Brian Evans had been out of jail for less than three months when he violated parole in February 2018. Just like that, Evans—who had previously been incarcerated for 14 years for “violence and substance abuse”—was back behind bars.
His future literally hung in the balance.
It was during his nearly three-month stay at Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City when Evans’ wife, Lerissa, dropped a bombshell.
“We had two children and she said she wasn’t going to jeopardize our kids for my insanity,” Brian, 36, said in an interview with San Jose Inside. “She wouldn’t do it anymore unless I changed. It was a complete eye-opener because at that moment I knew she could make it without me and the kids could be there without me. She told me, ‘I can do this without you.’ That didn’t sit well.”
Lerissa did something equally important apart from her ultimatum—she gave Brian stacks of resource pamphlets to help him make a successful transition back into society. Upon his release in April 2018, Lerissa took Brian to the County of Santa Clara Reentry Resource Center, which is hosting its first-ever Rise Up and Run Virtual 5k run/walk.
The event started on Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 7, and proceeds will provide new clothes to formerly incarcerated individuals. Brian will forever be indebted to Lerissa and the County Reentry Resource Center, which provided him with new clothes, a place to stay and got him connected with jobs.
Currently working as a substance abuse clinician at Family Children Services, Brian credits Lerissa and the County Reentry Resource Center as changing his life.
“Lerissa stood by me all those years,” he said. “And the Reentry Resource Center provided me an opportunity to continue my life. If you take advantage of everything they have to offer, there is no reason why you can’t change.”
Brian and Lerissa recently celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary, a milestone that many thought would never happen.
Brian has plenty of reasons to participate in the Rise Up and Run Virtual 5k run/walk event, but none more important than this: He wants to pay it forward.
“I was able to take advantage of the services at Reentry Resource Center and was literally able to change my life, so I want to be able to give back in a good way and say thank you to Reentry and the community I grew up in,” said Brian, who was born in San Jose.
The prison system isn’t a pathway to rehabilitation for incarcerated individuals; as a result, when they are released back into society they often return to what got them into trouble in the first place. That is exactly what happened to Evans when he violated parole. Even though he was gifted an opportunity to stay in a hotel in Redwood City for two weeks, he was back in San Jose in two days.
“I went back to the streets because it was the only thing I knew,” he said.
Facilities like the Reentry Resource Center play a vital role in putting individuals recently released from incarceration on the right path. In addition to providing clothes which gives reentry clients a fresh start and confidence when they go to interview for jobs, the Rise Up and Run Virtual 5K run/walk event is also intended to bring awareness about the challenges they face and how members of the community can support them as they reintegrate back into society.
“One of our goals is to bring awareness to our reentry clients and encourage people to learn about reentry,” Reentry Services Director Javier Aguirre said in a recent interview with San Jose Inside. “We’re all affected by high incarceration rates in this country. Most of us may have a family member or friend who has been in the criminal justice systems. With basic resources and a community that supports their efforts to change their lives, we can start breaking the cycle of incarceration.”
One cannot underestimate what a clean set of clothes does for an individual recently released from incarceration.
“Giving a new shirt or a pair of pants to someone newly released from incarceration goes beyond clothing them,” county Chief Operating Officer Miguel Marquez said. “It’s a gesture that carries a clear message: you matter, we believe in you, and we support your efforts to change and heal. Many of these men and women have no clean clothes in which to begin their reentry journey.”
Forty percent of the Reentry Resource Center’s clients are homeless, and it had approximately 18,000 visitors at its San Jose facility and another 640 at its new Gilroy center in the last fiscal year.
“That equates to almost 5,000 unique visitors to our center even with a drop in visitors due to Covid,” Aguirre said.
As of Friday morning, the Rise Up and Run Virtual 5k walk/run event had 300 registrants, exceeding the Resource Center’s goal of 250. The event has drawn significant financial support from sponsors like FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and more than 50 attorneys with the County’s Independent Defense Counsel Office, as well as private attorneys, Bible Way Christian Center, and the Aider and Abettor Podcast. In other words, there are some major players on board with the event.
“We have a great organization that donated and sponsored the event,” Aguirre said. “A lot of our clients are represented by public defenders, so we’re really excited community members are raising money and donating for this cause.”
Sometimes, Brian Evans still can’t believe the situation he finds himself in. “I’m going for an AA degree and then will go for a bachelor’s,” he said. “Now there is so much more to learn to help me understand my own life that I can use to help others who are in similar situation I was in.”
He is eternally grateful for Lerissa, who stayed by her husband’s side even though at one point it looked as if he was never going to turn things around. “She told me to focus on myself,” Brian said. “That if I did what was right for me, I’d be a better father, husband and person. She was right.”
For more information about the Rise Up and Run Virtual 5K Run/Walk event or the Reentry Resource Center, please visit sccgov.org/sites/reentry or call 408.535.4277.