CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that North Carolina’s formerly incarcerated are twice as likely to die of suicide than those who never spent time behind bars.

What You Need To Know

  •  N.C.'s formerly incarcerated are twice as likely to die of suicide 

  •  Those 18-21 years old reentering society had higher suicide rates than their general population peers 

  •  Freedom Fighting Missionaries hopes to help individuals facing challenges after release from incarceration 

“To be away and to be confined in any kind of way takes a toll on your mental health,” said Kenneth Robinson, founder of Freedom Fighting Missionaries.

At 24, Robinson was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, but despite looking forward to his release, he was met with more challenges on the other side.

“The No. 1 thing that is on one’s mind when you're incarcerated is that when you're getting out, there are big plans that you have once you are released, but when that day comes, the harsh reality of survival hits almost immediately,” Robinson said.

The harsh reality for Robinson included trouble finding housing, a way to get around, health care and even a job.

“You can't imagine the challenge of getting out of incarceration, getting a job in construction and can't afford the work boots that are provided to you when you go to prison. So we're talking about a lack of basic resources that are provided on the inside, but there's no pathway to that on the outside,” Robinson said.

Robinson believes these are common issues for men and women coming back into society, and the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology found that the biggest risk of suicide comes in the two-week period after release.

“In the most severe cases where individuals may not have family, may not have support, and are tossed out into the street to fend for themselves, that can be tremendously burdensome on a person who has been incarcerated 5, 10, 15 years, and to finally be free and not even be able to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis, unfortunately, men and women could succumb to those pressures,” Robinson said.

As a result of these challenges, Robinson focuses on providing housing and mental health resources through Freedom Fighting Missionaries.

“Within our organization, when we do send individuals and families into therapy, it is specific to those who have experience working with those who have been justice-involved,” Robinson said. “We provide free medical insurance to our employees, and we're in the process of building our first housing development. It’s an apartment community of 24 units, specifically for families that have been impacted by the justice system.”

Robinson has experienced the loss of four clients to suicide, poor health and drug overdose and believes that reentry begins the day individuals enter the prison system.

“These things are going on in the community, that men and women and their families are being and continuously impacted by the justice system, and just by knowing what that person is face to face with, it helps us and our journey to move forward,” Robinson said.

Earlier this year Gov. Roy Cooper signed an order aimed at helping people reintegrate into society after serving time. It includes resources to reduce homelessness while increasing education and employment.

To learn more about resources offered through the Freedom Fighting Missionaries, you can visit its website here.