For a Returning Citizen, Financial Education Is the Key to Starting a Second Act

How a JPMorgan Chase program is giving returning citizens the opportunity and education they need to succeed.

March 30, 2023

Andre H. was uneasy. He had six months left on his prison sentence, and the idea of life after release left him nervous.

“I was excited and happy to be going home, but there was some fear,” he recalls. "There are things you don’t think about until you’re faced with them — things like financial literacy, which you’re going to need. You’re going to need a bank account when you get out.”

Those concerns prompted Andre to sign up for financial literacy classes organized through Reach Success, a Cleveland, Ohio, nonprofit. It helps incarcerated people transition back into society through its Inside Out program, which provides access to stable housing, educational pathways, career options and other needed resources.

There’s a significant need for such initiatives: The United States is home to roughly five million formerly incarcerated people. One in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record, making it difficult to secure gainful employment and tap into economic opportunity.

JPMorgan Chase provides philanthropic capital to Reach Success to support its re-entry efforts, and the bank’s employees lead the program’s financial literacy workshops.

The financial aspect of Inside Out felt particularly valuable to Andre. “It was almost priceless,” he recalls.

Support Plus Opportunity Equals Success

The workshops Andre attended were led by Dominic Wright, a Vice President in the JPMorgan Private Bank and Denise Steele, the Community Engagement Manager on JPMorgan Chase’s Corporate Responsibility team. The pair provided attendees with a wealth of educational materials on financial topics like how to overcome identity theft, a common challenge among people re-entering society; how to access your credit report while incarcerated; and how to open a bank account once released.

At the end of each workshop, the duo gave attendees a question that they had to answer before the next class. “Guys would get together, go to the library, research and see if they could come up with the answer,” says Andre.

“The assignments kept engagement high. “To see the interest and to see how much they loved what we were going over was really meaningful,” says Wright.

Steele concurs, recounting a moment she won’t forget. One of the participants told her and Wright that he didn’t know what to expect from the class, because he didn’t like attending school. Afterward, he told Steele, “The presentation was amazing. Now I’m thinking about returning to school to go to college.”

Andre’s Continuing Journey

Speaking of college, the program has helped Andre achieve another dream: After his release from prison, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business from Ashland University in Ohio. He graduated magna cum laude. Currently, Andre is working as an electrician’s apprentice, and is planning to attend graduate school to earn an MBA.

And his relationship with JPMorgan Chase didn’t end after those financial trainings. After his release, Andre visited a Chase branch in Cleveland to open an account. He noted how “comforting” it was that the manager there was already aware of the firm’s programs for returning citizens. 

“She understood immediately. I didn’t have to overly explain my situation, and that meant a lot,” he says.

“People that made mistakes sometimes just never had a chance to do anything different,” says Reach Success founder Bill Horning. “But now if we can give them a vision of a different world…Holy cow, it’s amazing what they can become.”

Changes on the Horizon

Widespread challenges faced by people both while incarcerated and post-release point to systemic issues. Reach Success’s work is paving the way for system-wide solutions.

For example, the financial workshops run through JPMorgan Chase and Reach Success’s partnership alerted Ohio’s correctional administrators to the high incidence of identity theft among incarcerated populations. In response, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is considering instituting a policy to help incarcerated people access credit freezes.

While Reach Success and JPMorgan Chase are aiming for systemic change, the organizations never lose sight of the individual.

“Reach Success never made me feel like a number,” Andre says. “They followed up with me. They got in contact with my family before I left incarceration, and they are still in contact. They call me directly and see if I need anything. They’re actually there for you.”