23 thoughts on “Life After Prison: The Invisible Barrier Can’t Be Wished Away

  1. I am retired from the U.S. Probation & Parole Office, having retired as a Senior Officer- specifically a Drug Treatment Specialist. I was one among several certified and licensed clinicians in my particular office. I know this is not a common feature in many Probation Offices. My office encouraged officers attend training in order to make us experts in our chosen specialitys. Additionally, my office (Eastern District of NY- EDNY) sent several officers to Kansas City to be trained as Cognitive Behavioral Therapists. I was fortunate enough to be one of them. EDNY and the Federal Probation Supervision overall is geared towards providing the necessary treatment (substance abuse, alcohol, or mental health treatment) and the tools (vocational, educational, or literacy) needed towards assisting those placed on supervision succeed. There are many programs available for newly released inmates to utilize in order to assist them with their release. It will not be an easy road- just like doing time was not an easy road. Like anything else it takes commitment. Support is available – a person just has to look for it. Life is not easy for anyone. Not even for those who are retired due to illness. Everyone’s life does not turn out the way we planned. If you need help you have to reach out for it. I now find myself practicing what I use to preach on a daily basis for over twenty years: “You want to make God laugh- make a plan”!

    • It is wonderful that parole authorities in the Eastern District of New York instituted a program designed to help prisoners overcome many of the barriers that I allude to in my piece. However, such a program is unique: hiring clinicians who specialize in drug treatment and flying them across the country to learn CBT is an outlier in the correctional system. For the average prisoner–even one who is future orientated and doesn’t spend his time casting spells while playing D&D–there are a host of barriers that all too often are virtually insurmountable.

  2. This is a very good article. My husband served 10 years and prison did him no favors. He has no recent job history, no skill or trade…not to mention the toll being incarcerated took on him mentally and emotionally. I think background checks should be considered discrimination. Our loved ones are set up to fail unless they have a solid, sober, family and friends support system.

    • Thank you for your comment. I am studying criminal justice in order that upon my release I can try to reduce the likelihood that prisoners upon being freed will have the same experience that you and your husband have had. I wish both of you the best.

  3. Mr. Bourgeois,

    Thank you for the article regarding life after prison. Based on your writing skills alone I am thinking that you are, in one respect, leagues ahead of your fellow inmates regarding your willingness to face reality. Still, on the other side of the coin I am reminded of a colleague and friend of mine that served six and a half to seven years in prison for a violent felony who, when he left prison, realized that he was leaving some of the best and brightest individuals behind. You sound like one of those best and brightest.

    I have never been to prison but I run a program called Employment Works that has for the last seven years worked with criminal justice involved individuals to successfully connect them to employment. Those we work with range in convictions from low level misdemeanors to violent felonies to sex offenders. In all cases we have been able to connect them to full-time jobs.

    I would be happy to share with you and anyone on the pacific coast who is willing to listen how we have done this. We are not the largest fish in the pond but, we have honed an approach to helping those leaving prison that we think, at the very least, points individuals in the right direction. Let me know if you are interested in hearing more.

  4. Jeremiah,
    Thanks for your insightful article. Obviously you are unlike those just “doing time”, you are doing something positive with your time. I must say, your last paragraph did not seem to fit with the rest of your piece. I see no benefit to allowing those who are pretending to be sorcerers or stuck in their fantasies to continue living in illusions. Once the prison gates open, unless those leaving have a firm grasp of the realities that await them, they will soon see that gate closing behind them as they go right back in.

    • Thank you for your comment. That last line is more of a personal reflection. Trying to wake people up is something that I abandoned long ago. I just encourage those who either live in, or are grasping for reality. Furthermore, like Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” That same refrain can be said of those who are caught up in their prison fantasies.

  5. Hi,

    I am a former felon as well as an immigrant detainee. I did not want to comment at first but I have to admit that I am practically finding out how hard it is to fully reintegrate back to society. Forget about a job, I can’t even find volunteering opportunities because people are simply terrified about hiring someone with a criminal record.

    At the same time, I like to have a practical, hopeful approach. I must disagree with your personal reflection that prisoners are doing hopeless things. I have been labeled a jailhouse lawyer myself and I can reassure you, prisoners feel SOME level of hope attempting to devise strategies and fight their cases. I have found that some courts are sympathetic to prisoners provided that prisoners can articulate their legal needs. A simple letter to a local court can make a difference. Sadly, many prisoners are unable to even get a foothold on the court’s doorsteps.

    You have served a lot of time and I wish you the best of luck this fall. Life is certainly not easy outside, but provided that you present yourself capably — and maintain hope against all the odds — I see no reason why sooner or later you won’t get what you want. I have had so many doors slammed in my face that I can almost elicit someone’s response to my application with their facial expressions even before a word comes out of their mouths. Still, they did not do time. I did. They don’t know how hope can prevail despite those unintentionally or intentionally crushing it. Second chances are an illusion for many, but I have done everything right and I am sure that opportunities will open up. At least I like to tell myself that. Whether I remain ignorantly hopeful remains to be seen, I guess. Take care, and don’t give up educating others behind bars (even if they don’t want to hear it!)

    • Prison is a miserable to be, as you know. I understand how easy it is to want to escape from the loneliness, the stress, and the monotony through drugs, drama, or fantasy. But I’m convinced that to continue moving forward legitimately (as you are doing) in the face of felony disenfranchisement requires one to be a stone-cold realist–and that mental preparation should begin on the inside. I too have hope; but it is tempered by the knowledge that one day I will face the same rejection that you have had to deal with. Thank you for your comment. By the way, I have nothing against jailhouse lawyers. They’re distinguishable from the frivolous writ writers that I referred to in my piece. Stay strong.

      • Being a stone-cold realist is the right term. Sometimes I think that the only thing differentiating prisoners from the free world is the walls, because the free world has real walls of its own. And those walls come crashing down on you if you are not strong enough.

  6. Great article! It saddens me to hear of the dilemmas prisoners will face upon release and I know that it is all in the plan to keep us down. However , I know a number of prisoners who were released from long sentences who have found employment, wives and one even has 2 businesses. So while the reality is that it’s damn hard to survive life after prison, it’s not impossible. So have faith and trust in God. And Good Luck with the Parole Board!

  7. I especially appreciate what J.J. is writing in this piece because I did a 9-month internship with the ACLU of WA Second Chances Project, trying to help people with criminal records vacate/seal their felony and misdemeanor records so they could get better access to jobs and housing. (Oddly enough, due to some disconnect in the Washington laws, it was often easier for those with a multi-felony record to vacate their convictions than it was for those with multiple misdemeanors, but that’s another story for another day.) Because of our state’s codified discrimination against those who have paid their debt to society, yet who continue to be punished, I was able to help almost NO ONE, and it was extremely disheartening. J.J. is not wrong to come at this situation with the set of expectations he expresses in this article. But those realistic expectations (and an extraordinary supportive person I know he has in his life) are precisely what will enable J.J. to succeed.

    • Thank you for the comment. I haven’t forgotten you from Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hope Richie and your daughter are doing well.

  8. I like your last sentence: “Better to leave them in the dayroom where they can continue pretending to be sorcerers, and entrepreneurs, and attorneys. Better to leave them to their fantasies.”
    There is something sad in this thought that made me think of the movie “Inception”.
    Hope a better life.

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