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Documentary looks at the transition from prison to community

For more information, contact Deb Witkus from Greater Falls Connections at 802-463-9927, ext. 212, or Michael Malick from Greater Falls Community Justice Center 802-463-9927.

BELLOWS FALLS—Greater Falls Community Justice Center and Greater Falls Connections have teamed up to put on a showing of the latest Bess O’Brien documentary, Coming Home.

The event will take place on Thursday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m., at the Rockingham Free Public Library. The showing is free and open to the public.

Coming Home is a documentary film that looks at five people returning back to their Vermont communities from prison. The film focuses on the innovative Circle of Support and Accountability program that helps people reintegrate back into their daily lives.

The COSA program is run through Vermont’s Community Justice Centers and is part of the restorative justice model. The film first premiered in the fall of 2018, and this showing is part of a Vermont tour.

Mike Malick of the Greater Falls Community Justice Center has been the lead facilitator for COSA groups in our area.

“We work with people who were formerly incarcerated, because they are here in our community,” Malick said in a news release. “We are all worthy of attention, and we all have needs.”

“Vermont uses this program more than any other state in the country. Part of the population thinks that it is weak to treat our previously incarcerated clients fairly. But this work is rewarding.

“We do this work, because after people have been incarcerated, they often don’t have anything. The clients are in need and are often starting out with nothing when they return to the community.”

COSAs are made up of community volunteers who meet once a week with offenders returning back to their towns and cities. The idea of the COSA model is to “walk with a core member as he or she transitions from prison to community.”

Folks coming out of prison meet once a week for a year with their volunteer group, enabling them to create strong bonds of support, friendship, and accountability as they work to become healthy members of society.

Prisoners who are placed in COSAs often include sex offenders, those convicted of drug-related crimes, and felons. The rate of recidivism drops when folks are involved with a COSA team.

Deb Witkus, Outreach Coordinator with Greater Falls Connections, said in a news release that “COSAs help families to heal and can help to break the generational cycle of addiction. Our partnership with the Greater Falls Community Justice Center is essential to the work we do to create the change we all want to see."

Coming Home is a film that takes an intimate and powerful look at this COSA process, the struggles and challenges of folks coming out of prison and the successes of the restorative justice model.

Following the showing, Bess O’Brien and Susie Belleci, director of the Greater Falls Restorative Justice Center, will lead a discussion on the impact of COSA and how the model is being utilized in the Greater Falls area.

O’Brien is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and theater producer. According to her website, she co-founded Kingdom County Productions with her husband Jay Craven in 1991.

She made the documentary The Hungry Heart, about the prescription drug crisis in Vermont and the work of Dr. Fred Holmes. The film has been widely used to start community discussions on the topic of opiate addiction across the state.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #501 (Wednesday, March 13, 2019).

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