Why Life Outside?

The full name of our organization is Life Outside Reentry Assistance, Inc., but most people know us simply as Life Outside. People sometimes ask us, “Why the name Life Outside?” Well, there are several different ways to answer that question.

In one sense, Life Outside is short, catchy, memorable, and says just enough to give people an idea of what we do while still being vague enough to make them wonder.

But, for us, the name Life Outside is rich with layers of meaning.

The name is about perspective. Life according to who? And outside of what?

Take the word “life”. If I asked a class full of college students what they thought of when they heard the word “life”, they might talk about nature or babies or God or having things to do on Friday night. Ask someone who’s been in prison what comes to mind when they hear the word “life” and, well, it might be a little different.

“Life” is a word, but life is a sentence. For people sentenced to die in prison, there is no reentry, and a beautiful word becomes impossibly heavy. Life is also what many incarcerated people have lost so much of, both by their choices and the choices of those given the power to decide how much of their lives the incarcerated will forfeit.

In a similar way, take the word “outside”. That same college class would definitely talk about nature now, and they might even ask if we can move our class outside for the day. In fact, almost every other organization or company with the words “Life Outside” in their name has something to do with the literal outdoors in some way. But, again, ask someone who’s done time what the word “outside” refers to, and it might be a different story.

“Outside” is where most incarcerated people will return to when their term of incarceration has ended. It’s a place “out there”, far removed from the world they have been sentenced to, and “life outside” often represents a world that is moving on without them.

And, yes, “outside” can also refer to the Great Outdoors and the beauty and freedom that come with free, fresh air, something we all long for, but none more than the incarcerated. I once heard a formerly incarcerated man give a speech to prison officials in which he recounted that he still remembers the first time he touched a tree in over a decade — and how much that small moment meant to him.

And, unfortunately, “outside” can also mean the lack of a sense of belonging, if someone feels like they are on the outside looking in. Our goal is to make sure as many formerly incarcerated residents of our county are welcomed home and invited to belong once again.

The point of a name like Life Outside is to pay homage to the lived experiences of the people we serve as we help them adjust to life back on the outside. But it’s also a project in reclaiming two words that can be full of hope and healing — in the right context. It is our sincere hope that Life Outside can help bring that hope and healing to the many who need it.

One thought on “Why Life Outside?

  1. This is so well thought out and expressed in its wording. I am excited about its future and all its potential to change lives and help rebuild communities.


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