Ex-Offender Mentoring: Training Volunteers to Serve as Mentors in MN

Amicus Ex-offender Mentoring, recently merged with Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, has been training volunteers to serve as mentors for individual inmates across Minnesota for nearly 50 years. By visiting, writing, and listening to their One to One matches, our volunteers have helped thousands of ex-offenders successfully transition back into society. By extending a hand of friendship, volunteers help inmates feel cared about, develop trust, and try out new behaviors.

Our One to One service is one of the most long-lasting and respected reentry mentoring programs in the state of Minnesota.

Many of our volunteers have created bonds that last decades, enriching the lives of everyone involved. The video below features the special bond and friendship between Greg and Kevin, two participants in the Amicus program.

After serving his sentence, Greg’s disability did not stop him from starting over and he became the first person in his family to receive a secondary degree.

A talented poet and regionally successful hip-hop artist, Greg got caught up in a life of drugs and alcohol that led to a conviction. As a result, he lost his career, his income, and most of his friends and family. While in prison, Greg started showing signs of Multiple Sclerosis. There was no darker time than this for Greg.

When people hit rock bottom, they need a friend to help lift them back up. The Volunteers of America Amicus volunteer mentoring program matched Greg with Kevin, who helped him make plans after prison. Amicus Reconnect services helped Greg with housing, education and employment options and Will’s Fund, the philanthropically-supported Amicus scholarship program, subsidized Greg’s schooling.

Video Transcript

Greg: The day that the judge sentenced me I have already judged myself the harshest because the first couple months were the hardest, so hearing that door slam and hearing the gate constantly slam…open and close. It depends on the individual, but for me I had already judged myself harder than anybody out in society. They can point fingers and say whatever. Tell me something I haven't already said to myself because at the end of the day I'm my own worse judge.

Kevin: I don't see Amicus as a mentorship program so much as I do a friendship program. Amicus actually means friend. The relationship that Greg and I have is not one of mentor and mentee. It's one of people who are friends with one another and we're friends now. We would be regardless of the program. That's what makes the program so powerful is it's not about me teaching Greg some skill when he gets out of prison. It's more of me giving him the support he needs and helping to normalize his life and his relationships with the outside world so that he can succeed in the way that he's capable of doing without me being there to teach him anything.

Greg: Kevin's a great guy. He's a great guy. He's a friend. I can literally say this is a friend. I never could say that. Everybody I thought was my friend wasn't, but Kevin really is a good friend. Whenever I call him, like, "Kevin, I'm having a hard time trying to figure this out," or whatever's going on, he's there to help. He was there. Kevin's always there.

Kevin: That's the beauty of the program. You just become friends with someone. Once you become friends with a person you have to see their humanity, be friends with them. Once you see someone's humanity you can't treat them as if they're just a label, an offender, an ex-felon, somebody who's re-entering society after having done something bad. You see the whole person and not just the offense. That's what being a friend with someone is really about. It's not about the worse thing this person did. It's about the whole person. That's another great value that the program brings and that's kind of what I'm supposed to do. It's not about mentorship. It's about seeing the whole person and reflecting that back at your Amicus friend so that they can understand that that's possible.

What he's done despite having that, and you can imagine if that was the label that was affixed to you how you would see yourself as well. Again, it's not to feel sorry for him, but it's just another level of challenge that he had to meet in order to get to where he is now, which is such a positive, wonderful place. He's got MS on top of everything. So, think about the challenges of day-to-day life when you basically have no education, you have no job experience, you're an ex-felon, and you have multiple sclerosis. That's a tough stack of things to have in your backpack when you wake up in the morning and drag around all day as you try to get a job, find transportation, get enough money to live, make friends, make relationships, be a active part of the community. That's a lot to carry around, and he's done an amazing job.

Greg: If I'm on this path to give back to the community, family can only go so far, so it has to be someone that's in the community, active participants in society like Kevin.

Kevin: Some people have Amicus friends who are incarcerated for life and are never going to get out, and their relationship is one of helping to keep them tethered to the outside world. Some people are like me who come in when someone's just ready to get out and need some support in transition.

Amicus organization is equipped to help people with their material needs, but the Amicus friends are really about is making time to sit with somebody and help them feel a connection to something that's stable in the outside world so that when they get out that connection is there and it gives them strength and motivation and impetus to achieve their re-entry into the community.