Re-entry after 37 Years in Prison
Can you imagine what it would be like having your sons coming home from prison after 37 years? I spoke to a very special lady who has done so much to support her sons and others traversing the prison system.
You can never give up, you have to keep in contact with your loved one that’s in prison, and give them the opportunity to contact you as much as you can afford, like with phone time and visiting.
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I’m with Nevada Teacher, whose sons were incarcerated for over 37 years. One of her sons is home with her now and she discusses the adjustment of having her son home from prison, and shares some great information. She also has another son who will be released, however there are rules against having felons living in the same house, even if they are related.
Note: We’re using Nevada Teacher at her request to keep her privacy while she’s trying to bring her 2nd son home.
Nevada Teacher, your son that’s out of prison, how long has he been home now?
Today’s his anniversary, he’s been home a year today.
I thought that he was going for parole.
Oh, that’s the second one.
Oh, that’s your other son? Okay.
Correct. He was paroled March 22nd of this year, but has not been released yet. His release date was June 1st, but California, even though they told me verbally that they would accept both of them living here with me, when it came down to the actual transaction, they changed their mind and said that Nevada said that felons can’t communicate during their parole. So we’re in the process of asking for an amendment on their parole conditions, that they be allowed to communicate and live together.
Had we not had that verbally from the parole officer, we would have gone for that previously, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. California doesn’t think it’s a big deal to have ex-felons together if they’re family. They think family’s more important than felons, unless it’s gang related. So that’s our situation now, we’re right back into have faith, never give up, miracles happen every day, which has been my mantra for, I don’t know how many years. One of my students gave me that plaque about 20 years ago, and I’ve looked at that every day since and think of it often, even when I’m not looking at it.
Let’s talk about your son that’s been out a year, because a lot of people have questions about re-entry and it’s something I don’t know a lot about. You may not know, my brother passed away in prison so I didn’t go through the re-entry. What was it like when your son came out, and was that in California?
Yes. He was released from Nevada and was transported and a friend brought him down to me and then we drove home together. The first couple of days were just kind of like, getting to know each other and getting used to our environment. But then the work actually began, trying to get his documents, like his driver’s license. Most place we went wanted to know what had happened to him the last 37 years. It didn’t take them too long to figure out that he’d been in prison.
Then there was a sort of tainted … I just would use it as tainted: a tainted feeling that people had, but even so we were able to forge ahead, and he got his driver’s license and he got his food stamps just to start with, and his medical care. The process he had to go through, and the classes he was required to go to, and the meetings he had to attend really take someone being able to help them be transported around. They do give them bus tickets and they give them tickets for transportation, but there’s a long distance between getting, at least here in California, getting to that transportation that you could use the tickets.
I don’t know how a person who did not have a support family and someone providing the necessities of life could make it very easily, it would be a big struggle. I just think we have to somehow get maybe a surrogate family; the religious groups are very interested in doing something and speak up quite often at legislative sessions. Maybe they could sponsor an inmate as they’re coming out and help with the necessities of getting that person established.
I just think that it’s a tough road on your own. Then the process of getting a job became even more difficult. He felt he had to be up front about his circumstances and every job when he finally told them his circumstances, even though on one occasion he’d even been hired, they changed their mind. Then a family friend of ours was able to make a couple of calls and reach out to people he knew to help not only get an interview, but a job. He’s been working at that job now; it’s been a blessing. It’s hard work, but he’s making enough to pay his portion of the rent and he now has health insurance for himself and is on the road to becoming a full-fledged free person, who works, has exchange day with their paycheck and lives like everybody else.
…our home has been really a haven, I believe for him.
Well after being incarcerated for so long, how did he adjust to coming out? I mean even looking for a job, that must’ve been really difficult for him.
Well I think that he had to reach way down in his stock of energy and strength. We did get a wardrobe together. We actually went to used clothing store and got some dress clothes, and got them cleaned for him to dress. He had his resume already, but he updated his resume and is pretty well educated, so he was a step or two ahead of folks that have never had any opportunity or education. But he still had to cope with the fact that people were questioning him, and once they found out his circumstances they just said, thank you very much and shut the door.
Until that handout from his friend who opened the door for a job, nothing really opened up. He works in the commercial division, so he goes to work early, he’s at work by 7:20 and supposed to get off at 4:00, but he oftentimes works over. The good news is he’s only about 15 from home to the job, he’s only a little over three miles, so we’re fortunate. We also were able to lease the home in a nice part of town. The leasing agent was a paralegal and I took all of our situation to him and he drafted us the opportunity to lease. He did increase the deposit and charged us a high rent, but we were able to get a home that he could come home to in a nice part of town where we are safe.
So he lives with you then, or you guys rent the place together.
He does. We do. It takes all three of our incomes to manage to live here. The cost of living here is extremely high.
Who’s the third person?
My sister-in-law. That’s the reason I came down here was to live with her. Three years ago I came down here and lived with her and her son, and then he grew up and moved on.
And you moved there for your health, right?
I did. I was told to move down here because I needed oxygen 24/7 in Las Vegas, and even with that I didn’t have a lot of energy. Here, I can get by without it now unless I’m walking or driving, or out in the heat. So I’m really improved. Much better quality of life down here.
So California’s good for you then.
It is good for me. Yes it is. You ask about how he adjusted, he adjusted very quickly and quite well. Even going to restaurants to eat where there were large groups of people. We went to Walmart the first couple of days he was out and got separated. I was riding around in one of those cars, and middle of the store, they changed the way the aisles run, so you can’t see from front to back. We got on the wrong aisle and neither of us knew where the other one was. But he didn’t panic, he just went to the guys that were working there and wanted to know if they’d seen an old lady with oxygen running around in a cart, and found me.
He’s really been doing well. He loves to go to Costco, calls it Disneyland. We’ve been to the beach a few times. He just has amazed me at how fast he adjusted. Not to say we haven’t had a few situations where he has flashed back and misunderstood something that was being said or done. Especially here at home where we had to sit down and figure out what the communication really had been, and what was being said and meant, rather than the interpretation that he might have had from his interaction from his past in the prison. I would say that it’s been a collective effort for all three of us to work through everything. We’ve not experienced some of the horror stories that I had heard about and thought maybe we would have to deal with. He’s been pretty good and our home has been really a haven, I believe for him.
The one thing I would say would be to be sure that you don’t overreact to little things that really aren’t important. Make sure that the only things that you really try to take issue with are issues that are big enough to be a serious matter.
I also have a little dog. She’s a companion dog for me and with him until he goes to work. If he has time, he feeds her, if not I get up and feed her after he leaves. But she waits for him at the door when he comes home, and I saw them this morning sitting on the back porch. I have a little swing out there and they were sitting out there together and he was petting her. There’s something about having a furry little friend that understands everything.
And my sister in law is closer to his age and they go to Costco together and have more energy than I. I think that’s been helpful too.
It’s really great that he has been able to adjust so well because like you said, you do hear a lot of things where people come out, they’ve been told what to do for so long that it’s difficult for them to make decisions. It seems like he’s been able to come out and adjust. Could you give an example of something that could help somebody else when they have a loved one come home.
Well the one thing I have noticed is he doesn’t like anyone to say anything that he thinks is disrespectful. The word respect out of prison is almost a mantra, and we try not to use that word around here. We try to use more like, getting along or being considerate. The one thing I would say would be to be sure that you don’t overreact to little things that really aren’t important. Make sure that the only things that you really try to take issue with are issues that are big enough to be a serious matter.
Well I have a question about getting his license, did you guys just go to DMV to do that?
What did you have to show? I mean after so many years, because that’s a question we get a lot is how do you get your license back?
To get his license at DMV, he had his prison ID, they accepted that. I know they looked at the Social Security card, birth certificate and prison ID.
So then guys that don’t have it, that’s what takes so long they have to go and apply for their Social Security.
Well the prisons have pretty much been getting the Social Security card and birth certificates for everyone who’s getting out so they have that information.
Well that’s good.
When they get out, and then they give them their prison card. He could use that prison card just like regular ID until he got his driver’s license. Even when he opened his bank account, he used his driver’s license to open his bank account.
Is he able to vote?
Alright, there was a lot of work put into that.
Yes. He is in California, I don’t know about Nevada. When he went to the classes at the parole office, they have a set of six weeks of classes here that you have to go through and when he was going to that they had someone there to sign him up for voting.
He’s also going to be eligible to go to school as of this month without paying out of state tuition, and I think he’ll be able to afford it. There are opportunities and plans that he’ll be able to apply and qualify for, so maybe he’ll be able to finish some of the educational endeavors that he’s already started. He has three AA degrees that he might want to complete his bachelors. Although he has a pretty good job. It doesn’t pay a huge amount, but he manages to pay his share of the bills and a car, plus a few other things that he might want.
Is he getting health insurance through his job?
Yes. Yes he does. He came out with a lot of health issues. He had Hep-C and he had to go through that treatment. They found a heart issue, they did a treatment for that, and he had compression for his legs, and takes medicine now. He also now sleeps with a CPAP, or a BiPAP for sleep apnea. So he has quite a few medical issues, and probably the most serious were dental issues. He came out with a tooth that hadn’t been cared for and it broke in half almost as soon as he got out. We finally got it pulled, but to date we haven’t been able to get anything fixed on it, it’s still an open tooth missing. He works long hours. He had a dental appointment yesterday, but he couldn’t make it because he didn’t get off work in time.
When he was in prison, was he able to get medical care? Or was it not available? Or he didn’t do it?
Well he was diagnosed with Hep-C and the prison. At our urging through an assemblyman who helped us, he got six months of care. They made him sign papers that he would continue for a year no matter what, but at the end of six months they decided not to continue the treatment. We’ve tried to pay for the additional care and treatment but it was refused. When he got out his viral load was right back up sky high. Now he’s gone through the treatment and his viral load is zero, he’s cured!
I think that’s great. It really hits me because my brother died of Hep-C in prison.
So you understand. We got enough care I guess to keep him going, but not enough because his viral load was very high when he got out, thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands, I don’t even know for sure. But the medical care, they just got right on that and he had the treatment immediately. I would say the care in prison is very minimal. For people who are just in and out for a short period of time maybe it’s not such a problem, but when you’re there for 37 years, to not have any care for your body, adequate care, it’s a long time.
And do you think that he got the support or care, whatever he did receive was because you were there and pushing for it and helping from the outside?
So it’s important then for people on the outside to advocate for their loved ones on the inside.
Absolutely, the squeaky wheels do get oil. Even though they don’t like it when you are asking questions, the prison system would rather we be quite. I don’t think you can afford to do that. You have to keep your voice being heard and you must attend legislative activities and participate in everything you can as far as parole boards are concerned. You can never give up, you have to keep in contact with your loved one that’s in prison, and give them the opportunity to contact you as much as you can afford, like with phone time and visiting. I also think that it’s imperative that families continue to extend unconditional love to their loved ones, and continue to work for their release.
Even now for my second son that’s not home yet. He has parole, but he’s not home nor anywhere outside the prison. You just can’t give up and you just have to keep working at it.
So your second son, you thought that he was going to come to where you’re living and they said no?
At the last minute California denied it.
So are you looking for another place for him to stay then?
Well we’ve appealed to the Nevada parole commissioners to amend their parole conditions, to allow them to communicate and live together. They told me two weeks ago it would be weeks, not days. So I’m expecting maybe this coming week to hear something; I hope so.
So they might reverse it and let him come home?
Possibly. California said they don’t have a problem with having them live together, what they have a problem with is Nevada has it in bold print in their release form that no felons can live together or communicate. California does not want to go against Nevada’s rules even though they’re not their rules.
Your son is living at home, is he on parole then? Or did he serve his sentence?
Oh no, he’s on lifetime parole.
And your son that’s coming out will be on parole also?
I’m just thinking of all these years. I know it’s been a long journey for you. How did you stay motivated? How did you stay strong?
Well there were times I didn’t, Julia. I fell by the wayside. The support of other folks who were advocates, and also I saw firsthand what I personally believe is a serious injustice. Calling our criminal system a criminal justice system is a misnomer. There’s a lot of injustice going on and I just felt like, not only for my own sons but for many of the people who are incarcerated, those of us who have a voice must speak up and must do what we can do to help those who are having such a struggle to help themselves.
I think having somebody there is really important too, like you said.
Another thing that I think is so important on the organization you’re supporting is the cards and communications. Getting birthday cards and being remembered at holidays might not seem like a lot, but for someone who’s not getting a lot of interaction with the outside world, knowing someone cares enough to at least send them a card is a big issue. It is a big deal and I think sometimes we lose sight, because it doesn’t seem to be too big in the scope of this merry-go-round we’re running around in all the time, but it is. They truly are blessed to get those cards.
I would not have been concerned if my children had not been in prison. I hate to admit that, but I would’ve been as negative as the majority of people on the outside are.
How do you think we could reach out to people? How do you get people to empathize with people on the outside and how they’re affected by something maybe a loved one did or didn’t do, but they’re still in the prison system. So there’s a whole group of people on the outside that are affected, how do we close that empathy gap?
You know that is a big question for me in my life that I still face. Even at church I am very cautious about who I tell because people are pretty judgmental. Education is going to be one way, maybe some public service ads, if someone will do that. Another would be if someone is able to even write a book about having someone in prison. The other I could think of would be more education towards our youngsters, because that’s tough to get it into the schools or into any kind of presentation with the high schools. I don’t honestly know how to bridge the gap.
No, you brought up some really good points. But your son is home, that must just be such a great feeling after everything.
It’s a blessing. A blessing.
If you have a story to share about re-entry you can email firstname.lastname@example.org