A Rexburg-based advocacy group hosted a community meeting to help people who just left prison gain traction in the community on Wednesday, April 4, in Idaho Falls.

Andra Hansen, founder of VOICE Advocacy and a professor in the Communication Department, led the community conversation.

“It’s great to see this level of turnout and interest in this issue,” Hansen said as she looked out over the chairs. Many people came, they had to add two extra rows to the back.

Alexis Moser, courtesy photo

VOICE Advocacy worked with the Idaho Department of Correction, elected officials and people who have been in prison or who are still incarcerated to make this a relevant meeting.

Hansen said the meeting discussed how to create opportunities for people after they leave prison.

Four individuals who have been in prison and gone through the system came up to the podium to speak before the conversation began.

Stephanie Taylor-Silva, who now works for IDOC, only spoke for a minute. The audience applauded when she announced she has been off meth and cocaine for eight years. IDOC and her parole officers supported her in the journey.

More of Taylor-Silva’s story, as reported by Scroll, can be found here and here.

Krystal Kinghorn said she has been sober for four and a half years, and she is now going to school to be an evangelist. She went to prison after her life was totally devastated, but IDOC’s programs helped her change her life.

Her support systems are Jesus and hanging out with like-minded people.

The third speaker, Derek Emery, said he got clean because he was arrested, and he has been clean for five years. He has spent a total of 14 years in the prison system.

“I was tired of being let down, of being let down by myself,” Emery said.

Alexis Moser, courtesy photo

He said he tried out Free2Succeed, IDOC’s community mentoring program. He said IDOC gave him a voice.

“Today, I’m a person when I walk out my front door, I can say, ‘This is my community. I’m part of a community,’” Emery said.

The last speaker, Sabrina Triplett, said she had lost her children, home and husband by the time she was arrested because of her choices, but now she has been clean for over a year and has her children back.

When she was released, she told her parole officers she wanted to “hit the ground running.” She wanted them to let her prove she could get clean.

Now, her young son shows her off to his school class because she went through training to become a recovery mentor.

After the speeches, Henry Atencio, director of IDOC, and Jeff Kirkman, former director of the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center, presented awards to Kinghorn and Emery for going above and beyond in their volunteer work.

Alexis Moser, courtesy photo

The community conversation was titled “Bridging the Gap: A Community Conversation on Re-entry and Recidivism.”

The table topics were overcoming obstacles (transportation and housing), re-establishing relationships (family and friends), moving forward (employment and self-improvement) and reaching out (mentors and parole officers).

To learn more about VOICE Advocacy, visit their Facebook page, VOICE Advocacy.