When I was in prison—a famous prison journalist, published author and statewide renowned jailhouse lawyer—I would tell my wife (and most anyone else who would suffer through the listening) that if I was released from prison in my underwear in the middle of New York City, I would find a way to survive.
As Dierks Bentley’s song says, “what was I thinkin’”?
I was finally released in 2006 after serving more than 40 years (in some pretty dark, dangerous places) and I didn’t have on much more than my underwear when I walked out of the prison into my wife’s arms.
But what I did have was an upscale high rise condo (beautifully decorated) in which to live, a network of middle/upper class friends of my wife that embraced my reentry into the free world, and the financial resources to get the computer and legal skills at a local community college I so desperately needed to secure employment in the legal profession.
In effect, I virtually had every opportunity for a successful reentry into the free community made available to me by my wife. I didn’t have to worry about surviving in New York City in my underwear.
Still, after 40 years in a confined environment, surviving in the free community was no easy task—psychological adjustments had to be made, learning how to work in a professional setting had to be achieved, and developing the personal and social skills necessary to navigate in and about the nation’s fourth largest city had to be honed.
Believe me that free world adjustment was much harder than the ten years I spent in a maximum security cell or the five years I spent in a general prison population in what was called “the bloodiest prison in America.”
That brings me to the heart of this post.
ABC News carried a report on April 10, 2020 about inmates being released from “Locked Up to Locked Out” – inmates walking out of prison into a society in virtual lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some were released just weeks before the Covid virus effectively shut the free world down causing them to lose those initial successful reentry gains—job, place to live, and the prospect of a good, decent, law-abiding future.
Then Covid arrived, and the bottom of their world suddenly, and without much warning, fell out—no job, no place to stay, bills to pay, and a truck load of other concerns staring them in the face. Granted, the average person firmly established in the free world before Covid is now facing the same problems and concerns, but at least they have a network of friends, family and resources that allows them to face the Covid challenges with some support.
The fresh-out-prison individual does not have these personal and psychological support mechanisms. They are pretty much alone—alone like being in a foxhole in the middle of a war without a gun. They do not even have the “going back to prison” option. Those facilities are now, or will become, human death traps. At least in the free world there are masks, surgical gloves, halfway houses, and the local food bank the help the newly released inmates survive the Covid pandemic.
I feel empathy for these guys. I still pray for those I left behind and will now pray for those who must face the challenges of surviving in a world being ravaged by a deadly pandemic.
Think about being in your underwear in middle of New York City, alone, and you will know what these guys are up against.