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Every month, the Montana Innocence Project highlights the important work of like-minded organizations. This month, we are highlighting Welcome Back. MTIP and Welcome Back both advocate for justice-involved people. MTIP addresses wrongful and unjust incarceration, while Welcome Back helps returning citizens face the barriers of re-entry. Benny Lacayo, Welcome Back’s Community Organizer, answered the questions below.

What is your organization’s mission?

Welcome Back strives to break down barriers to safe housing, meaningful employment, social support, and community attitudes towards people who have been impacted by incarceration.

How does your organization achieve its mission?

We build power among individuals and families impacted by incarceration who want to create the kind of community where our returning citizens are given all the tools and support they need to learn, grow, and move on.

We engage with local government and private organizations in community-wide awareness events and strategies in order to break down the stigmas and discrimination associated with incarceration.

We connect with inmates through monthly visits to Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, MT. Our volunteers build relationships with inmates prior to their release back to the Missoula area.

We support. We provide mentoring, resources, and direct support for men and women who face barriers to education, housing, and employment due to their criminal records.

Is there anything specific that your organization is working on right now that you would like to highlight?

Yes, we’re in the process of building a Core team of individuals who want to face some of the issues returning citizens have.

Does your organization have any specific achievements that you would like to highlight?

Were still in the developmental stages of our power building, but we have helped many returning citizens with peer mentorship, and support, and just being there for those that get out of incarceration and/or treatment. And letting them know we’re here for them!

How can people support your work?

By becoming mentors, core team leaders, giving monetary support, and just showing up and seeing what we’re about!

Is there anything that you would like to add?

I’m a true believer in the power of words. Your words can bring life or death to those around you. Here at Welcome Back, we choose to bring life and hope where there is no hope. We understand that people aren’t perfect and make bad choices and that our negative choices don’t define who we are as a person. But understand that those choices have severe consequences and affect others in a negative way, and we are here to lend a helping hand to those who have made such choices. Don’t get me wrong, we do believe people need to be accountable for their choices. But we as a people need to move away from a system that wants to dehumanize, penalize, and crush those who have hurt others to a lifestyle of learning how to forgive those that hurt others and bring true healing to all who have been hurt by those actions. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

You can learn more about Welcome Back at www.welcomebackmissoula.org and on Facebook @welcomeback2missoula. You can contact them at Welcomeback2missoula@gmail.com or (406) 426-9659