‘‘Are you free yet?’’ ‘‘I’m getting there,’’ Hammock told him.
July 19, 2015 10:39 AM   Subscribe

You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What? [New York Times] Carlos and Roby are two ex-convicts with a simple mission: picking up inmates on the day they’re released from prison and guiding them through a changed world.
Unlike typical parolees, third-strikers are often notified of their release just before it happens, sometimes only a day in advance. (It can take months for a judge to rule after papers are filed.) They’re usually sent out the door with $200, a not-insubstantial share of which they often pay back to the prison for a lift to the nearest Greyhound station: An inmate might be released from a prison outside Sacramento and expected to find his way to a parole officer in San Diego, 500 miles away, within 48 hours. Stanford’s Three Strikes Project was setting up transitional housing for its clients, but initially, a lot of the third-strikers weren’t making it there — they were just blowing away in the wind. Then, Carlos and Roby started driving around the state and waiting outside to catch them.
A Ride Home From Prison [New York Times] [Op-Docs] [Video] This short Op-Doc documentary profiles a former prisoner who guides men released from life sentences in California through their first hours of freedom.
posted by Fizz (29 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
 
i teared up a number of times reading this article this morning. it's really good and really well written.
posted by nadawi at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've had several friends in this situation. Transitional housing? Unless you or your family has money it's shit. Rat-infested hellholes in the worst part of town, usually run by organizations that'd make NYC's most notorious slumlords look like saints. Your rent is paid by working long-as-fuck hours slinging fast food for for-profit companies at local stadiums. Mind, you don't actually get paid anything as these positions are officially considered "volunteer" ones where you're "volunteering" for your "organization". Instead, you make the equivalent of about $2.50 an hour while the food services company, your organization (meaning the company who owns your transitional housing), and the stadium all benefit from the fruits of your labor. It's a loophole that should be considered nothing more than a criminal enterprise but it flies under the public's radar because hey it's only ex-cons and fuck them, right?
posted by item at 11:12 AM on July 19, 2015 [50 favorites]


Oh and outside job opportunities consist of day labor work or the shadiest of telemarketing scams or, if you're lucky, minimum wage on the back of a garbage truck - no matter what your educational background is. I have a friend who has a degree from RISD. Fifteen years ago he made a halfassed attempt to rob a convenience store while having a severe schizophrenic episode. He was caught, sentenced to ten years, and mandated to do the whole sentence. In the five years since he's been out he's shuffled from a few days work here to a few days work there. Believe me when I tell you that this guy is bright, creative, and hard working. If I owned a company I'd hire him in a snap but because of his record and incarceration he's been reduced to sweeping up here and there for whatever change society will toss to him. His life will probably remain this way until he dies.
posted by item at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


usually run by organizations that'd make NYC's most notorious slumlords look like saints.

do you have any information that the stanford law school three strikes project, the anti-recidivism coalition, or the amity foundation operate like this or are you speaking more broadly? it seems like an area that is rife for abuse but i'm not seeing any indication that the groups discussed in this post are saying fuck ex-cons.
posted by nadawi at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2015


I was speaking more broadly, from first-person accounts and from stuff I've personally witnessed. Thought I can't speak for any of the groups discussed in this post, there are certainly many organizations that are doing all they can to ensure the shit I described doesn't have to happen. I've volunteered for such an organization and I know that there are folks out there that are trying to change things. Unfortunately, however, it's happening and until the US undergoes a major reform of its prison (and prisoner release) system it'll continue to happen.
posted by item at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I did not know that California classed bike theft as a "serious felony" that exposes people to three strikes. I'm now updating my list of reasons why you shouldn't call the police when your bike is stolen.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2015 [27 favorites]


Moving and thought provoking. Thanks.
posted by Splunge at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2015


Damn, I need to dust in here more often
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2015


That was great. Thanks for posting.
posted by bardophile at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2015


The New York Times receives its fair share of snark (and often justified) but their Magazine section has been pumping out some thought-provoking and knowledgeable stories the past year.
posted by Fizz at 1:22 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is about the third or fourth time I've encountered this concept and I can no longer hide from the fact that I think that maybe I am called to do this kind of work. Does anyone know of any Seattle-area resources that do work like this?
posted by KathrynT at 1:45 PM on July 19, 2015 [21 favorites]


Four years ago, a friend I'd had from kindergarten to ~ninth grade was sentenced to prison on drug manufacturing charges (basically). I became pen pals with this guy-- I'm happy for a captive audience to read my ramblings, and his letters, at the rate of about one per month, are interesting if sad on so many levels.

I don't write him much about his release. Instead I follow his lead on topics that could be particularly upsetting-- I have it in my head that inmates do well to stay focused on the present and not fantasize about freedom and their outside world.

He's now estimated that he'll be released in 16 months. I knew he'd probably serve five or six years, so 16 months sounds right to me, too, and this whole time I've been thinking he will probably reintegrate with relative ease. He has a nice, well-connected family. He'll find a lucrative career. The world will not have changed all that much.

Til about 4 weeks ago. About 4 weeks ago I realized Holy cow we are not where my friend left off in 2011. We're not where we started in 2015! The world's totally changed.

I've spent large chunks of time on a media diet-- no newspapers, internet, or TV. I came out the other end unscarred. But, living in a cell for 4 or 5, 12, 15, 25 years?? Whew! Quite a few changes in the world, and lots of internal shifts. Yes. I wish them luck. My goodness. It's a bad scene.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


At the risk of being repetitive, this is indeed a great article. I hope this is one of those articles that later becomes a book -- reading this felt like just skimming the surface of what were obviously much richer and more complex stories.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:06 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the late 80s, my dad was sorta-kinda kicked out of the UK. His business faltered, he sued his partners, and the UK refused to extend his work visa. So he went back to the States.

He had a car -- a crappy old BMW, but it ran well. It would've been a hassle to sell it, so he just wanted to give it to someone.

He heard that a nearby prison always let inmates go at a certain day/time. So, he and a friend went down and offered the car, free, to the first guys out the door. Find a charity? Fuck no, my dad is batshit insane.

The first two guys turned him down, saying they were afraid it was a set-up. The third guy took it and drove off.

Months later, a friend called him.

"You moved back to the States?"
"Long story."
"But I saw your car last week. That wasn't you?"

Maybe he did some good, I don't know, or maybe the ex-prisoner sold it. I like to think the guy was on his way to a new job.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on July 19, 2015 [31 favorites]


One way you can tell that prison in the US isn't about reforming people is that very little effort is spent trying to help ex-prisoners reintegrate into open society and find a stable, productive living environment.

You'd almost think that people have something to gain by making reoffense and return to prison a likely outcome of release.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:33 PM on July 19, 2015 [27 favorites]


One way you can tell that prison in the US isn't about reforming people is that very little effort is spent trying to help ex-prisoners reintegrate into open society and find a stable, productive living environment.

The article has a great quote related to this:
But as the criminologist Jeremy Travis, then head of the Justice Department’s research agency, later pointed out, America had failed to recognize the ‘‘iron law of imprisonment’’: Each of the 2.4 million people we’ve locked up, if he or she doesn’t die in prison, will one day come out.
Amazingly, we apparently spent trillions of dollars building prisons and locking people up for decades with almost zero consideration or care for what should happen next.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


The short documentary video which is linked above (about 7+ minutes) is also very well done. It's quite an emotional piece of story-telling.
posted by Fizz at 4:21 PM on July 19, 2015


Really powerful. I'm glad to live in a state with programs like this-- I just wish there were a hundred more of them. Why isn't this available to every inmate across the country? I mean I know why. It doesn't change the fact that it should.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wonderful article.
posted by luckynerd at 6:01 PM on July 19, 2015


KathrynT, check out the Post Prison Education Program. They do similar work, good work. Ari Kohn is the real deal.
posted by bepe at 6:51 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last fall I showed a documentary about the Attica uprising. During the Q&A, an audience member spoke up--he had been recently (within a few days) released from Stateville Prison. He talked about his experience in prison and the difficulty he was having re-entering civilian life. When he was done, one of the speakers talked about his organization, the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated, which helps ex-inmates in Illinois re-enter society. There's a video here. Their exchange lasts a couple minutes from that point.
posted by goatdog at 7:37 PM on July 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Brilliant article. Really well-written.
posted by prepmonkey at 8:19 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


A good friend's stepson is due to be released from a federal facility in 2017 after 25 years. We were discussing this very topic on Friday. He's clueless. The Feds did the family a favor a transitioned him to a facility that is merely the next state away 2-3 hours' drive. Mom kept saying "he's clueless". They are a family of decent means, so the desire for a successful transition with the observations of how prison isolation can stunt and limit development, isn't seen as a foregone conclusion.

The one-day-at-time approach is a good reminder on pacing. This is a parole-free option after a singular very violent crime, related to infidelity, over 25 years ago. Culture shock is a real concern, as well as the fact that incarceration has allowed many family members to ignore/not process the enormity of all phases of the journey - an out of sight/out of mind approach. Maryland has community mediation Maryland's pre-release-from-prison mediation with the family/friends who receive the soon-to-be-free people, but it's state-based, not federal, so I'm really inspired when I hear that people feel called to expand these crucial services. I, dare I say we, are cheering you on your journey. This work matters.
posted by childofTethys at 8:56 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. They could write up the story of one first day a week. I'd be a faithful follower.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:13 PM on July 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


Worth saying this was written by Jon Mooallem, who has written many other fantastic long form articles, and Wild Ones, which was turned into an achingly beautiful 30 minute show with Black Prairie (you might have heard it on 99% Invisible).

I should probably just do an FPP come to think of it.
posted by adrianhon at 1:22 AM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


The more I think about it the more insane the whole idea of prison sounds insane. I don't really know what the alternative is.

But it is well understood that people are very plastic. They shape themselves to their environment. Especially their social environment. Putting people in an artificial society which is restricted, corrosively hierarchical, violent and deeply unhealthy doesn't sound like a very productive solution to people behaving in ways we think are unethical. Especially for non violent drug crimes.
posted by Erberus at 6:16 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Too much of the voting public is hung up on punishment. Anything that makes prisoners conditions more conducive to functioning once they get out isn't punitive enough.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:55 AM on July 20, 2015


Too much of the voting public is hung up on punishment.

The hell you say. In Canada, the news that the Harper government's "tough-on-crime" policies mean that most people in prison in this country have not been convicted of a crime elicits a shrug from many.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:10 AM on July 20, 2015


I watched the 7 minute video after reading the article, and I wish I could see more ex-cons adapting to life, learning, in a documentary (NOT poverty pr0n) style. This was excellent.
posted by shenkerism at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2015


« Older Bonus points for knowing the UK roadsign font   |   Who eats what Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments