Jane Mitchell grew up with six siblings, all redheads. As the second oldest child in the lineup, she admits she contributed to her fair share of sibling bullying and Mariah, her sister born a year and half after her, was Jane’s primary target. It was childhood stuff: incessant name calling and poking fun–she called her sister “Pig” for almost a year–but years later, when Jane entered college and she and Mariah were the best of friends, she realized how cruel she had been. Jane went to her sister and asked her to forgive her for all of those years of torment.
“I’ve already forgiven you,” Mariah said. “I forgave you every single day all along the way.”
It was a humbling moment.
Fast-forward to post-college, when Jane was teaching in the county jail. One of her students, Anthony, was in on a theft charge and revealed through a writing assignment that his mother never called him by his name. She called him “the devil’s spawn.” Day in and day out. Later, Anthony landed in jail where a corrections officer would call him, simply, “Thief.” These labels were more than demoralizing. They were debilitating.
Jane shares these contrasting stories live from the stage of SOCAP15, to share her point: We should all be given permission to reset, or as she puts it, “[Give] each other the chance to start anew, to be fresh, to change, to grow.”
The Need to Reset
“The criminal justice system is an arena that typically does not allow for much resetting. What happens when you’re in the justice system is you’re pretty much in it for life. You get a mark on your record and then that mark is going to stay with you for the rest of your days. We know it makes it harder with that record to get a job, to find housing, to get credit, all sorts of things,” says Jane.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t just hurt you, but it affects generations after you. In our country, we’ve developed a system that traps entire generations in a cycle of going back and forth from prison to poverty. We now have a community where young people are growing up actually expecting to spend time – as a rite of passage – in prison. It’s especially affecting low-income communities of color. We’ve got one in three black men in this country who will spend time behind bars. We are not creating those spaces in which we can reset,” she says.
So Jane set out to do that. She is the cofounder of The Reset Foundation, a residential campus for young adults, teaching the best practices for academics, careers, and social emotional support, to keep them out of prison.
“Our work is very relevant, it’s culturally sensitive, and the curriculum is interdisciplinary and very hands-on, very project based. When it comes to careers, if we’re interested in actually dismantling an intergenerational cycle, we can’t just help young adults get jobs, we need to prepare them for careers, and that’s what we do,” she said.
“Recidivism rates haven’t budged in the past 40 years,” she points out. “We still, to this day, have one-fourth of the world’s prisoners here in America.”
At the Reset Foundation, Jane and her team are trying to do something dramatically different, to create a real opportunity for young adults in the system to be able to actually “reset.”
Resetting, Jane admits, is a choice.
“At Reset we firmly believe that every human has the choice and ability and power to actually reset and change themselves.”
To find out more, and to hear the results of Reset’s pilot program in San Francisco with a group of 10 young men, watch Jane’s SOCAPtv talk, filmed live on stage from SOCAP15.