Posts Tagged ‘halfway house’

get out of jailIn my opinion, the most critical time for a man or a woman are the months right after they get out of prison. Many have little money and, of course, they know many easy ways to get money.

These people, who are used to a very regimented life, wake up one morning and no one is telling them what to do. Many spend their first months in a halfway house, which in some cases is good and in some cases is a disaster. As one inmate told me, if you want drugs, go to such and such a halfway house.

How about the parole officer who follows an inmate on the outside? Many of them have way too many cases. In theory, a parole officer on parole officerthe outside is a good idea – someone to care about an inmate, to advise, to be a mentor. What it comes down to, however, is the inmate going to an office, chatting with (or lying to) the parole officer for a few minutes and then leaving.

I had the opportunity to sit in with an inmate and his parole officer on their first interview after the man got out of prison. It was horrible. The man had a lot of things going for him, great self-confidence and an intelligent mind. For an hour the parole officer told him what a scumbag he was, how she was going to send him back to prison, how she knew he was going to screw up, how she knew he was going to go back into crime, on and on for an hour.

I stayed with the case for many months and twice she tried to send the inmate back, but her supervisor overruled her. I suspected she had some kind of personal problem, which she was taking out on the inmate. Sadly, that happens a lot in our prison system.

mentor

Mentor

These months are important. Can’t something be done? Take some staff who have little to do in the prison, retrain them, and retrain them again with some psychology and again with how to help people change.

When someone is on parole, they are already standing behind us in the supermarket. We in the community have to help those who have just been released. I’ve helped many citizens go into prison and help the men in there, but I have failed to get people involved with those who have been released.

Many men and women are afraid of the world that confronts them. They understand prison and know how to live there. Their friends are there. We have to help them live on the outside.

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Call him Conrad. When a man is sentenced to more than two years, the next place he goes is to an assessment centre. When Conrad got here, he told the officials he wanted to go to a high security place where he heard there was a writing program.

“But your security rating is better than that. You go to an easier prison.”

words“No,” Conrad said, “I want to learn how to write.”

So one day in August, 2008 Conrad showed up in my creative writing class. The guy was amazing, one of those students that you explain a few things to and off they go. They develop their own style and glory in it. Conrad wrote about his first nation’s culture and then moved down the map to the swamps of Louisiana and wrote about swamp people in their dialect. I have no idea how he learned that dialect in a prison where the Internet is denied.

Everyone in the class liked his work. I knew he had a future in writing if he pursued it.

A problem arose. He had some outstanding charges that he had to face so he asked to be transferred to a remand centre so he could make appearances in court.

First he went to a local remand centre, where I tried to visit him in a private area.

“Are you his lawyer or minister?”

“No, I’m his creative writing teacher.”

“Line up with everybody else.”

So we visited through a hard plastic window, with a small space below where a metal screen let sound through. Each visitor had such a window with only a small divider separating us. I often had to almost yell to be heard.

But Conrad was doing fine. He played a mean game of handball and had read most of the Aztec books.

His trial on the outstanding charges was to be in the interior of the province, so he was transferred to another remand closer to his trial. There he waited for well over a year. But Conrad didn’t just sit and wait. He organized a writing class for the men, similar to the one I had established. He discovered that there was no release plan for prisoners, no discussion of that all important question – “What are you going to do on the day you get out of jail?”

Many men left remand, sometimes even after years there. Maybe the crown decided not to prosecute because a key witness had died. There were many reasons, but the system had no plan in place to help a man on that first day out.

Conrad developed one for the men, independent of staff, with the exception of the chaplain.

Finally, in early 2010 he came to trial. His charges were serious, so I tried to get some letters of support for him. The chaplain in the remand had emailed me praising Conrad for his work, his attitude and his realization of how his crime had hurt people. The crime was drug dealingdrug dealing (not using). At the end, the chaplain mentioned that since he was an employee of the prison system, he couldn’t let the court know these things. So I incorporated his comments in my letter to the judge.

The trial revealed that he was NOT the big time drug dealer that the crown tried to imply, but rather a very small time dealer. The judge sentenced him – I think it was a few more years beyond the three he’d already spent in jail.

Then a most unusual thing happened. The police took him – not to a prison, but to a halfway house near his home. He couldn’t believe his luck. Over the next month he found a job, reestablished ties with his family and connected with an old girlfriend. The two of them decided they would marry.

The manager of the halfway house reported to the prison system that Conrad was doing great – not a single infraction of the rules. But the warden of a nearby prison got word of this unusual treatment and decided that Conrad belonged in prison. After all, another inmate always helped the prison’s numbers.

That night when Conrad returned from work, the manager of the halfway house was waiting for him. “I’m sorry, Conrad, you have to go back to prison.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. The warden didn’t tell me.”

“When?”

“Right now. The prison has sent two guards to pick you up. They should be here any moment.”

“Can I call my girlfriend and my mother?”

“Look. They’re here now.”

So at the end of his working day, after a month of a perfect record, Conrad was hauled back to prison.

The next day was my day to teach. The minute I walked in, the guys told me about Conrad. “Where is he?” I asked.

“In seg.” (segregation)

I went to the guard’s office and to a correctional manager and said he was supposed to be in class. A few papers shuffled and he was released to go with me to class. As we walked, he told me what happened. I was livid, angry, boiling mad at the warden and the whole system, but Conrad told me to calm down.

“We’ll work it out,” he said, and that was Conrad.

I went to a woman in the system that I thought would help. “He won’t be here long,” she told me. I assumed that meant a few weeks.

Conrad came to class every week. He proposed to me that we invite staff to come to a class. He didn’t like the “us and them” attitude among the guys, and he knew I had the same attitude. I was mad at what they had done to him in particular.

“Go ahead,” I said, “you can ask, but they won’t come.”

They came – at least five or six of them.

Conrad was as smooth as silk. He believed that the medicine went down better ‘with a spoonful of sugar.’ I admired the man for that.sugar

The next time Conrad got out of prison was a year and a half later. I contact him now and then and he’s doing well on the outside.

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