Their journeys from the trauma of youth, through criminal pasts and prison, to personal transformation make them uniquely positioned to help others returning to the community from incarceration.

Madison-area Urban Ministry has offered an array of services to individuals and families affected by the criminal justice system, including prison re-entry programming, since 1999. At the time, the concept of peer support didn't really exist, but the nonprofit has long tried to connect those returning from incarceration to others who have been on that journey.

That goal has become more formal in recent years with the hiring of peer support specialists.

Those who now do this work for MUM are a support network, not caseworkers, but individuals with the experience of renewal who can offer a special empathy to talk through concerns and challenges and provide support for countless barriers on the path to reintegration to the community.

Their nonjudgmental assurance, comfort and help with basics like preparing for a job interview or buying groceries creates a special bond with offenders at their most vulnerable point: when they're expected to return to society as changed individuals, often with few of the tools needed to succeed.

The Wisconsin State Journal asked two of these people to share their stories of trauma, troubles and transformation.