Madison Makepeace: Tell us about the Field and what inspired you to start this incredibly important podcast.
Zoë Paliare: When I was in my 20's, I worked for a non-profit in Toronto called Peacebuilders, founded by my incredible mother. One of the programs I was responsible for was based in a downtown Toronto detention center for young men who were on remand, awaiting trial.We held weekly discussion circles, and also ran a literacy and mentorship program. I got to know the human beings behind bars and saw how often people would leave prison, only to return shortly thereafter. I got a firsthand look at the ways in which both our system, and we as a society, set up returning citizens to fail: we fail to provide the supports needed for people to prepare for their release, and we don't welcome folks back with open minds and hearts. And in failing this entire population of people, we rob this world of their gifts and talents. I wanted to do something about the problem, and realized that building public awareness was critical—the Field was born.
MM: There is such a stigma attached to those who have been incarcerated, please tell us how sharing their stories is helping to end this stigma.
ZP: Stigma typically exists where there is a lack of understanding, fear, and an inability to see the humanity in others. The Field provides people who are removed from the criminal justice system with access to the life stories of people who have spent time behind bars, and these stories create an access point to their humanity. Our hope is that providing people with this access point opens minds and hearts.
MM: How have these past few years during the pandemic made re-entry more challenging?
ZP: Two of the major challenges for those reentering the community are housing and employment. Over this past year, we have seen a rise in homelessness, and a decrease in shelter spaces available. We also had record levels of unemployment with so many seeking jobs. In this climate, reentry is exponentially more challenging.
MM: What programs are in place to make reentry more successful and what can we as a society do to help?
ZP: Unfortunately there is no single consistent approach, which is one of the reasons it can be so challenging. Many people have no support leading up to, or after, the time of their release. There are incredible community organizations doing work to support those who are reentering the community, though not nearly enough funding is provided to make these programs broadly accessible. As for your other question, there are three themes that I have seen in terms of what society can do better. First, withhold judgment. See people as human first, recognize that they are more than the worst thing they've ever done. Second, find the organizations that are supporting people and volunteer or donate. Contribute. Third, create meaningful opportunities for training and employment, and do so with the understanding that for people who have spent years behind bars, there may be a longer or different learning curve. Know that in providing someone with a chance, and supporting their personal growth and development, you are improving our economy, our communities, and data shows most often seeing an incredibly loyal and dedicated employee as a result.