Finding One’s Place: Ex-offender Johnathan Kana on society-to-prison transition ahead of InsideOut’s annual Summer Concert

Johnathan Kana

InsideOut Reentry — Thursday, May 18 at 7 p.m.

Annual Summer Concert

InsideOut Reentry — Saturday, May 20 at 4 p.m.

InsideOut Reentry’s community garden. — photo courtesy of InsideOut

The Iowa City-based prison-to-society reentry program InsideOut is hosting a discussion this Thursday, May 18 by former convict and Texan musician Johnathan Kana: “The Delicate Struggle of the Ex-Offender Identity.” InsideOut Reentry will hold the event at their office (500 N Clinton St). The talk will begin at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Kana will also be visiting the Oakdale Community Choir while in Iowa City.

Kana spent 25 months convicted in the Texas prison system. He already held a Bachelor of Music from Southwestern University; upon his exit, he completed an advanced degree in biblical studies at Liberty Bible College and Seminary. His discussion will highlight the processes for both inward and outward healing in previously incarcerated individuals.

For many people, their first time leaving or entering correctional facilities won’t be their last. Prison doesn’t necessarily reconcile a convict and their wrongdoings with their community — it temporarily removes them. This is an implicit flaw in our justice system, said InsideOut’s director Mike Cervantes.

“We can hold people back by enabling them to fall back into prison,” Cervantes said. Programs such as InsideOut, therefore, focus on how to build healthy habits outside of prison through community gardens, substance abuse counseling and skill-building workshops like resume-writing.

InsideOut, a nonprofit comprised of ex-offenders and long-time prison volunteers, recently turned two years old. The program serves closely the Oakdale state correctional facility in Coralville, which houses nearly 1,000 prisoners (despite its official capacity of 585).

There are approximately 8,300 inmates currently locked up across Iowa’s nine correctional facilities, according to the latest numbers by the state’s Department of Corrections. Outside of bars, but still bound to the justice system, some 30,000 Iowans are serving time through probation, parole, work release and other community-based correctional programs.

These two figures, however, are often commingled. According to a 2016 review by the DOC, the state admitted 5,561 offenders in 2015; 3,304 of those individuals were returning offenders, who breached work release or probation requirements or had their parole revoked.

Employment is often considered the end-all, be-all solution for people returning from incarceration, Cervantes said, but long absences from work often discourage individuals upon returning to the public sphere — time away from jobs, as well as marks on a criminal record, significantly whittle down job prospects.

The ways in which this affects self-esteem can then bleed into other crucial needs, such as housing, education and health. As a result, people frequently revert to their past lives, Cervantes adds, particularly those with pre-existing addictions that were never properly rehabilitated in prison.

One can’t find a plug-and-chug solution for ex-offenders attempting to reintegrate into society. So InsideOut works an individual basis to “make a community outside prison rather than in,” Cervantes said.

Two days after Kana’s keynote — Saturday, May 20 — InsideOut will host its annual Summer Concert in celebration of the program and its participants. The festivities will run from 4 to 7 p.m. in the parking lot of InsideOut’s community offices. Eastern Iowa hallmark musicians Kevin “B.F.” Burt and Jim Kennedy & Friends will perform alongside others, with emcee Robert Crader. The concert is free for the public, with donations encouraged.

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