Pamlico’s program on housing and treatment for former inmates
BY TODD WETHERINGTON
SUN JOURNAL REPORTER
Members of a Pamlico County nonprofit are challenging the community to support their efforts to provide housing, jobs and other support for former inmates trying to return home.
The Bayboro Development Center was formed in 2018 by local citizens with the goal of ending the vicious cycle of residents leaving the county’s jail and prison only to return there a short time later. The group works with those incarcerated at both the Pamlico County Jail and the Pamlico Correctional Institution to provide case management services with a goal of successfully reintegrating them back into society.
“ There’s a hor r i b l e recidivism rate in the whole state but the rural counties are among the worst because of lack of facilities and other issues,” said BDC President Fred Read. “We want to get people back on their feet to become meaningful members of society again instead of just going right back into prison.”
The services provided by the BDC include: addiction recovery assistance, behavioral and mental health services, educational services, job training, employment assistance, and help with expunging criminal records.
“We’re linked up with Pamlico Community College so we can help get people either vocational or academic training, whichever they need,” Read said. “We also help get them into recovery programs like AA and Al- Anon.
BDC Executive Director Vennie Himbry and board member Tim Jarvis spend time in the coun-
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Bayboro Development Center members Thelmond Cooper, Tim Jarvis, Peg Witt, Diane Lemieux, Vennie Himbry and Fred Read discuss the group’s efforts to provide housing, jobs and other services for the county’s former inmates. Todd Wetherington/Sun Journal
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ty jail and prison speaking with inmates about the program’s ser vices. Once they are released, Read does peer counseling for addiction issues.
Himbry, a certified court advocate, also assists inmates with their court dates and does private interviews According to Himbr y, BCD has worked with approximately 700 inmates since opening four years ago.
“We help with the communication between inmates and families and lawyers,” said Diane Lemieux, BDC’s grant writer. “A lot of times legal speak is unintelligible.”
BDC has also formed partnerships with multiple local agencies such as NCWorks, Pamlico Community College, and the Craven-Pamlico Re-entry Council, which has helped with housing and transportation for former inmates.
Looking for land and support But according to BDC members, the most crucial element that could help lower the local recidivism rate — affordable housing — is virtually nonexistent in Pamlico County.
“Our blockade right now is housing, more than anything,” Read said. “We need the community to start getting involved. There’s tons of vacant land in this county just sitting there that you could put temporary housing onto. We need to shake loose some community interest and activity
in these areas because we have people coming out of prison without a place to stay.”
Tim Jarvis, a BDC board member, said inmates have expressed that lack of housing is the primary barrier they face when leaving incarceration.
“There’s just nothing there so they just repeat the same thing and end up back in jail,” he commented. “We try to be a go between and stop that rotation.”
Short of someone donating a usable house, Himbry said the BDC would like to secure at least two-acres of land in Pamlico County that could sustain up to three mobile homes.
“That would be a start. It would house a lot of ex-offenders,” she said. “There’s so many houses here that no one is living in but the families won’t work with us.
Jarvis said providing shelter for those coming out of the criminal justice system is the most important step the county could take to lower recidivism rates.
“We can help those coming out of incarceration in Pamlico County to move on,” he commented. “But it takes money.”
Read stressed that housing is only the most pressing of a number of hurdles ex-inmates face when they leave incarceration. He noted that in North Carolina, anyone with a felony drug conviction is barred from many assistance programs like TANF and SNAP benefits for a minimum of six months. People with felony drug convictions Class G and above face
a lifetime ban from those benefits.
“They say go away, we don’t need your kind here,” Read said. “That’s completely insane.”
A challenge to the Pamlico community Sadly, said Read, the BDC’s ef f o r t s h a v e drawn “ver y little” feedback from the Pamlico County community in the way of financial or other support.
“They’re the ones affected by it more than anyone else,” he said. “They’re the ones that are being robbed and having issues with drug dealers in their neighborhood. It happens everywhere around here.”
Lemieux said the verbal response BDC has received has been largely positive.
“Everybody likes what we’re doing but they stop short of doing anything to help us,” she said.
One bright spot has been donations from area churches, Lemieux said, including Lowland Baptist Church and United Methodist Church of Oriental. The BDC also received a ‘fairly significant grant” from the Howard Bates Foundation, she noted The support has helped keep the doors open at the BDC office, located at 13632-A, NC 55 in Alliance.
“We were paying the rent out of our own pockets for a while, we were paying for everything personally,” Read said. “We’ve done well considering we’ve had a shoestring budget to work with.”
Jarvis said he believes the community needs to see the personal impact that the BDC has made in the lives of hundreds of former inmates.
“I don’t think the community has seen enough success stories, with people giving their testimony and saying, ‘Look, I came out and this is what I’m doing,’ ” he remarked. “Testimony is powerful. The community is seeing bits of what we do but they’re not seeing the full story.”
In addition to financial support, the BDC members said they are also seeking volunteers with skills in counseling and marketing. The group is also “badly in need of a treasurer right now,” Read said.
Noting the relative seniority of the current BDC members, Read said participation from younger residents will be critical to the group’s future.
“Most of us are seniors and we’d love to see some younger blood involved in this project,” he said. “I’d love to see some 20 and 30 year olds in here, some people that have gotten clean and are out to help give back.”
“That is our future generation,” Jarvis added, “that’s what we’re focusing on.”
To contact the Bayboro Development Center call 252-229-9706.