UCCN Celebrates The Reentry Populations

Photo of UCCN Staff at End of Year Celebration
Staff members and volunteers from the Division of Infectious Diseases participated in the End-of-Year Celebration for people recently released from prison. In the picture from left to right: Lisette Villarreal, Robert Taylor, Elena Llinas, Brian Drummond, and Charlie Peterson.  

By Elena Llinas 12/16/2022

On December 15th, 2022, staff members from UI Health Community Clinic Network (UCCN) and UIC’s Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases participated in the 18th annual Year-End-Holiday Celebration hosted by Outside the Walls Ministries (OtWM) in Chicago’s North Lawndale community. The event, organized by Rev. Tommie Johnson the pastor of OtWM, provides recently released prisoners a chance to reconnect with their families and the wider community after serving their sentence at one of the 30 state prisons run by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). With the support of UIC employees and their colleagues from dozens of community partner agencies, over 275 attendees were served a delicious soul food meal, sang Christmas carols, and received gift bags with personal care items such as hand sanitizers, soap, lotion, and shaving cream. They also received toys and bikes for their children and participated in a raffle that offered TVs, microwaves, laptops, and other items donated by Toys for Tots, IDOC, and various other organizations. Participants were also able to receive COVID and flu vaccines, get tested for HIV and other infectious diseases, and be trained on how to use Naloxone and other life-saving treatments in their communities.

For UCCN staff members, it marked the culmination of another successful year of providing healthcare and support services to the hundreds of people living with HIV and other infectious diseases who are serving time in the prison system and support this same population as they transition from incarceration back to civilian life. As one UCCN staff member in attendance put it, “…it is amazing to see these folks grow as they move from the court system, into the prison population, and finally back into society. It is truly special to get to see these people that I’ve worked with for many months get to finally spend time with their children and other family members during the holiday season.”

Photo of Brian DJing the event
Brian Drummond donated his time, talent, and equipment as the DJ in event.

No person better exemplifies this spirit than Brian Wesley Drummond. For the past seven years, he has worked for UCCN as the Telemedicine Statewide Program Coordinator and Social Work Supervisor assisting some of the most vulnerable populations within the incarcerated and re-entry communities: people living with HIV, Hepatitis C, people seeking PrEP, and those looking for gender affirming care. In partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health and IDOC, Mr. Drummond engages with close to 300 patients annually to ensure that they receive proper treatment while in custody and develops a plan to help them continue receiving care as they transition back into their community. Although Mr. Drummond has only been working at UIC for seven years, his profession experience in re-engagement services expands to over two decades. For Mr. Drummond, “understanding behavior in the social environment and the social ills that contribute to deviance and mass incarceration,” is what motivates his work. “I have seen the transformative power of social work and how a person-centered approach changes a person's worldview.”

Photo of families at the table enjoying a meal
Families enjoying the celebration and meal. In the background, UCCN staff and volunteers gave away gifts, candy, and information to attendees.

Mr. Drummond works closely with other organizations such as Ashunti Residential Management Systems and Outside the Wall Ministries. “Being the designated referral agent for [various] social services agencies has afforded me the luxury of meeting and working with a lot of the transitional housing programs, such as Ashunti, throughout the city of Chicago.” In Drummond’s view, the work that he and his UCCN colleagues provide is vital. “Working with the Re-entry population has its benefits and demonstrates that people who make unhealthy decisions in life often benefit from second chances, and providers who treat them as human beings help to promote successful health outcomes in the community.”

The host of the event, OtWM, provides spiritual support to the newly released populations throughout the year. For Rev. Johnson, giving inspiration, strength, and hope to these individuals is key to keeping them from going back: “The goal [of the party] is to take the time to celebrate the victories, however few and however small, of individuals coming out of prison…” In support of this mission, various individuals openly shared their stories of redemption after incarceration and how they were able to reclaim their lives and work towards healthier goals thanks to the services they received from OtWM, UIC, and other organizations. One such individual was William Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher and his wife, Lydia Arellano, have been volunteers at the event for the past sixteen years. Mr. Fletcher explained that he gives his support each year to in order to give back and help others like him. “[I met Rev. Tommie] when I got out of prison. He has helped me grow. After being incarcerated, he enlightened me that I would never go back to prison, and I haven’t.” Stories such as Mr. Fletcher’s not only inspire the recently released to stay out of incarceration, but also help motivate UIC’s dedicated team as they provide services throughout the year. As one UIC volunteer explained, “…nothing inspires me more than knowing that the work I am doing is helping to break the cycle of mass incarceration in our community… I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.”

The Division of Infectious Diseases and UCCN want to acknowledge the hard work of the staff and want to give a special thanks to the members of the Advisory Board, in particular Lisette Villarreal, Nayda Medina, and Robert Taylor.