To start this article, I will pose a question: “Why does it cost $48,000 to $62,000 a year to keep an inmate in prison, and only $15,000 to $25,000 a year to keep them out?” As a taxpayer, I would want an answer to that question.
I’ve spent much of my life in prison. Most of my friends and family have also served time, and the stories are always the same: We are quickly overwhelmed and have little or no help, either pre-release or post-release. There is some basic help, but the fact is it’s more or less a direction to a possible solution created by a person who hasn’t lived it.
In order for you to understand what an ex-convict is facing without living it, I will give you an example. This is based on a true event: An inmate is released after six years. He has little or no resources. He is given a packet with two bus tickets, a letter for food stamps, and a voucher for some clothes at the Salvation Army. He has to go to a shelter (in by 6pm, out by 6am). He owes $450 to the Providence Courthouse, $750 to the Warwick Courthouse, $2,000 to the DMV, probation fees, and so on. He has to take mandatory classes that cost $120 a month. He needs to pay on all of them, go to probation, and get a job. All on two bus tickets! He can’t get a license because he was in the same spot a few years ago, and risked driving to get a job, resulting in punishment for driving without a license.
Of course you have guessed that I am talking about myself, and I have 14 months left before I’m going to face it all over again.
To be fair, there is some help, but it can and must be better. One of the ways the ACI helps is by giving you a paper to present to potential employers, offering them a tax break for hiring you. The reason that doesn’t often work? If I’m an employer, I’m less likely to believe an ex-con, and I’m apt to be jumpy. Why not have an advocate who calls potential jobs to talk about the tax break and answer questions, so that when the ex-convict comes in, they already have a list of potential jobs that employers are okay with? How about an advocate who works on your behalf, pre-release, so you are closer to a license and a job when you get out?
The last thing I will mention is probation. How does it affect ex-offenders? I was working at a job, they didn’t want to pay me, and used my record against me. So, on the way out, I took a necklace and sold it. I received $65 at a pawn shop. I’m serving 6 years for that, and in that time I’ve lost my mother to cancer. Yes, I was wrong to steal the necklace, but is that fair sentencing? I have a lot of probation hanging over my head, which was why I had to take a deal in the matter of the necklace, or face even more time.
There needs to be change: there needs to be tech programs instead of yoga or men’s fraternity. I don’t expect to be given everything, just a chance. We all know we are going to start at the bottom of the ladder. If we have weights tied to our feet, we will almost definitely slip.