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INDIANAPOLIS — For people who have served their debt to society and are preparing to leave prison, life on the outside brings extra challenges these days, when you throw in the COVID-19 pandemic.
A fairly-new program at the Indiana Department of Correction is focused on the health of those experiencing their newly-found freedom.
Take Charles Miller.
"I went from being a piece of crap to humbling myself before God," he says.
If you spend a few minutes talking to him, you'll quickly learn he wants to make better choices for a better life for himself, now that he's out of prison.
He says life outside prison has its own set of challenges.
"It's hard to talk to people, to show that you ain't that same person that you was years ago," Miller said.
Miller was convicted in the mid 1990's for burglaries and other serious, aggressive crimes.
The punishment: 26 years in state prison.
He has been out since March and says something changes inside of you during your time behind bars, whether that amounts to 30 days or 30 years. Leaving prison, he says, can be lonely.
"And you can't do it without people man," he said. "And that was my biggest worry, I didn't want to trust nobody."
Now, bit by bit, Miller is gaining the confidence and help to be successful on the outside, thanks to a new way of thinking at the Indiana Department of Correction, focusing on what administrators call Transitional Health Care.
Christine Daniel is the director of transitional health for the IDOC.
"Don't wait for them to get out and fail," Daniel said. "Address the issues that we know inside, transition them out to home. Hopefully to never come back to us."
She says this new approach helps fill the gaps in health care services for people leaving the prison system, such as insurance coverage, which could affect a person's ability to get treatment.
Before his release, Miller was having painful issues with his knees.
A transitional healthcare liaison helped Miller to secure health insurance and, ultimately, schedule a procedure for his leg.
His other knee is next.
Then, he's on a pathway to securing a job.
The liaison also helped Miller obtain an I.D. card and register for social security and temporary housing.
The goal of Transitional Health is to set up exiting inmates for success, and remove barriers.
Though controversial, the program even provides exiting inmates with naloxone or Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
The IDOC's Transitional Health program has nearly a dozen community partners, helping meet the health needs of people leaving prison, including Eskenazi Health, Overdose Lifeline, and the Jane Pauley Clinic.
The Transitional Health Care approach puts heavy emphasis on an exiting inmate's mental and physical wellbeing, with a goal of reducing the recidivism rate.
Since the program is so relatively new, it's too early to compile quantitative numbers to support whether it's working or not.
Christine Daniel explains the reason why this new program is beneficial for people inside and out of the prison system, around the state.
"People releasing from the department are going back to all of our communities," Daniel said. "They have served their sentence. They have worked hard to maybe get into recovery or to address trauma from their past or to learn a new job skill. And if they're going to return to my neighborhood and your neighborhood, I think we all would want them to be prepared and healthy to come back as a productive citizen."
For more information on the program, click here.