In the 1980s and ’90s, more than 1 million people in the U.S. were arrested each year on drug charges. Now, says National Public Radio, hundreds of thousands of inmates, by-products of a nearly four-decades-old war on drugs, are pouring out of prisons. For the most part, they return to the neighborhoods they came from. Many of their communities are collapsing under the burden. In East Oakland, Ca., parolees hear from an ex-convict mentor trying hard to get them to focus on the difficult road ahead: How to find a place to live, a place to work, money to eat. And do it without drugs. “It ain’t the police fault, it ain’t the parole fault, it ain’t nobody’s fault. It’s your fault,” he says. “Anytime you wind up bending over, spreading your cheeks, butt-naked, stripping for somebody else, you made a mistake.”
Few have had rehabilitative programming, drug counseling, job training, or education. California statistics say nearly 70 percent of the people in the room will be back in prison within three years. Between 3,000 and 4,000 former inmates are coming home to Oakland every year. Most return to a rundown neighborhood on the eastern edge of the city “We don’t have 3,000 housing slots, we don’t have 3,000 jobs slot, we don’t have 3,000 of anything,” says a community activitist. Three years ago, Oakland had 82 murders. Last year it had 143. In those years, the number of inmates returning from prison exploded. And it’s not just Oakland. Baltimore, Houston, Detroit, St. Louis, and dozens of other places are scrambling to provide re-entry services for thousands of former convicts.