As detainees released, Chicago organization offering lifeline, teaching skills

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — The confined quarters in prisons and jails make it difficult to slow the spread of COVID-19 among the staff and the inmates.

As of 5 p.m. on Thursday 174 detainees in custody at Cook County Jail are currently positive for COVID-19. 20 of those are being treated at local hospitals. 3 detainees who tested positive for have died.

WGN Investigates spoke to Charles Woodhouse who said getting out of jail couldn’t come soon enough.

Woodhouse said he watched as the man in the cell next to him suffered from COVID-19.

 “A guy that I know, he’s around my age, he got the disease and I just watched it beat him,” he said.

The man survived but it shook Woodhouse.

Upon his release, Woodhouse received a lifeline from the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, IMAN, which is based on the South Side of Chicago in Englewood. The organization has been operating for two decades providing job skills, health care and housing to individuals released from jail.

Rami Nashashibi is the Executive Director of IMAN.  He said the need is greater than ever as more men and women are released from prison during the COVID crisis.

“None of us should fool ourselves. We are already looking at 30 percent to 40 percent unemployment in neighborhoods that have been criminally disinvested in,” he said. “And if we’re looking at a hot summer with unemployment rates that may go through the roof, we’re looking at a lot of despair and a lot of issues of behavior health and a lack of housing. We need to catch those individuals now before they get caught up in the inevitable cycle of violence. The inevitable cycle of despair.”

Nashashibi said IMAN has developed a reentry program that is a holistic approach with three key elements; stable housing, employment and health care.

On any given day, IMAN has a waitlist exceeding 100 people.

Nashashibi said if there is a silver lining in this crisis is it’s brought communities together.

“I could never be in some ways be more inspired by the type of response we’re already beginning to see,” he said.  “I just pray and hope that we can sustain and weather the storm.”

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