allow us to be autonomous,” Galler said. “They still tie us to the system and leave us institutionalized, ultimately, in the long run.”

Galler added that the workshops are open to everyone — not just those who served time in prison.

“We want everybody in the community to attend,” Galler said. “Because really, it's not about just the folks that have been through this. It’s a community effort.”

STL Reentry Collective launches documentary project

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.