After being introduced to the Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO) team, I visited GOSONYC headquarters in East Harlem to find out more. Over the past ten years, GOSO has shown that early intervention works, and has established itself as one of the most effective re-entry programmes for 16 to 24 year-old men at Rikers Island, New York City’s jail complex.
Harmony Richman, Employment Development Manager, gave me a thorough explanation of GOSO’s remit and history before introducing me to the energetic team headed by 82 year old CEO Mark Goldberg. Goldberg, a former CEO of a cosmetic giant, set up GOSO after having his attention drawn to the plights of millions of Americans who come into contact with the prison system.
GOSO works with young men aged 16 – 24. Whether a young man has done time or is at risk of coming into contact with correctional facilities by virtue of his activities, ethnic background, or neighbourhood, GOSO connects with them and optimises their opportunities, paving a way to employment. The GOSO team is further made up of licenced clinical social workers and 12 staff and interns.
Harmony explained a whole raft of amazing programmes and strategies the organisation uses to promote employment and engagement among their clients who have been affected by the ‘justice’ system here, which has little by way of justice.
Since inception, GOSO has worked with over 8,000 young men, is currently working with 2000 per year, and expanding rapidly. A person who has been in jail in the US faces a tremendous amount of stigma and barriers to education and employment, severely limiting their options and contributing to the fact that 75% are re-arrested within 5 years.
GOSO has an incredibly impressive recidivism rate of just 12 – 15%, compared to the 67% national average for their age group. GOSO drastically improves life chances among the young men they work with. These impressively tangible outcomes mean that New York State and New York City fund 50% of GOSO’s costs; a huge commitment that indicates the effectiveness and reach of GOSO.
74% of interns are hired. I met several of these young men and was told that the feedback from employers is overwhelmingly positive; these guys have something to prove, and work hard. Harmony shared a story of a man who began dishwashing in Dos Toros (a taco chain), and due to his diligence, progressed to Branch Manager. Dos Tacos went on to hire 30 more young men from GOSO and this action spread to other companies, providing a lifeline for young men who have grown up in tough neighbourhoods with few opportunities.
Where do the arts come in?
The GOSO team includes a theatre group which engages men in creative writing, hip hop and spoken word, and the Stella Adler theatre company, which goes into jails and prisons and into solitary confinement units. I have been aghast to learn that many people, teens included, are subject to solitary confinement as a ‘correction.’ There is abundant evidence – as if we need it – that such practices are hugely detrimental to mental health and can leave lasting traumatic psychological scars. There have been campaigns to end solitary confinement for young people, and this is now outlawed.
The arts programme results in showcases and community shows, where celebrity panels offer feedback, and the local communities come and see their sons, brothers and friends perform. These activities give these young men, who face discrimination and a lack of safety in their own communities, a voice.
What does a GOSO programme look like? Three E’s: Employment, Education, and Emotional Wellbeing.
At GOSO the philosophy is holistic, and there is a belief in and commitment to all three aspects of getting out and staying out: employment, education, and emotional wellbeing. GOSO participants can access education, therapy, housing support, healthcare – whatever they need.
Each man is inducted on a two-week ‘job readiness curriculum,’ which includes teaching on resume writing, the provision of smart clothes, and culminating in a mock interview with Mark Goldberg, CEO. Harmony and her team require these men to complete inductions, wherein men must demonstrate active participation and commitment, so that the GOSO staff are confident they can vet and vouch for them in the employment arena. The men are held accountable, because they are respected. The wages are subsidised. This attracts employers and GOSO pay the first 240 hours for each.
To get from NYC to San Francisco, I took the 4 day Amtrak rail as a strategic decision to allow my thoughts to settle and keep me ‘in one place’ (ironically, via the entire breadth of the USA) and allow me to read and write while being taken care of! The Amtrak is among the single best experiences I have ever had and I highly recommend it; the epic landscapes, snaking up into the Rockies, and sheer adventure of crossing the states by train, slowly, on old freight liner tracks is both thrilling and relaxing. There I reviewed my notebooks and recorded my Fellowship in its entirety into a spreadsheet, and realised it had taken me to 40 organisations and encounters with more than 300 people. The next post will provide the itineraries in Finland and the US, and links to posts along the way.
During the first leg to Chicago, I got talking to a train attendant who found it “amazing” to hear about GOSO NYC, because he had never heard of them, but he works for an organisation named GOSO Chicago: Go Serve Others. The same acronym, and the same aim of reducing recidivism! Their chosen method is through urban gardening.