On June 10, 2014, Kevin Monteiro stepped onto a prison van at the Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. He traveled south for a couple of hours to downtown Denver. He was let off at the Greyhound Bus station at 19th and Curtis.
It was the 56-year-old’s first day of freedom since the 1980s—nearly three decades ago—and, to Monteiro, the world looked bizarre.
“Everything is out of place,” Monteiro says. “I know where I'm at but everything is really, like, people had moved the furniture around.”
Monteiro was convicted of 2nd degree murder in the 1980s for his part in a stabbing in Aurora, Colorado—what he says was a drug deal gone bad. He also says others were involved, but no one else was ever apprehended.
The downtown Greyhound station is one of several drop-off points for inmates after release. Along with the ride from prison, Monteiro had been given a prison-issued debit card; but, he says, that’s about it.
“I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and a box of books,” he says about that first day. “No family, nobody.”
Monteiro’s lonely journey on his first day of freedom is typical for Colorado inmates who leave prison without family or friends to turn to: a bus trip, a bit of money, and no one to turn to for guidance or support.
Kevin Monteiro is a solidly built guy: 5'11'' and about 200 pounds. He was born in Rhode Island, grew up with a single mother and then, because she had problems, moved in with his grandmother. He says he suffered abuse at home. He left Rhode Island for California when he was in his teens and eventually came to Denver.
Monteiro says he’d prepared himself for his release. He knew things were going to look different outside of prison. He knew he'd see people walking around with cell phones and driving 21st– century cars. But he didn't expect that freedom would feel so heavy.
“The physical pressure was like I was carrying water bags, like hefty trash bags just full of water and I couldn't seem to walk straight,” says Monteiro. “And the only way [the pressure] would leave was if I have structure–in other words, somebody has to get me up, I need to be scheduled constantly.”
Every day for decades, Kevin Monteiro had been forced to follow prison's strict schedule, but when he stepped off the prison van, he had no schedule. It's that lack of routine that trips up a lot of parolees when they're first released.
A system under scrutiny
Colorado’s parole system was put in the spotlight two years ago with the killing of Tom Clements, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Clements was shot dead at his home in Monument, Colorado, south of Denver, by parolee Evan Ebel, who had recently been released from prison. Ebel, who also killed a pizza delivery man, had cut off his electronic ankle monitor. The department uses the monitors to track inmates’ whereabouts.
A few days later, Ebel was killed in a shootout with police in Texas. Ebel had severe mental illness, was prone to violence, and had spent much of his prison time in administrative segregation—the prison term for solitary confinement.
Ironically, Tom Clements was known as a reformer who had worked to reduce the number of inmates kept in solitary confinement, especially inmates with mental illness.
The killing raised questions in the minds of many Coloradans about whether the Department of Corrections was doing enough to track parolees after their release. In fact, two studies conducted by the National Institute of Corrections after the murder found deficiencies in the state’s parole system. It describes case managers being overloaded with clients and other responsibilities.
The report also found a need for more community services and programs for parolees like Monteiro. It recommended each inmate receive a detailed case plan that follows the offender from prison through parole. Since then, the state has allocated some money to community non-profits that work with formerly incarcerated men and women.
Christie Donner, who runs the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, says Monteiro’s story, of being dropped off on a street corner with $100 in hand and no plan for how to find a job, shelter, transportation, food, and clothing, is shared by thousands of Colorado’s parolees.
Long-term offenders also face the daunting task of adjusting to a 21st century world. She says if an inmate doesn’t have a family member or “sponsor” to help them once they’re released from prison, or isn’t assigned to a halfway house, they are often left to fend for themselves.
“They may or may not get a housing voucher,” says Donner. “They may or may not get into a shelter. It's rough. We hear this all the time.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was part of a series broadcast this week on Colorado Public Radio. To hear the full report, and the rest of the series, please click HERE.
Andrea Dukakis is a reporter for Colorado Public Radio. She was a 2014 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Reporting Fellow. She welcomes comments.