01 Dec 2022

Reentry Campus Program (RCP) Creates A Better Future

Josh Pereira


Alexis Morales had barely reached a double-digit age when he got involved in serious trouble that would eventually lead to frequent stays behind bars in Rhode Island’s prison system.

The son of a single mom, Morales grew up on Broad Street in Providence, where he was exposed to gang activity, guns, and drugs at a young age.

“With no father figure, no role model, I got involved with guns and narcotics at a young age because that’s what I knew growing up. That’s what I was surrounded by, that’s what I did to survive. We didn’t have that much support. My mother didn’t speak English. There were no resources or services for us at that time,” said Morales.

So, he turned to the streets for support.

“That was my community…that was my family,” he said.

The streets led to a path of destruction. By the time he was 13 Alexis was arrested for selling drugs and wound up in a juvenile detention center. It was the first of his many stays behind bars.

Two decades after he was first arrested for selling drugs and three years after leaving prison for what he insists will be the very last time, Morales is now 33 and on a path to a better future.

“When I go into the prison to speak to men and women about going back to school, I know that 90% of them will be released back into the community,” said James Monteiro, RCP founder and executive director. “An overwhelming majority are Black and Brown faces that will be returning to areas such as Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and Central Falls. I secretly sit back and think to myself, ‘What is the impact to the communities they’re coming home to if we provide them with the tools they need to be able to compete and find adequate paying employment for themselves and their families’ ….because we already know what the impact to these communities is if we do not,” he said.

“If these people are in jail, they don’t have access to what happens when they come out. They’re not in a position to compete,” said Monteiro. “Seventy-five percent of jobs require education. They often hear ‘I’m not going to hire you because you don’t have the qualifications.’ That’s what happens. You could get a dishwashing job, but it won’t pay enough to sustain yourself, let alone your family. So many compensate through the hustle … and then the hustle is more than the dishwashing job, and they find themselves back behind bars.”

In fact, Monteiro said, 50 percent of those who have been incarcerated go back to prison within three years after being released.

Monteiro, who himself spent 20 years in and out of the prison system, has worked hard to create a better pathway for the formerly incarcerated through the Reentry Campus Program. The program helps those inside prison, transitioning out, and after release with their education goals as well as with critical wrap-around services, continuous support, encouragement, and resources specific to their individual needs.

“Education changes your life. Puts you in a different position,” said Monteiro. “I want to help as many people as possible pursue their education and change their lives.”

Support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection is helping Monteiro reach his goal. POC funding has allowed Monteiro to continue to expand the Reentry Campus Program and create a better future for the formerly incarcerated. Currently 300 people have participated in the program.

“The impact that the funding from POC has had on our organization has been enormous,” Monteiro said. “It has pushed us over the edge of having to always be stressed about raising funds (and what those funds must be used for) and has enabled us to focus on our services.”

These services have helped Morales – and many others – turn their lives around.

Morales was finishing up his sentence at the ACI when he knew he had to make a change.

“There was a six-month period where it seemed like every week someone I knew was murdered or died of an overdose, including my cousin, who overdosed and died. He was like my brother. I was coming up on getting out and this can’t be my reality. This can’t be what I am coming out to. I needed to clean up

With Monteiro’s support and encouragement, Morales entered the Reentry Campus Program and has now forged a path to a secure future that he insists will keep him on the outside of the prison walls permanently.

He received a Case Management Certification from the Reentry Camus Program after finishing at Roger Williams University upon his release. Morales is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Rhode Island College and has set a long-term goal to earn a master’s degree in Public Health at Brown University.

He also manages to hold a full-time job at a harm reduction center, serves as the co-chairperson of the Rhode Island Task Force on Racial Equity and is also giving back by serving as a mentor in the Reentry Campus Program.

“Everything I am able to do is all because of the path I took to educate myself,” said Morales. “I would never have had these opportunities. Participating in the Reentry Camp Program allowed me to believe in myself and gave me the confidence to know that I could make this happen and change myself.”

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