My life is now totally different. If you were to ask me about that guy coming out of jail 18 months ago, if I could believe that my life would be where it is today, I would have said that wasn’t possible. I wake up and I feel hopeful. I’ve got a job, a bank account, an insured car. I’m sitting here in my own rocking chair as I talk to you. I have peace today. That’s huge for me.” - Guilford House Client Sydney Smith Jr. 

Returning citizens face tough obstacles when exiting correctional centers. They have to find a steady job - which often requires them to learn new skills - as they are dealing with difficult health issues. Before they can tackle those challenges, however, they need a stable place to live. Unfortunately, returning citizens are almost 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than the general public.

Guilford House is a transitional home for formerly incarcerated men operated in partnership by Bridges to Housing Stability and the Howard County Department of Corrections (DOC). The home is a stable, supportive environment for its residents, who can stay for up to one year as long as they find employment and obey house rules that are overseen by a live-in house manager employed by DOC. Residents pay half of their work earnings into escrow, allowing them to build the nest egg they need to move into permanent housing.

 

Accomplishments

Since launching in February 2019, Guilford House has had a variety of successes:

Program Participation

  • 21 individuals have resided in the Guilford House since its launch.
  • Residents saved a combined total of over $60,000 to assist with their move to permanent housing.
  • 5 residents made significant payments to overdue or active child support obligations.
  • 8 residents restored their suspended/expired driver's licenses.
  • 8 residents purchased vehicles before exiting the program (while still having enough savings to finance their transition to permanent housing).
  • 6 participants graduated from the Getting Ahead program.

Mental Health

  • Over half of the participants utilized mental health counseling, 12 Step, and outpatient addiction counseling during their time in the program.
  • 4 residents utilized a Medication-Assisted Treatment program, with regular clinic attendance.
  • 2 residents completed Intensive Outpatient counseling programs.
  • About 67% of participants passed passed all drug/alcohol tests administered (average 1 test every month of stay).

Successful Transitions

  • 10 participants transitioned into long-term stable housing.
  • 3 participants transitioned into recovery housing.
  • 4 participants transitioned into a family member's home.
  • 14 participants left with employment; 13 earned more wages than when they entered the program (by pay raise, position change, or new employment).
  • Approximately 50% of the exited participants have maintained communication and status updates with reentry staff.

No Negative Community Impact

  • There have been no police-related incidents at the Guilford House.
  • Program participants have not been arrested or charged with crimes. (1 participants was arrested months after he exited the program).
  • Currently it has been 10 months since any negative exit.

 

Client Successes:

Bobby Taylor

When Bobby Taylor was released from his latest 3-year sentence in a North Carolina prison caused by his addictions, his sister in Maryland urged him to come north and try changing his life. At 50, having served nine separate sentences, Taylor said he knew she was right, though he still wasn’t quite ready himself. He came to stay with her in Maryland, but it took him a few months to see the light. Aided by his treatment program, “I started realizing who I was as a person,” he said. He also knew he had hurt many people along the way. 

Now he feels he’s turned things around, after help from drug treatment programs and his stay at the Guilford House, a transitional home owned by Bridges to Housing Stability that helps returning citizens transition to independent living. Taylor moved into the home in August 2022. He got a job at a local supermarket where he met his fiancée (an October wedding is planned), saved enough money for a car, and feels that after nearly two years of effort, he has reached a point of stability. He has also received training as an addiction counselor, which Taylor views as a potential new career he’d like to pursue.  

Scott Sheldon, who supervises the Guilford House that can house up to four returning citizens, said Taylor was “very helpful” during his time in the house. Taylor, Sheldon noted, had been promoted at his supermarket job and took direction and guidance well. “I want to be of service to people coming off addiction,” Taylor said. His renewed religious faith has also been a key to his recovery, he said. “My sister seen me going back down that road,” Taylor said of his first aimless months in Maryland. She asked if he’d go to a treatment program if she found one for him, and he did. “I had an encounter with God,” he said. “I allowed God to take control of my life. You can’t change because other people want you to. You have to do it for yourself,” he explained. 

Along the way, Bridges program manager Kristin Miller said the program helped him get to work by supplying bus passes, a replacement bike when Taylor’s was damaged, work shoes, and food assistance at Thanksgiving. He also got help with budgeting, obtaining a driver’s license, finding health insurance, and receiving badly needed dental treatment. “Everything I have now, I owe it to them,” he said about the range of Bridges services that have helped him. “He seemed like he was on top of things,” Miller recalled about Taylor, and he was eager to take leadership opportunities, too. “He has shown that he wants to be a productive member of society.” 

Angela, his fiancée, said that though her life has been very different from Taylor’s, she is thankful that “I met the man that I love.” That was only possible, she said, because “he loves himself” now. She added, “At 50-plus, when you find someone you love and who loves you, that’s a very special thing.” The couple moved together at the end of March into their own home. 

 

Sydney Smith Jr.

At age 42, Sydney Smith Jr. had spent much of his adult life in trouble. He was a repeat offender who had bounced in and out of prison numerous times. When he wasn’t incarcerated, he was unable to sustain himself independently.   

“I never made it to my third month of rent in any place I ever lived,” he says, explaining that he was often homeless or forced to stay with friends.   

Awaiting his release from prison in 2019, he worried that the cycle was beginning all over again. “I knew that after my release, I didn’t want to keep breaking the law. I didn’t want to start getting high. I didn’t want to harm anybody. But at the same time, I knew that I didn’t have any real-life skills that would help me make it. That was a huge fear. I couldn’t see how I was going to succeed.”   

Sydney was fortunate. Upon his release from prison, he was accepted into a local recovery house, where he stayed for six months and worked on his recovery from addiction. “At first I was totally afraid of the process,” he says. “But I found that I could commit, for the first time in my life, to allowing people to help me and guide me. Sobriety was one part of it. I knew that in order to have a chance, I couldn’t use drugs or alcohol. But it was also very important to get constant reassurance from people who told me that it was going to be okay.”  

When his time at the recovery house reached an end, he was accepted into the Guilford House. Sydney spent nearly one year at the Guilford House. During that time, he received promotions at work, became a Certified Recovery Coach, and began work on his certification as a Peer Recovery Specialist.   

“Guilford House was a great place for me,” Sydney says“It allowed me to save up first and last month’s rent. I was also able to buy a car, which expanded my work options even further. At the same time, I was learning how to manage money responsibly for the first time in my life. As an ex-offender, that stability helped to give me a new perspective. It was so important to be around people who were trying to accomplish the same things and find a new way to live life.”    

Sydney looks back on his journey in quiet amazement. “My life is now totally different. If you were to ask me about that guy coming out of jail 18 months ago, if I could believe that my life would be where it is today, I would have said that wasn’t possible. I wake up and I feel hopeful. I’ve got a job, a bank account, an insured car. I’m sitting here in my own rocking chair as I talk to you. I have peace today. That’s huge for me.”   

 

Harry

At age 52, Harry is hard at work building a new life. He has a job, a car and a small apartment in Columbia, thanks to his own efforts, support from his former prison chaplain, and assistance from Bridges to Housing Stability.  “I am thankful to be here and to have a new opportunity,” he said, adding that he is taking things “one day at a time.”

“I was making bad decisions at that time in my life and on this particular occasion,” Harry recalled of that day when he was pulled over by police on I-95 in Cecil County while transporting cocaine. The Brooklyn, New York native had come to Maryland to work in a car detailing business. Everything went great for a couple years, he said. But when business slowed down, money became scarce, and he succumbed to the idea of transporting drugs from New York to Maryland. His alcohol abuse and occasional dabbling in drugs added to his problems. “I know I did something wrong,” he said, noting the impact on his nearly grown two children.

His nearly four years in the Howard County Detention Center during the pandemic, as he awaited trial, was the start of his recovery. The chaplain there helped set him on the right path. When he was released to a transitional home operated in partnership between the Department of Corrections and Bridges, he got the more comprehensive support he needed. Kristin Miller, Bridges Alliance Program manager, said that Bridges has 54 affordable rentals, including a four-bedroom house used since 2019 as a transitional home for men recently released from incarceration.

Scott Sheldon, the manager of the transitional home, said Harry had a spotless record at the jail and seemed more mature than some inmates. He often counseled other inmates while holding a jail job himself, and he was always looking for programs to help better himself. “Our target population are people who are pursuing positive transition support,” Sheldon said. Bridges helped Harry restart his life, obtain a driver’s license, learn about the technological revolution that accelerated while he was in jail, and eventually find more permanent housing. Harry is now living in an affordable rental provided by Bridges.

“I hadn’t been locked up until I was 40 years old,” Harry said, explaining that, unlike some people in trouble or homeless, he already had a history of working and budgeting and organizing a stable life. When he got out of jail and into the transitional home, “my transition wasn’t as hard as some.”

He found a warehouse job in Elkridge through word of mouth and spent an hour getting there daily, taking two buses and walking a mile, and then another hour getting back until he had saved enough to buy a car. Harry lived in the transitional home for one year when Bridges offered him a one-bedroom apartment he could afford. Scott taught him how to save money by shopping at second-hand stores, Harry said and was there as a resource when problems cropped up.  He regularly attends church and when he feels the need, he goes to AA meetings too, all while trying to rebuild links to his now grown children and his three siblings. He’s not making long-term plans just yet. “I just focus on work. I’m trying to piece it together,” he said, adding that by summer he hopes to begin making longer-term plans.