Making a Life After Incarceration Shouldn’t Be Impossible

In 2012, I founded an organization called Mission: Launch with my mom. Based out of Baltimore, Mission:Launch helps formerly incarcerated individuals become self-sufficient faster. For us, this means helping individuals earn a more livable wage by obtaining an occupational license through our program, LaunchPad.

The biggest thing my mom and I have learned since starting Mission:Launch is the importance of having a strong support system. Of all the people we’ve interacted with at the organization, the people who are most successful are always the ones who have strong family or community support. During reentry, having that safety net of people who are willing to catch you if and when you fall is crucial. And so, at Mission:Launch, we prioritize community, family, and peer-support networks.

In practice, that means getting to know every person we engage with and working to  understand all the support they will need on their journey. This is why LaunchPad begins with a robust intake to better understand what type of holistic support a person will need. We then refer them to partner service organizations so that we can help them stay focused on obtaining their occupational license. As a society, we make it extremely hard for people to get back on their feet after incarceration. Without the right support it can be close to impossible.

My mom and I know this because we’ve lived it.

In 2003, after completing my freshman year of college, I came home for summer break to find that my mom was dealing with serious legal problems. She was the co-founder of a company that was investigated for securities fraud. She would eventually receive an 87-month sentence that was reduced by 17 months on appeal. Her imprisonment affected every aspect of my life as a young adult. When we think of the impact of children, we often put a cap on the age of a child. However, as a recent college graduate, I still needed and wanted the influence of my mom.

Several times a month, I would travel over 5 hours to see my mom. These visits would enable us to think long and hard about how we wanted to find meaning from this experience as a family. Indeed it was this time with my mom that would allow us to come up with the idea for Mission:Launch. After a while, we were beginning to understand the barriers that she and others might encounter post-incarceration — barriers that became very real to us after my mom was released. Every day we learned something new about how individuals continue to be held back even after they have served their sentences and, in some instances, long after they are back on their feet.

With each passing year, we kept realizing that the collateral consequences of having a record all stem from one major barrier: the criminal background check process. This process is often required to get a job, pursue higher education, and even access an apartment. We have even come to understand how difficult it is to navigate the background check when building teams for ourselves. At Mission: Launch, we are dedicated to hiring and recommending formerly incarcerated people for job opportunities, but we also understand that even the most well-meaning employers, like us, often have to rely on criminal background data to ensure the safety of their employees and clients. This data and the background check can be confusing and not factually accurate.

That’s why we’ve developed our own alternative background check system. After having a tough time ourselves, we realized that decision makers need a tool that honestly informs you of a person’s criminal record but also shows you their potential. Our alternative background check, a web and mobile responsive platform called R3 Score, includes information like whether or not the person has positively taken steps to reconnect to society, such as pursuing an education, gaining stable housing, or reestablishing family bonds. These are only some of the indicators we measure when trying to assess an individual's riskiness and readiness.

People don’t go to prison. Families do.

Beyond increased earning through an occupational license, we are strong advocates for the expanded use of tech in reentry innovations as well as digital inclusion. I grew up with a mom that insisted I have a Palm Pilot, even though I was in middle school, because she knew that tech savviness was critical to advancing in society. So when my mom went to prison around the same time that the iPhone came out, she instinctively knew that she was missing a tech boom.

For her coming home and plugging back in was critical because in such a tech-dependent society, this isn’t a trivial matter. Without the tools to navigate new technologies, formerly incarcerated people cannot be truly self-sufficient. So while we don’t provide programming ourselves, we make sure to promote and strategically partner with other organizations that make tech education as well as access to hardware, software, and high speed internet more available.

At Mission: Launch, my mom and I bring our experiences with the criminal justice system into the work we do every day. We believe that there is no better “expert” on criminal justice reform than the people who have actually been impacted by the system. No one knows more about the challenges of reentry than the families of the formerly incarcerated. After all, people don’t go to prison. Families do.

This article is part of a series on mass incarceration. Click here to see more. 

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Dr. Timothy Leary

Life after incarceration is all the more reason to stay out of jail to begin with isn't it?

Dr. Anonymous

I was in a support group for people with mental illness and 100 percent of the group had an arrest history. Personally, I was thrown in jail because of a psychotic episode where the cops wanted to get credit for my arrest. I'm sure race plays a role, but what about the role of mental health? Where are the stats on that? Where is the outrage???

Richard Alpert

Keep that attitude and enjoy watching society incarcerate its way to third world status. How many things have you done that could have resulted in a criminal record if you'd been caught? Redemption needs to be possible.


Did you think that comment was helpful?


Maybe but in reality it can happen to anyone. And the problem is so disabling at a personal and societal level that it demands and deserves a compassionate and effective solution. Not just judgment and reproach.


Is it fair that my husband made one mistake 12 years ago and now has a felony to his name and I was habitual law breaker for over 10 years that would have gotten me numerous felonies but I never got caught and now I'm a social worker without a record?

Elizabeth Sheppard

Have a person in for several years; trying to get SOUTH CAROLINA to go 65% instead of 85% WHAT HELP MIGHT YOU GIVE OR ADVICE!! there IS aBill set forth but never gets heard has certain behavior and educational criteria. Again any suggestions or help!!!!!

Striving Southe...

I agree that something had to be done to help the formally incarcerated I also agree that something needs to be done about mental health system and its role in contributing to people being introduced to the criminal justice system. I know when I got out from being in the criminal justice system my biggest obstacle was the background process it's severely hindered from getting staple employment and stable housing. Thankfully I have a very supportive family and big support network that I was able to lean on in order to assist me. And ask to dr. Timothy Leary's comment sometimes you don't always control the ability to be placed in the criminal justice system

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