Searching for our Castle

Bodiam Castle in Sussex UK

A Man's Home is his Castle

Post by Susan Mwarabu

If we love where we live, even the smallest home or apartment can be our castle. Whether it’s that first apartment on our own or the house we’ve been saving for years to purchase, it’s the best place we  have ever lived. Within its walls we get to do as we wish and we would rather be in our own castle than in any other place in the world.

For an ex-offender, the search for the home they can call their castle can be one of the most painful and difficult parts of the reentry process; a constant reminder that the stigma of a past crime will continue to haunt them.

For an ex-offender, looking for a home is often a frustrating cycle of searching for apartments, viewing them, talking to prospective landlords or homeowners, only to be turned down repeatedly.

Most landlords and banks offering home loans look for a history of trouble-free renting, steady employment and income, which isn’t easy to develop after time spent in a correctional facility. Even if the renting and employment history is established, there is significant community prejudice against  sharing a neighborhood with those who are attempting to make a new start. Many landlord associations have even established standards for their members which prescribe that landlords avoid renting to ex-offenders.  In their efforts to avoid renting to the threatening thug, they will also deny homes to young moms and dads looking for a safe place to raise their kids.

For those recently released from a correctional facility, finding stable housing is one factor being considered by parole officers when determining whether the person can stay out of prison. As a result, the pressure to find housing can be enormous.

In an effort to reenter the community, an ex-offender often must establish a personal connection with a landlord, bringing up their criminal record before it comes out on a background check, so they will at least have a chance to make their case about why they can be trusted. An ex-offender has to then anxiously await  judgment on whether they are worthy of living in the home. More often than not, especially if it’s a safe, desirable neighborhood, the answer is “no.”  They then move on to the next place, and the next, each one a little less of the castle they were dreaming of, and a little closer to the fringes of the community.

Through Amicus’ Reconnect Program, an ex-offender can find someone who will help them with the daunting process. Reconnect staff are always on the lookout  for listings in safe places where people with a record have a chance to rent. Reconnect staff can help set up appointments and coach ex-offenders through the process of explaining away their background blemish.

Even with help, it’s usually not easy to find housing, much less one’s castle, but at least an ex-offender doesn’t have to endure a frustrating process in solitude.  When someone knows that they are not alone in the process, they are more likely to keep going.

It may be a long search and might involve accepting something less than perfect while re-establishing a rental  history, but in time ex-offenders can find the home that feels like their castle; their most proud possession.

When they do, it’s often the best thing that has happened to them since being incarcerated.