The Anti-Recidivism Coalition

By Seth Ferranti 11/11/15

How the The Anti-Recidivism Coalition—ARC—helps ease the transition for prisoners being released in California

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The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (or ARC as it's better known) was founded in 2013 by Hollywood producer Scott Budnick, who executive produced the popular comedy series, The Hangover. Budnick launched ARC to support formerly incarcerated young adults and to stop the flow of men and women into the prison-industrial complex. Through substance abuse treatment, college programs, supportive housing programs and positive peer reinforcement, ARC is changing lives in California and for those being released into the community from the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

As anyone who has been in prison knows, even though they are titled "correctional facilities," very little correcting is going on inside the belly of the beast. It's a dog-eat-dog world and with the prison politics of both the inmates and staff, the drugs, violence and proliferation of prison gangs, the beast feeds itself. Prisoners are left drowning in a sea of negativity, often without hope, then thrown back out into a world that doesn’t care. Without any tools to survive in the real world, a new sense of identity and a lack of hope, ex-offenders are doomed to recidivate as they try to navigate the treacherous paths in their old neighborhoods, which are afflicted by drug addiction and dealers, poverty and the all-powerful street gangs that rule the areas. 

Scott Budnick and the ARC are all about combating recidivism anyway they can. With a litany of in-prison and outside programs that have created a cadre of high-achieving ex-cons, the ARC is making a difference by helping former prisoners succeed instead of failing. Making the efforts to change a system that supports failure, Budnick has used all his resources and connections to make a difference in a way that many people in his position wouldn’t have—by providing services, support and opportunities to those currently within the system and those coming home from incarceration. ARC serves as a bridge to transformation, purpose and redemption.

“For people whose identity was all rooted in gangs or in dealing drugs, that was how they saw themselves,” Scott tells The Fix. “For people who were told they were no good their whole life, when they start doing college courses and they realize they are inherently smart and inherently good, they start getting interested and start imagining a path along that educational road. When they get released their entire identity of how they see themselves, how they portray themselves outwardly begins to change and I think that is pretty cool.”

The majority of incarcerated individuals were deeply enmeshed in the criminal and drug lifestyle. Either addicted to drugs or dealing in them. When you come from that world, or immerse yourself in that work, it is hard to see any other options, especially within the harsh confines of prison where the negativity of that lifestyle is reinforced on a day in and day out process. Identity is a major thing and through positivity ARC enacts change starting in the prison system itself before an ex-offender even steps foot outside prison walls.

“I had a kid at Lancaster prison that I just saw a few days ago who came in at 18-years-old and he’s now 38 and he just became a full-blown heroin addict in prison,” Scott tells The Fix. “Never even touched drugs when he was on the outside. Just living in negativity for decades. Just two years ago, he became sober and positive. He saw a light in his future and he’s now on fire. You can’t stop this kid. His energy is so contagious. He’s started so many self-help groups on the yard about drugs. He said, ‘I think this life and the way I feel now is so much better then when I was just running amok and partying and not focused.’”

Because when drugs and crime become your life, they are so firmly intertwined that they become your identity. Until you alter that identity and get the negativity out of your life, you will never be able to move forward. Scott and ARC realize this and do all that they can to provide ex-offenders, be they drug addicts or hardened criminals and gang members, with the tools they need to succeed when they reenter society.

“We do a lot, especially in our supportive housing program around substance abuse,” Scott tells The Fix. “We have a lot of our members that go to NA and AA meetings daily or weekly. We have a lot of partners that do substance abuse treatment, both inpatient and outpatient. We have a lot of ways to help in-house and to refer people to. Having supportive housing over your head where you have staff and adults that work with you on jobs, therapy and on mentoring, I believe that is the way to combat these awful recidivism rates. Because if you go back to the same world, it’s very easy to just give up and go back to what you know best, even if you changed while you were incarcerated.”

Scott and ARC believe that supportive housing for the formerly incarcerated is the best way to keep them focused, positive, off drugs and away from the criminal lifestyle.

“I personally believe the game changer for people when they come home is supportive housing,” Scott tells The Fix. “I think what we currently do just forces people to go right back to the same environment that contributed to the problem in the first place, whether it be going right back to the same neighborhood where the gangs and homies are still kicking it and the same enemies exist. Where the home environment might still be dysfunctional is when the gangs run through the family. Different things are happening there. I see drama with the families, baby mama drama, all these type of things that set people back in a negative place.”

In prison, negativity reigns supreme and drugs and violence is a way of life. Recovery is about being positive and taking the good with the bad but always seeing the cup as half-full rather than half-empty. Scott and ARC believe that positivity can pay-it-forward and that even in prison an atmosphere can be created that cultivates and promotes positive change. A desire to get away from the previous lifestyle of drugs, addiction and crime that wraps its arms around people like a devilish brother and won’t let go.

“The amount of a kind of pay-it-forward that everyone has means so much,” Scott tells The Fix. “One life gets changed and it moves forward. It’s contagious. It’s infectious. Positivity is so much more and can feel so much better than negativity when you really embrace it. Negativity and drugs, all that comes along with that is just a way to cope with trauma. A way to cope with a day-to-day miserable existence, so if you can find a way of making that existence something positive then you don’t need the dope.”

And that is ARC’s mission. Through their president and founder Scott Budnick they are making an impact, changing lives and changing policies for the better in California. Making it easier for ex-felons to transition to the community and to get the tools they need to rehabilitate themselves while still inside.

“If you are a kid going into the prison system and you know you want to change, you want to do something better, then there are people on both the inmate and staff side that will help you get to that point,” Scott tells The Fix. “It won’t be easy and you gotta be strong, but it can be done. Any inmate that walks into a place with other inmates that have positive energy, then it's game over. If you walk into a place with someone that has that positive energy you know that you can surround yourself with a crew that will send you in the right direction.”

And promoting that cause has landed Scott a spot on a national stage. With his recent appointment to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper organization, Scott can keep striving to make sweeping changes to our nation’s criminal justice policy.

“I recently joined the board of My Brother's Keeper and we had our first board meeting the other day and it's exciting in terms of all the different facets and second chances that are just one part of it,” Scott tells The Fix. “I knew that showing the truth behind bars and showing that we have a system that is pouring a lot of our young men, a lot of our future talent, a lot of our fathers and brothers. Just ripping them out of their communities and pouring them into prison just has a bad effect overall and there’s not a better person to shine the light on that than the President.” 

My Brother's Keeper along with ARC is going to keep fighting the battle against drug addiction, recidivism and crime by focusing on educational, behavioral and treatment programs. It's about giving people the right tools, not about locking them up.

“My Brother's Keeper is going to look a lot at early childhood education. About reforming our education system. About providing pathways for boys and men of color from birth to college, not birth to prison,” Scott tells The Fix. “It's going to look throughout the entire spectrum about how to help people, how to increase outcomes, how to get people in living wage careers and train them at a young and early age and give them those opportunities. Incredible people have come to the table: from the CEO of BET to the CEO of Sprint to Alonzo Mourning. The board is incredible and everyone is committed to the same goal, to create opportunity”

Because it's not about locking people up and throwing away the key. It's about fighting the roots of drug addiction and the criminal lifestyle. It's about recovery, positivity and reassimilating into society. It's about giving people the tools they need to succeed so that they don’t fall victim to drugs and crime and prison. And that’s what Scott Budnick and ARC are doing.

To learn more or join the effort visit The Anti-Recidivism Coalition 

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