On March 29, a group of ten students from the University’s prison abolition group, Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI), opened the Pursuing Re-Entry Possibilities (PREP) Center in Middletown’s North End on Main Street. The center, which is run by North End Action Team (NEAT) volunteers and University students, aims to assist formerly incarcerated people in their search for employment by providing guidance on résumés, interviews, and business attire, among other career-related topics.
“Our goal is to be equipped to address people’s needs upon walking into the center,” PREP organizer Clare Brennan ’21 wrote in a joint statement with other student organizers to The Argus. “So if someone comes in and is looking for assistance, we can help them write a resume, carry out mock interviews, provide professional clothing, explore employment options and skills, and do whatever is in our capacity to address other needs. We also provide packets with resume and interview tips as well as computers people can use to write resumes or do research themselves.”
According to the PREP organizers, the idea for the center came about in 2016, the year that SEMI was founded. While SEMI focused on educating the student community about mass incarceration and restorative justice, members of the group realized that they wanted to engage with former prisoners in a way that would improve these people’s day-to-day lives. While still guided by the ideal of prison abolition, organizers recognized that those affected by the prison system needed tangible help as their fight for prison reform continued.
“We realize the very real problem of recidivism, as it is often easier for those without resources in place when they are released from prison to return to a place with food and shelter,” the organizers wrote. “At the point we’re at currently, it is a reality that the formerly incarcerated will need to interact with capitalist systems.”
After several years of research, planning, and organizing, PREP organizers including University students Brennan, Angel Martin ’19, Lola Makombo ’20, Francesca Woodbridge ’20, Sam Libberton ’21, Noah Kline ’21, Asiyah Herrero ’22, Thayne Hutchins ’22, Alphina Kamara ’22, and Emily McEvoy ’22 were able to open the PREP center with help from NEAT.
“We’ve tapped into the Gordon Career Center, other Wesleyan resources, online resources, and various Connecticut organizations to consolidate useful materials for folks who have been incarcerated or anyone else in the community who wants assistance,” Brennan and her fellow organizers explained.
In the future, organizers hope that knowledge of the center will spread among the University and Middletown communities, and that they will be able to expand their resources to provide employment opportunities. They also hope that University students will become more aware of their impact on the people of Middletown.
“Wesleyan students should be aware that Wesleyan is an extractive institution that is contributing to the gentrification of Middletown, is occupying Wangunk land, and is failing to distribute any of its resources to low income residents of the North End,” Brennan wrote. “In order to counteract this, Wesleyan students, who are able, should use their time and labor engaging with and learning from community members. There is a divide between Wesleyan and the surrounding community that Wesleyan is responsible for, and the best way to resolve this divide is for students to figure out ways to redirect Wesleyan’s resources.”
In terms of broader awareness about the U.S. incarceration system, organizers hope that students realize that structures of racial oppression are deeply ingrained in the prison system.
“In the words of Angela Davis, there are ‘historical links between U.S. slavery and the early penitentiary system’ and ‘racism [is] so deeply entrenched in the institution of the prison that it is not possible to eliminate one without eliminating the other,’” Brennan and fellow organizers noted. “The history of punishment in the U.S. is co-dependent on white supremacy. Mariame Kaba argues that ‘abolishing the prison industrial complex is not just about ending prisons but also about creating an alternative system of governance that is not based on domination, hierarchy, and control.’”