After being released from prison, many former detainees have no place to return to or a family that will accept them, and they can hardly find a job. In consequence, according to psychologist Ina Vutcariov from the Positive Initiative Association, which deals with the social reintegration of former detainees, the level of recidivism reaches 55%, i.e. six out of 10 return to prison.
Vladimir Gaiț, who encountered similar problems after serving his sentence, decided to found a company in order to offer the chance for a better life in Moldova to people like him – former detainees and former drug addicts.
Vladimir created the company which specializes in the production of glass and metal structures 14 years ago and today it has about 60 employees, 80% of them are people who have had problems with the law and/or problems related to drug addiction or alcohol. Employees admit that they got a second chance by having received the training, and later by getting employment here, as other attempts of finding a job only resulted in empty promises.
Fear of the unknown
Vladimir mentions that he ended up in prison because of the lifestyle he led in his youth. He received sentences five times; the last term was four years. At the same time, he struggled with drug addiction – “In the 90s, it was probably fashionable and I too decided to try. Of course, I regretted it later.”
He confesses that once he got behind bars, his life did not change much. But after his release in 2002, he suddenly felt gripped by fear of not knowing what to do next.
“I was aware that I did not want to return to the previous lifestyle and I got out of prison with this thought in mind, but I did not know how to start another life. I had no profession or training and, therefore, I feared of the unknown,” he claims.
He was helped by a friend who hired him to cut glass and to do other ancillary work. He did not use drugs for a while, but as soon as he started making money, he relapsed into the old habit. Realizing that he had a problem, he went to his employer and told him he wanted to quit.
His employer looked for a rehabilitation center and proposed to go there. After the rehabilitation, Vladimir says he began to look at his own life with different eyes. He got back to work, but his friend kept telling him that he should start his own business because he has potential.
So, in 2007, without understanding exactly how everything would actually work, Vladimir founded a company specializing in small-scale sales. Soon thereafter, the idea arose of providing support to people experiencing similar difficulties after release and rehabilitation.
“It’s very simple – only a person who has gone through the same problems can understand these people. It is a matter of understanding and empathy,” he adds.
In his opinion, Moldova should have a whole range of services and a consolidated team should work with former detainees.
“No one who gets out of prison wants to get back there. But people fall into the same reality where they don’t have a home, where no one explains anything, no one helps to move on and things get complicated. If there were these quality services, there would be much fewer cases of recidivism,” says Vladimir.
At the same time, Gaiț says that the state should think more about the people who hire former detainees and offer them some benefits or bonuses because currently, private businesses seem to carry the whole burden.
“Not everyone is ready to help, or maybe they are ready to help, but not to pay for it, so to speak. In our company, the attitude is different: we pay for the training of employees. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready or able to do so, but there is a desire and here, I think, the state should act,” he emphasizes.
Psychologist Ina Vutcariov points out that the detainees should be prepared for release from the first day of sentence execution. Thus, in addition to the help related to accepting the idea that they are in prison, everything must be oriented towards preparing these people for life among free people.
“I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
Pavel Nichitin is from Chișinău; he is 41 years old and has had several convictions so far – he ended up in prison for short periods, although he did not receive detention, and was addicted to drugs for more than 20 years. He failed to overcome addiction on his own, even though he tried several times.
“I turned to the church and God set me free, gave me freedom from drugs. I mean, the total freedom – it’s not as if I were to endure or strive to do something – I simply don’t want to live like that anymore,” says the man.
Pavel didn’t learn to do any job in his youth and says that if he had been an employer, he would not have known what to do with himself. “It was almost impossible to make myself useful. Here, at Vladimir’s company, they accepted me, they found me a place, they found what I can do good, how I can develop and grow, and I am grateful for that,” he adds.
Otherwise, Pavel claims he would still have been looking for a job, only it would have been much more difficult to find one.
He is currently in charge of two warehouses, logistics, purchasing, and workshop activity, and says he has ambitious plans for the future – to develop, to help, and be good to others.
“I learned everything from scratch.”
His 41-year-old wife, Natalia Nichitin, has her own history of detention and addiction. She spent 18 years and three months behind bars because of the “poor choices” she made in life and had drug problems even before she got to prison.
“It’s really easy to end up like that if you have no purpose, if you don’t see any perspective,” she says.
She rejected the penitentiary psychologist for some time and could not join any therapy group. Later, she decided to join the Positive Initiative group.
“There were my people, with a mentality like mine, with problems like mine and I was accepted there, as I was accepted here at work, where most of the people had a similar past with mine, and that makes things easier because you don’t feel that you are out of place or different from the others,” confesses Natalia.
She says that after her release she encountered various difficulties, however, the hardest of all was to start all over again and find a job. When potential employers found out about the conviction, they said they would call later; in fact, the discussion ended there.
When she came to the National Probation Inspectorate, they replied that they would call her; likewise, they would give her a list of phone numbers to call; however, there they usually told her that if she did not have a profession, the chances are small. “I mean, there wasn’t much effort from their part to provide help,” she concludes.
If it weren’t for Vladimir’s company, Natalia says, she probably would have continued to look for work for a long time or, maybe, learn to do something.
“You still need a lot of resources to study nowadays, and here I received free training and a job. I passed the internship and training for the position of metal manager. They taught me from scratch, I didn’t even know the computer since I was behind bars for so long. And today I am happy and grateful for the fact that here I acquired both knowledge and a profession,” says the woman.
Natalia also has big plans for the future and she wants to be useful to the people around her. It is a blessing for her that she married a man who went through similar problems; they now have a family, a job and can help other people start over.
“We all have a certain degree of responsibility in this story.”
In this context, Ina Vutcariov explains: the very experience of the penitentiary is traumatic. Being in a limited space, without freedom of movement and action, suppresses one’s personality and leaves deep traces.
“The list of problems is very long. First of all, after only a year of deprivation, the person goes out into a world that changed a lot, and he/she will have to adapt. Next, almost every second detainee faces the problem with housing. The third problem – most of them do not have any qualification, they have not worked before, and they do not know how to do it and where to start. Last but not least, they do not know how to spend their free time – especially if it is about people struggling with drug or alcohol addictions. Because of this, they return to groups where there are people like them, respectively the path to recidivism is shortened. Of course, each case is individual, but in general, these are the problems,” Vutcariov says.
On the other side, Andrei Iavorschi, director of the National Probation Inspectorate, claims that the preparation for release starts in detention, six months before one’s release. The specialists there are oriented towards providing informational support and educating some basic skills.
“I do not think there are gaps in the National legislation, it is necessary and sufficient; the problem is in the available tools for re-socialization. In order to succeed, we need investments, as we need investments in education, for example, to ensure a clear path,” points out Iarovschi.
However, the psychologist Ina Vutcariov believes that both the penitentiary and the probation system are not flexible enough to take on some experiences from abroad and do things differently.
“One thing is clear, we all need to work more actively on this because detainees are part of society and we all share a certain degree of responsibility in this. We must each understand what we have to do to lower the percentage of recidivism,” she emphasizes.
The director of the National Probation Inspectorate points out that the employment of former detainees remains a problem, as the private sector is not open enough in this regard.
“Companies founded by former detainees or companies that are open to hiring former detainees are largely concentrated in Chișinău. Because similar practice is not extended to the rest of the municipalities and other districts, we are unable to achieve a unitary practice. The vast majority of those in the private system find it harder to agree to hire former detainees,” Iarovschi claims.
According to the National Administration of Penitentiaries, in October 2020, more than 2,000 people were released from 18 prisons in Moldova.
Integration into society remains a complex process for former detainees because, in part, very few employers are willing to offer them a job. Companies, such as the one created by Vladimir and the projects developed by him, represent an extra chance for these people to fix their mistakes and have a better life.