Category Archives: Recidivism

SEEKING A REAL JOB

job application.jpgby Wayne T. Dowdy

Time changes things.  Ex-offenders struggled to obtain gainful employment for years.  The blemish of a felony conviction decreased their chance of employment.  Now, at many American companies, a criminal conviction does not automatically disqualify ex-felon job applicants.  That is good news for society and taxpayers!

“The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, representing 1,300 business groups, agreed last month with the Counsel of State Governments Justice Center to provide assistance to chamber members in the hiring of ex-offenders.

“While some businesses have been interested in the past, ‘it becomes even more critical when the labor market is tight not to rule out qualified applicants,’ said David Rattray, a Los Angeles chamber executive.”  Stigma of Criminal Record Fades, As U.S. Employers Get Desperate by Steve Matthews, Copyright 2017 Bloomberg L.P., published in the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA Reporter), CRL, May 31, 2017.

PERSONALLY:  In 1976, I was released from state prison and applied for numerous jobs.  I even tried getting a job at some of the local state government agencies.  During interviews, things went well until my criminal history became the topic, then I essentially got the infamous line, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  No one called.

A month later, I read a newspaper article about CETA, a program created to help disadvantaged people find employment.  I applied there and experienced the same ole BS.  I had had enough by then.

CRIMINAL THINKING:  After hearing the same ole line, I looked at the interviewer and said, “I’m trying to get a job.  No one will hire me.  I have a wife at home, a baby, and another baby on the way.  I’ve got to have a job to take care of them, but since no one will hire me, what are you saying, I should get a gun and go to work?”

He reconsidered and sent me for an interview at a Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi dealership.  The company hired me as a mechanic.  Unfortunately, the floor manager did not like me.  If the Kelly’s Blue Book said to pay mechanics a certain rate for performing a specific task, he paid me less than normal.  The other mechanics sympathized and agreed that he was unfair to me.

I quit after dealing with the disparity for several months.  Within two years, I made a terrible mistake and picked up a gun to “get paid.”

CRIME PAYS:  I got paid using a gun.  What I got paid was a long-prison sentence because of the method of employment I chose to get paid.  Crime pays with prison sentences that rob men and women of their lives.

A life of crime led to me robbing my children of a father to guide, protect, and provide for them; robbed my wife of a husband to fulfill his responsibilities in the marriage; robbed my siblings of their brother, my mother and father of their son, and turned me into a liability rather than an asset to the family.

GET A JOB:  No, not with a gun.  Being caught with a gun or bullet, would get me sentenced to fifteen years to life without parole.  I don’t want to retire that way.  The 35-year sentence I am almost finished with, gave me enough time to get rested and willing to get a real job.

PREPARING FOR THE JOB MARKET:  On Sunday, May 28, 2017, Georgia Focus, a radio talk show, featured a Georgia Department of Labor official (I think it was Georgia Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler).

He spoke of programs to help the formerly incarcerated to find employment, and said that he has over 100,000 positions to fill.  According to the radio interview and the BNA article, one of the biggest obstacles of some applicant/employees is a lack of soft skills.

SOFT SKILLS:  show up for work on time, dress accordingly (if applying for a welding job, go dressed as if you are ready to start work, not in a three-piece suit); communication and people skills (working with others, being polite, considerate, etc.), and of course, working hard.

He also spoke on the value of following up on job applications; e.g., sending a message or calling to thank the employer for his or her consideration (as I recall, Mr. Butler used his daughter as an example of follow-up activities that landed her two interviews and then the job she sought).

THE WORLD OF WORK:  In 1985-86, I graduated from The World of Work, a program to teach participants to be entrepreneurs, how to get a job, how to succeed in the business world.

(To view a photo of me while giving a graduation speech from a podium at the Hilton Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, visit my photo gallery at here..)

I secured the first position I applied for at Bankhead Enterprises, Inc. (BEI).  I drove a truck to pick up and deliver parts for their Transportation Division (Bankhead Transportation Equipment).  Within two years, I held multiple positions and increased my salary by fifty-percent.

One position I held was as the assistant manager of the Equipment Maintenance Division.  I brought it out of the red for its first time by billing all expenses.  All of the department heads complained about an increase in overhead, but it made my boss happy.  🙂

The last official position I held was in the Personnel Department.  For a pay increase, I left to become an estimator for BEI’s fastest growing division (Bankhead Asphalt Paving).  The manager wanted me to work for two weeks to show him what I could do before he decided how much to increase my salary.

SHARP DRESSED MAN:  I made an irrational decision to quit because “that wasn’t the deal.”  I wanted the raise to walk on the property in my three-piece suit.  Yes, I was young and dumb, well dressed, but definitely young and dumb.

I left BEI and later worked for the Electrolux Corporation to sell vacuum cleaners and shampooers.  I took top office sales on my first week out.

HISTORY HURTS:  In 1988, an insurance company and real estate company both called and invited me to work for them.  My criminal conviction prohibited me from getting license to sell insurance, homes or property.

The insurance company had hired me.  I let the manager know I may not be able to get a license.  I wanted to find out if I could be licensed before he invested the time into training me.  With regret, he learned Georgia law prohibited me from selling insurance for his company.

The principles I learned in The World of Work worked.  I failed to succeed because I had a problem with drugs and alcohol, a problem I no longer have, and one that screwed up my thinking.  With over twenty-two years of sobriety, and a determination to succeed, I know I can make it in any company I chose to work for upon release.

SELL YOURSELF:  To get a job, one must sell themselves to the potential employer.  Employers do not care if the baby needs milk or if the spouse needs a new pair of shoes.  Employers hire people to do the job and to profit/benefit from their labor, so an applicant must convince the employer they are the best candidate for the position, the one to make them money or best serve their interests.

COMPLETING THE APPLICATION:  When completing an application, if it contains a field for Felony Convictions, write or type, “Will Explain During Interview.”  That may allow you to get your foot in the door to sell yourself as the person for the job.

EXPERIMENT:  If faced with resistance by a potential employer, and if you are confident of your ability to do the job, offer to work a week without promise of pay, unless you satisfactory perform the tasks.  Walk away with dignity and pride whether you secure the position or not.  Be proud of having given it your best.

ADVANCEMENT (GIVE MORE THAN YOU RECEIVE):  If paid $10.00 per hour and only work to give an employer $10.00 worth of work, an employee will likely stay at $10.00 per hour; however, if that employee gives the employer work worthy of $20.00 per hour, he or she will likely be promoted, whether it be by advancing in the organization, or by an increase in his or her salary.

FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES, INC. (UNICOR):  For almost 28-years I’ve worked for UNICOR.  Numerous politicians tried to shut the doors.  UNICOR helps reduce recidivism by preparing inmates for the job market.  I learned several marketable job skills since I began working for UNICOR on December 1, 1989.

The more promising positions have been working as a document control clerk, a tutor in an Apprenticeship Program for Quality Assurance Inspectors, a technical writer (since 1997), and an Internal Auditor for eleven years.

The former Quality Assurance Manager, once told an external auditor for the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), who audited our Quality Management System for compliance with ISO 9001: 2008 Requirements, that I was like a gnat.

“When he’d ask me to do something we are supposed to do, if I put him off, he’d keep coming back to bug me to do it.  He was like a gnat flying around in my face.  I’d shoo him away but he’d keep coming back until I did what I was supposed to do.”

He retired and became a respectable employee for a private company.

I apply myself in whatever task I perform and do it to the best of my ability or not at all.  In UNICOR, I apply myself more so to do my part to help keep it afloat for others to have an opportunity to learn and provide for themselves.

I expect those who earn more in a day than I earn in a month to do the same thing.  That does not always work out when dealing with Union or federal employees who know it almost takes an act of Congress to terminate them.  Most often, the bureaucracy rewards incompetence by promoting them instead of sending them to look for another job.  Maybe President Trump can change that.

WORKKEYS:  I began WorkKeys last month to help prepare for reentry into the job market.  The title should have warned me that Workkeys required a lot of work.  The curriculum entails Reading for Information, Applied Math, and Locating Information.

In the early ’80s, I took a Math remedial class at South Georgia College to bring my math skills up to college level.  Now I am re-learning math because I forgot most of what I learned decades ago.  Use it or loose it!

The Neurons inside my brain sparked when math entered the equation.  Math is not my favorite course of study but that has not deterred me from proceeding with what I began.  I am rising to the occasion because of my desire to succeed.  I am striving for Platinum Certification.  More will be revealed!

REENTRY & EMPLOYMENT:  The changes in the job market give me more hope in securing gainful employment upon release.  My age may also be a hindrance when I apply for jobs.  Even so, I’m sure some employers prefer an older, more mature employee, who shows up for work on time, performs his duties in a prompt, efficient manner, and who proves himself an asset to their company, as I will do.

In “Reentry Programs Will Reduce Recidivism” (July 2016), I wrote on the reentry initiatives implemented by President Obama that will help ex-offenders obtain employment and become a taxpayer instead of a tax liability.  I listed numerous companies willing to hire ex-offenders; e.g., The Coca-Cola Company, Georgia-Pacific, Kellogg Company, Staples, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Best Buy, and many others.  Hopefully, Attorney General Sessions will not undo that as he has other initiates implemented by the Obama Administration.

Perhaps Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal, will hire an ex-offender when I am released.  I have a lot to offer about issues affecting recidivism, including ideas for reducing it by helping the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.  After all, with my experience in corrections, I am somewhat an expert.

My corrections experience cost taxpayers well-over a million dollars.  Employing me as a Consultant or auditor will yield favorable results by converting me into an asset, especially, for those with a vested interest in reducing recidivism through employment opportunities.

______________________________________

Wayne T. Dowdy writes StraightFromthePen.  Follow his blogs and purchase his writings at http://www.straightfromthepen.com or at Midnight Express Books, P.O. Box 69, Berryville, AR 72616, Email: MEBooks1@yahoo.com

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RECIDIVISM IN AMERICA by Wayne T. Dowdy

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January 11, 2017: Three men sat at a corner table in the prison “Chow Hall”; each with a hamburger, a few strands of lettuce leafs, a thin slice of tomato, and “Smiley Faces” (fried, round pieces of oil-saturated, potatoes, with cut out smiley faces, capable of making men frown if not properly fried).

I was one of the three men who sat at the table. My last complete day spent in society was August 17, 1988. (Read “No Sympathy” by Wayne T. Dowdy for details of my arrest and conviction in federal court, by a jury unlike my peers.) I eagerly await the day I leave prison for a halfway house.

Johnny P. sat across from me, his last day free was also over twenty-years ago. He is a good man who made bad decisions in his youth. A youngster sat to his right at the table.

RECIDIVISM: The youngest at the table was released from here three months ago to go to a halfway house. He returned for violating the terms of his supervised release (similar to parole or probation where a man or woman must meet specified conditions to remain free). See below subtitle, “RECIDIVISM DEFINED” for definition.

Johnny grilled the youngster about his return.

The youngster said, “Because I was under Public Law, I could only get a four-hour pass each month. I got tired of seeing everybody else go on passes for the weekend, and me not being able to, so I left a couple weeks later and didn’t go back. They caught me after three weeks. I’ve been locked up ever since.”

Johnny turned his head and locked eyes with the youngster. “I have six life sentences. Do you know how bad I wish I could go home to be with my family for four hours a month?”

Johnny’s words ingrained an image in my mind that influenced me to write this blog.

The youngster acknowledged his mistake, but then rationalized that serving the additional 18-months would kill the remainder of his supervised release.

SUPERVISED RELEASE: Depending on when a person was sentenced, determines whether a sentence for a violation disposes of the remainder of supervised release, or restarts the supervised release term upon release from prison for the violation. I have three terms of supervised release (one for two years, another for three, consecutive to the two, and a concurrent five-year term), each of which is only good for one violation that I do not plan to utilize.

ANTI-CRIME BILLS: The United States Congress has passed several anti-crime bills, with various provisions for controlling offenders captured in the mass incarceration frenzy–created by politicians for the sake of a vote–that ruins lives and costs American citizens billions of dollars each year in taxes.

SENTENCING REFORM ACT OF 1984 (SRA): One such bill was the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. As part of the SRA, effective November 1, 1987, Congress created the United States Sentencing Commission (“The Commission”) as “an independent agency in the judicial branch of the government.”

More than 1.5 million people have been sentenced under the SRA. The alleged purpose of the SRA was to deter, incapacitate or rehabilitate criminals, and to protect society from future crimes by offenders.

The SRA abolished federal parole and requires federal prisoners to serve 85% of their sentences. Eligible prisoners may earn “up to 54 days” per year under Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 3624(b)(1), Release of Prisoners. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.) refuses to give any of their Cash Cows more than 47-days.

The B.O.P. began 2017 with 189,333 prisoners, which is substantially less than the 219,298 reported in 2013.

21,140 of those prisoners are contracted out to private prison companies. The reduction came from legal and legislative changes, not from B.O.P. initiatives. Lobbyists from private prison companies provide hefty campaign contributions to politicians to maintain mass incarceration policies. Read “The Truth About Incarceration, Part II” by Wayne T. Dowdy for more on the topic.

THE COMMISSION: The Commission’s primary purpose was to establish policies, practices, and guidelines for federal judges to use in sentencing federal offenders.

RECIDIVISM DEFINED: Between 2005 and 2013, 25,431 federal offenders were included in a study on Recidivism (“refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.”)

“The Commission studied offenders who was either released from federal prison after serving a sentence of imprisonment or placed on a term of probation in 2005.”

STUDY NUMBERS: Offense Types and recidivism rates were as follows: Drug Trafficking (41.7%), Fraud (13.6%), Firearms (12.8%), Robbery (4.3%), Larceny (3.9%), Immigration (3.5%), and ALL Other (20.3%).

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF RECIDIVISM STUDY: The first numbers represent those in the study, whereas the second number represents offenders sentenced in 2014, after the eight-year study period ended: 81.7% – 81.2% were Male offenders. White offenders led at 43.7% – 38.1%, followed by Blacks at 33.9% – 32.7%, Hispanics at 17.8% – 23.4%, and other races at 4.6% – 5.8%.

EDUCATE TO REDUCE RECIDIVISM: Post-Secondary Education Reduces Recidivism! In the study, 34.3% did not graduate high school, compared to 36.6% who did; 21.4% had some college, and only 7.5% were college graduates.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Maybe President Trump will find a way to reduce prison populations and save billions of dollars by reducing recidivism rates. To help willing ex-offenders become productive members of society, who can help pay back their cost of incarceration by paying taxes, will help to make America great again, instead of shamefully being the Incarceration Capital of the World.

OTHER RESULTS OF RECIDIVISM STUDIES: 49.3 percent of those released were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervised release (e.g., failing to pass a urine analysis, failure to report to the supervised release officer; leaving without permission from a halfway house, perimeter of home confinement area or the state; violating state or federal laws, etc.). “Recidivism Among Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview,” United States Sentencing Commission, March 2016.

Another study showed recidivism rates for state prisoners were higher than federal counterparts: 76.6% of state prisoners were rearrested within five years. “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010” (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rprts05p0510.pdf).

In adjusting the federal study for a five-year comparison, the examiners removed federal offenders sentenced to probation or fines, which lowered the federal rearrest rate from 49.3% to 44.9%, compared to the 76.6% for state offenders. Comparing recidivism reconviction rates (convictions for new criminal charges), state offenders led at 55.4%, compared to 26.0% for federal offenders.

The difference in rearrest rates were possibly due to higher education levels for federal offenders and more available programs created to reduce recidivism. Locking people up inside overcrowded institutions, without providing opportunities that allow the imprisoned to learn how to improve their circumstances that led to prison, only feeds a system that robs men and women of dignity, integrity, and self-respect.

ANOTHER CHANCE: Providing I see the end of this 35-year sentence of imprisonment, which I anticipate doing, I will have another chance to succeed in society. I plan to be a productive member upon release by sharing my experience, strength and hope to help others learn from my mistakes and success.

I plan to use StraightFromthePen.org to provide a platform to (1) influence legal changes to absurd laws; (2) promote prison and sentencing reform; and (3), to help improve prison systems through legislation that forces prison authorities to provide inmates with resources to help them change their lives. To do so, I will communicate, directly or indirectly, with state and federal legislatures for those I will leave behind.

Of course, an old saying is that if you want to hear God laugh to tell Him your plans, so maybe He is laughing now. Maybe His plan for me entails something other than that, but since I am essentially an expert in the field of corrections by being inside most of my life, I figure my experience can benefit others inside who are heading down the path that led me “here.”

My hope is to help effect a change to allow Johnny and thousands of others who are serving absurd prison sentences, to one day have an opportunity to get out of prison, even if only for a furlough.

MASS INCARCERATION: All of us released from prison and then returned for a new sentence are equally responsible for mass incarceration.

As prisoners, we complain about our conditions and what we deal with as part of the prison experience, and yet, for those fortunate enough to get out, we return to make the Prison Machine grow bigger and stronger by feeding it with our lives. By returning to prison, we make sentencing reform initiatives more difficult to pass.

Many men and women released from prison are forced to return to the same area from which they came, without the benefit of going to halfway houses to prepare for successful reentry. Some revert to crime to survive, rather than seeking help from available social programs; the reason is most likely a lack of knowledge about available programs.

DRUG OFFENDERS: The majority of American prison populations are drug offenders, who are the worst to complain about having unjust sentences for “victimless crimes.” But if addicts die from drugs or commit crimes to buy them, are addicts and those victimized by the addicts to get the drugs, victims?

The same legislatures who passed laws to punish people who rob banks, or kill people, are the same ones who passed drug laws. Whether I agree or not, it is the law and if I don’t want to go to or stay in prison, I do not need to violate the law.

Plans to commit and get away with crimes ultimately fail, as proven by booming prison populations.

I do agree that many prisoners have unjust prison sentences, but not just for drug crimes. Those serving life without parole in cases that did not involve murders or other forms or violence are real unjust.

Life without parole may be spelled with letters or numbers (50, 75, 100 years imprisonment).

Numerous prosecutors and law enforcement officials plot with “cooperating codefendants” of the accused to exaggerate drug quantities or other facts needed to trigger more severe sentencing ranges. Codefendants fabricate drug quantities to receive a lesser sentence for providing “substantial assistance.”

Several foreign countries do not have large prison populations because they execute those who violate laws, including drug laws.

At the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, foreign nationals toured the prison. A psychologist told me a prisoner complained to a lady about the severe prison sentence he was serving for a drug offense. She replied, “Sir, why do you complain? In my country, they would execute you.”

Help make America great again by reducing recidivism through proven programs. Imprisoning citizens does not make America great; especially, when slowly executing them by laws that lead to decades or the rest of their lives in prison.

________________________
Wayne T. Dowdy writes at StraightFromthePen.com. Purchase UNKNOWN INNOCENCE ($10.95) and ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95), plus S & H charges, at Midnight Express Books, P.O. Box 69, Berryville, AR 72616. Buy online at CreateSpace.com, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other eStores. Visit his Author’s page at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WayneMrDowdy to purchase eBooks, or from most available eBook distributors, including the Apple iBookstore. At Smashwords, download your copy in the format that works best for you, including Html or pdf to read on your PC or Smartphone.

REENTERING REALITY

by Wayne T. Dowdy

Time Warp - Time Dilation. Quantum mechanics meets general relat
Time Warp – Time Dilation. Quantum mechanics meets general relativity.

The clock ticks away the seconds, minutes, hours, and months until my release. The realities I must face flood the senses as my day comes closer. The last three decades of my life will have been spent inside federal prisons. For most of this sentence, getting out seemed so far into the future that I never concerned myself with release preparations, other than general ideas about where I would live when that day arrives, and how to legally provide for myself; e.g., writing my way to riches, freelance technical writing, writing “how to” books; working as an internal auditor, or helping to prepare a company for ISO certification of their quality management system, maybe starting a company. Some of my peers want me to set up a paralegal service to help those still incarcerated. Whatever I do, I will succeed as a free citizen.

FREEDOM: In recent months, I have known a few to receive commutation of sentences: Alphonso Davis, Alonzo Mackins, and the most recent two J. F. Banks, and M. L. Sherrod, all of whom were doomed to die in federal prison until President Obama bestowed his mercy upon them and gave them another chance at life. All four men had sentences of life without parole for various drug-related crimes. (See LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE below.)

FREEDOM DENIED: I have known many, many, more men whose petitions were denied, including myself. My petition was denied on September 30, 2016. I am not alone. Thousands of applicants of all ethnic backgrounds have been denied.

Personally, I have not known anyone other than African-Americans whose petitions were granted. I know race plays a role in the decision on whether to grant or not grant a petition, since President Obama specifically mentioned sentencing disparities of “minorities.” It makes me happy to see anyone blessed with freedom.

The sad part is that all four of those men I know, who were serving life without parole, are only a micro-percentage of all the others I know who are in the same position and deserve another chance at life.

I do believe that what President Obama is doing is a good thing. I do not believe the color of a person’s skin should have been a decisive factor in sentencing or relief. I know the President began Clemency Project 2014 to release people of color who met specific requirements; a few others were also released. All of the people I know whom he granted relief deserved it and should not have been serving the rest of their lives in prison for their crimes.

RECIDIVISM: Statistically, many released prisoners will re-offend, whether white, black, yellow, or brown. Only a few will commit horrendous crimes and regardless of what percentage returns, the politicians should not use that to justify not passing laws to give others another chance at freedom. (Read my July 25, 2016, blog post, “Changing Public Image of Prisoners,” (UNRECOGNIZED SUCCESS STORIES), and “Reentry Programs Will Reduce Recidivism” for more on the issue.)

TOUGH-ON-CRIME BRIBES: Many donations will be given to politicians who vote against prison reform bills. On July 27, 2016, Presidential candidate Donald Trump received a $45,000 contribution from GEO Group, Inc., a private prison group with a vested interest in high incarceration rates. www. rollcall.com, “Private Immigrant Detention Firm Gave $45K to Trump Fundraising Group” by Dean DeChiaro.

My day will come and I will walk out the door a better man than when I walked in three decades before. Most of the years I have spent in prison were due in part to tough-on-crime bills driven by funding from private prison representatives.

In the “Truth About Incarceration, Part II” (https://straightfromthepen.wordpress.com), I wrote on the influence on laws by contributions from private prison officials.

lifewithoutparoleLIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: Life without parole for drug crimes was once considered to be cruel and unusual punishment in some states until the United States Supreme Court decided it was cruel but not unusual, and then upheld a Michigan criminal statute that allowed men and women sentenced to life without parole for possessing “650 grams or more of any mixture containing certain controlled substance, including cocaine.” He a first-time offender. Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957 (1991).

“Times change. The law has changed. Our culture is changing its views about how long we should put people behind bars.” The Honorable J. Merritt, Circuit Judge, dissenting in United States v. Taylor, 815 F.3d 248 (6th Cir. 2016).

Americans are reevaluating punishment for what they think crimes should carry.

The time has come for Americans to take a stand about the mass incarceration that drains the economy and ruins the family structure of those affected by unjust incarceration.

BLOGS: I wrote blogs in tribute to Alphonso and Alonzo, both of whom were friends (“Freedom for a Friend” and “Freedom for Another Friend”). In those blogs, I praised President Obama for doing what he did. I wrote other blogs that relates to others reentering society and my views on programs to reduce recidivism (reverting to old behaviors, drug addiction or crime that leads men and women back to prison).

On a different note, President Obama was an attorney before he became a senator and then the President. As an attorney, he would have seen first-hand how Americans were cast into prison for life without parole, for crimes that did not warrant such severe punishment.

TRANSITIONS: Most everyone faces difficulties when reentering society; especially, with a criminal conviction to overcome when applying for jobs. Just trying to fit-it can be challenging upon return to a different society than when the ex-offender was last free. In “No Sympathy”* I wrote about such changes.

I forewarned Mr. Mackins about the changes to expect during his transition. He was a first-time offender who had spent eighteen years of his life in an unnatural environment: prison. Reentering society after decades in prison often makes a person feel like an alien.

My time is coming soon. Am I ready? Yes!

In 1988, I did not worry about what my life would be like in 2019, sixty-two years old; leaving prison, without a home, or a car, or a job, and without money to sustain my life in a foreign world: the free society. The world I left as a young man for sitting in a second-getaway vehicle during an armed bank robbery, down the road from the bank, unarmed, alone until confederates came to meet me for the great escape.

With it now being the end of 2016, and with knowing my case manager said he will put me in for more time in a halfway house than most people receive (due to amount of time served), I may go to that distant world as early as April 24, 2018. The reality of my upcoming release sets in.

My tentative release date is April 24, 2019. That is the date I am scheduled to begin serving my five years of supervised release. I will have served thirty-years and nine months inside.

For fourteen years I was rated as High security and Maximum custody. The custody rating determines the level of security and controls needed to house an inmate.

CHANGES: In the beginning, I realized a very real chance existed that I might die in prison; especially, since I was told I would stay maximum custody, because I had assaulted staff and escaped while serving time in the State of Georgia. I never accepted I could not get my custody/security lowered, even though the classification system did have me in a trap: I could never score enough points for a custody decrease, regardless of how well I behaved.

I did not give up, even with it looking as if I would never get my security lowered because of my past. My High Max classification was based more on my behavior as a twenty-four-year-young, knuckle head, than my behavior in the federal system.

Early on when I asked about having the maximum custody removed, the unit manager at U.S.P. Leavenworth said, “You will be maximum custody when you get out in 2020.” (My release date was in 2020.)

Years later, after not having been a disciplinary or management problem, I asked my case manager about removing the maximum custody that kept me in the penitentiaries. She said, “Two things the B.O.P. does not tolerate is escape and assault on staff and you have done both. I don’t see any warden signing off on you but we will talk about it at your next team.”

At the next team meeting I asked again. She put her hand on my extensive file, tapped it with a finger, and then said, “The person I see in here is not the same person I see sitting in front of me. You’ve changed haven’t you?”

“Yeah, I changed a little,” I said and laughed.

I have changed a lot over the years and am an honorable man and a good person. Many times I wondered if I would see the outside again, especially when I sat in some of the most dangerous federal prisons in the United States, with trouble brewing that I knew could lead to a full-scale riot and result in the deaths of many men.

I maintained my sanity by not thinking about a day I knew I may never see: the day I would walk out the prison doors as a free man.

REALITIES OF RELEASE: I recently thought about some of the challenges I will face upon release: needing a car for transportation to and from work, and needing the money to buy the car and insurance for the car that I cannot buy without a job. In the city of Atlanta, which is where I will be sent for the halfway house portion of my sentence, I will be able to use the MARTA transit system to get around while in the halfway house. In the suburbs of Atlanta where I plan to live, I am not sure if public transportation exists.

When I was last a free citizen, the price of gasoline at some Georgia gas stations was $0.78 to $0.82 cent per gallon. At high dollar stations like Shell and Exxon, it only cost around $1.15 to $1.38 per gallon. By the time I am released, I am sure the prices will be around $3.00 to $4.25 per gallon.

WANTS VERSUS NEEDS: I realized through my personal experience that the lack of money management skills put people in prison, as does drug and alcohol abuse. During the last twenty-one, “sober years” of this sentence, I learned to manage my money by living within my means, not borrowing to buy, and making decisions to purchase based on needs versus wants.

If the prison commissary stocks a new item (e.g., a different style of tennis shoes I like, a watch, radio, or MP-3 player), I have often wanted to purchase the item but have not because it was a “want,” not a need. I love music and can afford to purchase an MP-3 player. I really do “want” one, but if I buy one, then I’d be buying songs for $1.55 each. I resisted the impulse and applied my limited funds toward paying for time on Corrlinks to write these blogs and for sending emails to friends and loved ones, or printing documents at fifteen cents per page.

I keep time on the first Indiglo model Timex that I bought in March of 1995. I don’t need a different watch, I want one. My relic works fine. I must maintain that level of thinking upon release.

My primary objective will be to find an apartment or home to rent or buy when my finances permit it. When I do, then I have to buy insurance on the house (and personal insurance), and then furniture for the house or apartment.

Relationships will be another adventure. God will give me who I need to make me whole.

Materially, I do not need anything elaborate, nor do I need all the fancy gadgets, such as the latest Apple iPhone. I’ll need to buy clothes to dress for success, a decent cellphone, preferably a Smartphone (who wants a dumb phone?), a computer for my writing career, and maybe a spacecraft to begin my journey into a whole new world. 🙂

In my blog, “The Internet,” I wrote about a conversation I had with my first unit team members. Read it and you will understand what I mean about a spacecraft.

Whether I have a spaceship or not, I will be okay and will be successful as a free citizen.

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The publisher will advertise UNKNOWN INNOCENCE in their newsletter that goes to prisoners. To absorb the cost of shipping and handling, I asked that the price be lowered from $14.95 to $10.95. Purchase it now while the price is low.

* “No Sympathy” is in ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN by Wayne T. Dowdy. It is a good read for those who want to know the truth about life inside American prisons and the associated politics of survival inside the insane world of incarceration. The book is a deal at $8.95.

REENTERING SOCIETY

by Wayne T. Dowdy

When my day comes in the near future, I will be approaching the free society like the Columbia Space Shuttle reentering the atmosphere without all of its protective tiles, or like a meteor heading straight for a collision course with the earth:  I will burn up because of the friction created in the atmosphere of society, caused by my reentry into a distant world of free citizens, unless I proceed with caution and the protection of knowledge, draped in a determination to succeed against the odds.

I must remain constantly aware of the transitional aspect of my journey and how I am affected by all that has changed since my departure three decades ago.  Upon my reentry into a time-warp-zone, I will fail to become a productive member of society if I do not take advantage of the available help now available to prisoners, which will help me ease into a normal life, whatever a normal life may be “out there.”

After my release, death will be inevitable but I will have a choice on whether it will come to me while I am a free man, or as a recidivist who returns to prison because of his thug lifestyle, or as a drug addict who dies because of his addiction and lifestyle, or as a man who fought to change and succeed at changing his life.  My choice is the latter.

COVER.inddIn “No Sympathy” I wrote about my transition into society after serving seven years in the State of Georgia’s prison system and my eventual return to prison (recidivism).  I use my experience to show others that it did not have to be that way:  I did not have to return to prison.  I made choices that led me to where I now write.  I use my story to promote change in a broken criminal justice system and am pleased to see that some of the issues I pushed for over the years have come into existence.

In May 2015, I had my publisher to send Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal, an email for me and an electronic copy of my blog (“Snake vs. Politics,” 03/13/15).  In my blog, in the section subtitled, “Political Promises & Incarceration,” I praised Governor Deal for what he had done and planned to do in the Georgia Criminal Justice system and its prison system.  I know his action will lead to favorable results; e.g., his creating re-entry programs for those released from prison and juvenile diversion programs to stop the flow of juveniles becoming career offenders.

In another essay I wrote and then posted on my blogs (The Truth About Incarceration, Part II); in a subtitled section, “Reentry & Recidivism,” I wrote about the Honorable Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and President Obama for creating reentry initiatives to help ex-offenders find employment, treatment for drug, alcohol problems and mental health issues.

Those reentry initiatives are more of what I pushed for and know will have a positive impact on the lives of those released from prison, as well as for American society as a whole.  (We are all a part of “one,” whether we want to be or not.)  I cried out for all of that in “No Sympathy” when I revised it in June 2014 before I put it in my personal magazine (ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN) and posted it online as an eBook and then on my blog for everyone to read for free.

I have written other blogs that mention recidivism rates and my experiences over the years that will increase my chances of getting out and staying out when released.  Some blogs contain humorous parts but still draw attention to important issues.

In “Rain, Blogs, Frogs & Politics” (November 3, 2015), and in “Vacation in Prison” (April 8, 2015), I wrote about my position in the Federal Prison Industries (trade name UNICOR).  My experiences and skills learned in the organization will help me to secure employment upon release.  I have been fortunate to have obtained legal skills foreign to most prisoners.

Then in “Teaching Cons New Tricks–Creative Writing and Q.A. Apprenticeship Program” (April 15, 2015), I did the same (wrote about skills learned to help me reintegrate into society).

UNICOR is a non-profit organization set up by Congress in the mid-thirties to make various cotton duck cloth items, originally strictly for the military and other government agencies.  The business structure of UNICOR operates similar to the United States Postal Service by generating its own funding, rather than depending on Congressional budgets.

I show in my essays that UNICOR reduces recidivism by teaching inmates marketable job skills.  Even though in recent years, UNICOR seems to have lost focus of the fact that Congress created the organization as a work program for inmates; not as a conglomerate to become a good-ole-boys fraternity or undercover, profit-generating organization, where profits must disappear into staff bonuses and purchases of elaborate office furnishings or maybe into expense paid trips justified as business necessities.

By their Program Statement, UNICOR has an Inmate Scholarship Award where UNICOR contributes funds to assist inmate employees in paying for college courses; however, the budget for the Inmate Scholarship Awards disappeared, probably into some lavish furniture or extra large bonus for Washington Officials who stripped the funding from the program.  Imagine that, misuse of government funding:  Spend funding on unnecessary items rather than on maintaining a program known to reduce recidivism.

Programs that allow inmates to learn new skills, improve their education, and to learn a new way of life benefit inmates and society:  It is a cost-effective way to reduce recidivism and to help create more productive and constructive members of society.  In “Snake vs. Politics,” I challenged all politicians to read “No Sympathy” when deciding on what is needed to reduce recidivism rates in America.  Maybe some of them actually took me up on the offer.  I feel reasonably assured that Governor Nathan Deal accepted the challenge.  He continues to strive toward making prisons do what society needs done to shut the well-known “revolving door” of recidivist that plague the nation.

CONCLUSION

I will write a more technical blog on Reentry and Recidivism next time I have time to write.  Most of my time has been going toward legal work to help other prisoners file post-conviction relief motions, in an effort to help them obtain their freedom.  I won two out of the last five and hope to go five and O.  🙂  Now, due to a long-shot chance I have at obtaining my own freedom, I must rush to seek permission to file a motion to challenge my own conviction before the June 26, 2015, deadline.  Recent changes in law due to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (June 26, 2015) is what has changed.  As I wrote in “Violent Crime Misconception,” Johnson invalidated a provision of the Armed Career Criminal statute, known as the “Residual Clause.”  Some courts are rightfully applying it to other similar provisions in various statutes, such as Title 18, Section 924(c)(2)(B), which is where “crime of violence” is defined and contains similar language, as does the statute for immigration (18 U.S.C., Section 16(b)).  I have to show armed bank robbery is not “categorically” a crime of violence because a person can commit the crime without rising to the level of violence required to show it is a violent crime. A lot of legal jargon with lots of meaning for those fighting to live another day as free men and women.

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09012015002004Purchase “No Sympathy” as one of eleven essays in the collection, ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN by Wayne T. Dowdy, $8.95 USD, available from all major bookstores and eBook retailers.  Read No Sympathy for free online or by downloading the individual essay from Smashwords.com and other eBook retailers.

Due to technical issues, the release of UNKNOWN INNOCENCE was postponed.  The pagination was reduced and the book reformatted.  The tentative plan for release is June 15, 2016.  The listed price is $14.95, USD.  At 85,000-words, that is a deal:  Two books in one.  Those without Internet access may purchase it from Midnight Express Books, P.O. Box 69, Berryville, AR 72616 (email:  MEBooks1@yahoo.com).  All others may buy it from their favorite bookstores or eBook retailers, including the AppleiBookstore.

Follow my blogs at straightfromthepen.wordpress.com and waynedowdy.weebly.com.  Send comments to waynedowdy@straightfromthepen.com.  I will respond when my publisher forwards them to me, when a response is permissible.

 

 

No Sympathy

Updated June 2014: I wrote this essay to show why it’s best for state and federal governments to focus on providing prisoners with the resources needed for treating what lead the person to prison-the root cause behind their imprisonment. I use events from my past to illustrate the cost of not doing so: The cost of recidivism is far greater than a dollar value, but one thing people understand is money, and I prove where I have cost over a million dollars. I’m just one man. One man who hopes to be the catalyst for change.

I don’t look for sympathy. I made the choices that put me in federal prison for thirty-five years, without parole. I’m sure most people couldn’t care less about the life of any prisoner until they become the victim of one who escapes or gets out. To reduce crime rates and the national deficit, some would prefer to behead those who ran afoul of the law, rather than to pay the cost of incarceration. Punish the bastard! Feed ‘em to the lions! they chant. Sadly, such people as those haven’t considered that most prisoners were once normal citizens who made poor choices. Many prisoners are people with addiction problems, and according to a 2002 study, many have an underlying mental disorder. Punishing them hasn’t yielded favorable results. Perhaps treating conditions leading to prison would reduce recidivism by returning the prisoner to society as a productive member. However, if prison growth rates declined, those depending on prisons for financial security would feel threatened. Prisons are cash cows to many: investors in private prison industries, companies providing goods and services to them, prison employees and their powerful unions. My concern is the cost to humans by not reducing recidivism: recidivism often has terrifying results.

I’m a recidivist in prison for driving a second getaway vehicle in an armed bank robbery; never accused of wielding a gun, or of kidnapping anyone. My conviction is based on conspiracy laws. I’m responsible because another recidivist (co-conspirator) took a car from a woman at a cemetery, which wasn’t something planned, and is something I wish hadn’t happened. During trial, I learned he had lead her into the woods and fondled her. He would’ve probably raped her had I not blown the horn and threatened to leave with another recidivist. He left her taped to a tree. He was supposed to have his girlfriend contact the cops and say where he left her. He didn’t. Fortunately, she freed herself and found help.

If someone did to a family member of mine, what he did to her, I am not so sure that I wouldn’t seek vigilante justice, shoot ‘em going to court or even in the courtroom. It would be real difficult for me to step to the side and let Lady Justice have her way, because she may be kinder than what I would feel such a malevolent person deserved. Maybe I could withstand the temptation of playing Judge, Jury, and God, but I honestly don’t know. I would like to think that I could avoid behaving that way, because acting so bizarre would make me just as evil as the person I would want to execute for harming my loved one. Anyway, I hope the lady has since been able to forgive us, but not for our sake, for hers. Why? Because someone once wrote that harboring resentment is the same as drinking a poison and expecting it to kill the other person. I don’t want her suffering like that: she never did anything wrong to me. Many times I have wanted to contact her to make amends, but was advised by a psychologist that it probably wasn’t a good idea: I would be opening an old wound. Even though I did not physically harm her, and in a sense, protected her from further harm, that does not relieve me of responsibility for what happened to her. What happened to her was very wrong. I regret not stopping it from happening, or to have at least made sure the authorities were notified to free her from where she was falsely imprisoned.

This is the first time I have ever written about that aspect of the crime. In an unpublished essay (“The Price of Change”), I wrote about the hate and rage I felt toward Codefendant Two for testifying against me; my defiant demeanor during trial and sentencing; previous legal issues indicating my insanity, though no court has ever found me to be insane or incompetent to stand trial; but not about any of the victims. And, it wasn’t because I didn’t think about the criminal behavior and its effect on the victims. I did: I am ashamed of what happened. Emotionally I dealt with those feeling many years ago. It is the event that led to those feelings that is a chapter of my life I wish to close. Only a few know the truth about that day in 1988.

Codefendant One wanted to put bullets in Codefendant Two’s brain after the robbery so he couldn’t tell on us. I convinced him not to do it by saying, “He’s not going to say anything because he knows I will kill him or have him killed if I can’t get to him.”  (Both ended up telling.) Seven years after our conviction, I had a partner in the same prison with Codefendant Two. My partner sent word through the grapevine asking what I wanted done. I responded, “Tell him to send me an affidavit admitting he lied for the government.” Later on, Codefendant Two contacted someone to let me know he would say what I wanted. I thought about it and aborted the mission, because I figured if he had lied for them one time, he would do it again. Before my partner contacted me, I had started seeing a psychologist. This is why I asked for help.

For several years I had devoted most of my energy toward getting high. I was on the edge of insanity; a dangerous place; a place I hated. Massive shots of cocaine stopped working: all it did was put me near cardiac arrest without the desired euphoria, and yet, I kept doing it. The Bureau of Prisons has a Special Investigative Security team (S.I.S.), who had searched my cell while I was at work.

In the chow hall, Joe blurted out from a neighboring table, “I heard you saw S.I.S.”

I stood and snapped at him. “I will kill you, mother fucker, if you ever say something like that again.” Then I grabbed my half-eaten-tray of baked chicken, put it in the Dish Room window, and stormed out of the chow hall. I thought he had insinuated that I was a rat. With me serving 35-years because I wouldn’t cooperate, that is something I find offensive. To me, it’s nothing to joke about, even amongst friends, because, though we may be joking, a bystander overhearing the conversation may not know that. In the prisons I’ve been in, if someone calls you a rat, child molester, or faggot, others assume it’s true if you don’t defend yourself, which can lead to big trouble.

Shortly thereafter, I sat on the extended table of the sewing machine I worked on, replaying the event and feeling something wasn’t quite right about the way I had reacted. Me and Joe had been friends for years. He had never said anything out of the way to me; always treated me with respect, kindness. Three minutes later, he walked toward me with his hand out. “Wayne, I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to offend you. Billy had just told me that S.I.S. had been in y’alls cell all morning,” he said.

“I know. I’m really sorry, Joe. I came back and thought it over and know I took it wrong,” I said. We talked a little more and when he went to his area, I went to ask my supervisor to call the Psychology department to get me an appointment to see someone, because I felt I needed to be put back on medication. Throughout the years I had taken various psychotropic medications for brief periods, especially after landing in jail for some crime spree. My mind and central nervous system would be so sizzled that I had to have something to help me get sleep and regain control of my thought process. I was terrible about pointing pistols at people because I thought they intended to rob me. Fortunately, on this rare occasion, I was able to recognize that I was “out there” and sought help before doing something stupid. Historically, I screwed up first, and then sought help.

Today I feel fortunate and grateful that I reached out and received help beginning in 1993. Very few prisoners receive the much needed psychiatric care because of the small number or psychiatrist and mental health professionals employed or utilized by prison administrations. At the time I was at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, which had an internship program for aspiring psychologist. For over a year I saw a psychologist but continued getting high on drugs and alcohol, even though I had often tried to quit. I finally succeeded on April 5, 1995. Thus far, that was my last day of using a mind altering substance; something else I am grateful about. Now I will have a chance to succeed in life when released in 2019.

After being in prison over thirty years by then, providing I actually out-live this sentence and walk out the door, rather than be carried out on a gurney, I’ll experience “Culture Shock” (feel like an alien for a while, out of place). I’ll need help with acclimation. I’ve been in prison so long that the Internet and cell phones are foreign to me. I looked in a magazine at a Droid cell phone and tried to figure out how one would use it to call anyone, since all I saw was a keyboard and display screen. Many things about modern day society I don’t understand. Intellectually I do, but that’s not the same as experiencing a missed call because the cell phone lost its signal. I envision such a crafty device as a phone you tote as working anytime you decide to use it. (Removal from society has weird effects on intellect.)

From a different perspective, with a phone on you at all times, one can’t escape the pestering ring without turning it off or leaving it behind. I understand agitation. Being unable to reach my son after repeated attempts lead me to envision, a “Cell Phone Zapper.” The one calling could fry the circuits of the other person’s phone with a zap to teach them a lesson about not answering the tenth call of the last hour. Oh, what a cruel and insensitive thought. Something tells me I’m not alone in thinking about devious devices during moments of extreme frustration. Then again, some people probably don’t want to miss a call. Not even during sex, which I somewhat understand, since I am guilty of surrendering to the aggravating sound to eliminate it and return to action.

This is one way my last prison sentence affected me. I was released from the Georgia prison system to a halfway house in the Spring of 1985. For seven years I’d worn loose-fitting, white button down shirts with a centered blue stripe, and white baggy trousers with a blue stripe down the outside of each leg. My sister brought me some clothes. After putting on straight-legged blue jeans and a pullover shirt, I stood sweating as I looked at myself in a full length mirror. I asked a roommate, “Is this how people look out here now?”

“You look fine to me,” he said. “Like anyone else out here running the streets.”

That is partly what I mean by Culture Shock. The style of pants people wore before prison in 1978, were bell bottoms and flare legs. The shirt I put on was red with horizontal thin white stripes and snug-fitting sleeves. The Levi’s were like any other pair of blues jeans. The difference was in having clothes that were colored and that fit tightly. I realized at that point how much things in Atlanta had changed while I had been in prison. Change in prison is slow and gradual, whereas, in society, everything changes at the speed of the latest computer chip. Stepping out of prison after having served a long sentence is the same as if you step into the rapids of a river and try to stand still. The current pulls you under as you wonder what is going on. The current is the change.

Other things had changed, too, including women. When I toured the city, I noticed that some buildings had been replaced; some street names had changed, other streets rerouted. Before prison, MARTA had just begun cutting paths through the city for the Rapid Rail System. After prison, trains were running all across the city. The physical structure of Atlanta was not all that had changed. So had the attitudes of many women. I used to have to be the one to make an advance to get laid or to initiate a relationship. After prison several women made advances toward me; some successfully seduced me, some scared me.

While in prison I had heard about the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), spread through sexual contact and intravenous drug use, both putting me in the high-risk category because I had been a whore and a dope fiend for years. I didn’t want to increase my chance of acquiring AIDS with sexually promiscuous behavior, so, I was selective about who I jumped in bed with. Quitting drugs was out of the question. When a woman approached me, I irrationally wondered if she acted the same with everyone, thus increasing the risk of exposure to it. Of course, I would give in and take chances occasionally, scared or not. My desire to have sex overpowered my fear of AIDS. As it turned out, most women I wanted didn’t want me, and vice versa. Perhaps the ones who rejected me did so for the same reason I rejected others. The old cliché rang true again: What goes around comes around. Maybe I wouldn’t be so picky if released this time, since I am later in years and would not be considered the prize catch I was back when I was a young stud.

You may wonder what lead to my criminal behaviors. I don’t know. I have my suspicions, but that’s all I have. I have wondered about that one for most of my life. I can’t blame it on anything in particular. Not that I didn’t deserve them, but I did receive numerous beatings from my mother when I was a child, and know I felt deprived, like life owed me, but realistically, I was deviant and disobedient from the start. I rebelled against parental authority and anyone telling me what to do; grudgingly doing what I could not avoid, intentionally screwing up whatever I was made to do. My mother said when I was a tot, if she put something on my highchair tray I didn’t want, that I would throw it or push it over the edge. The older I became the more defiant I became.

When I was fourteen-years-old, I was 5’ 10” and weighed 146 lbs., and on this particular occasion, in juvenile for a drug charge, I believe (that was years ago). We were supposed to get up every morning and make our beds. One morning I laid in bed until the guard came in yelling.

“Get up and make that bed,” he said.

I laid still.

“I said get up and make that bed.”

I laid there and heard him stomping across the floor. My heart pounded with fear but my defiant demeanor would not allow me to give in and follow his order.

“I said to get up,” he grabbed my ass, “out of that bed.”

“You’d better get your goddamn hand off my ass,” I snarled.

He let go of my cheek and growled once again for me to get up and make my bed. Clayton County Juvenile only had four cells for boys (two eight-kid-cells, and two four-kid-cells). I slept in a four-kid-cell, which had two steel bunk beds. Me and a friend were the only two in there, but I slept on the top bunk anyway. I jumped down from the bed and walked to the Day Room where we watched television or played pool. During the day we had to be in the Day Room after cleaning our cells and making our beds. I sat on the pool table, another prohibited act, with arms crossed, stewing hate and rage.

He screamed his order again. “I told you to make that bed. Get off that pool table and go do it, now.”

He was one known to physically abuse the children in there; just a mean and nasty, hog-jawed, gray-haired, old man with a stooped walk and a bad disposition. I never liked or respected him. I was an ill tempered, blonde-haired, blue-eyed-devil with a bad disposition. I slid off the pool table and walked into the first eight-kid-cell. He followed behind, screaming. I stopped and turned to face him.

“I said for you to get back there and make up that bed,” he said as he reached for my long hair.

I socked him in the face at about the same time he grabbed my hair, trying to force my head down. I grabbed him by the legs, lifted him off the ground and slammed his back against a bunk bed, and started pounding him wherever I could connect until my friend pulled me off. The guard looked as if he were about to have a heart attack. Other than the loss of some hair and some bruised knuckles, I had fared well. Afterward, my face was probably redder than a ripened beet; my eyes shooting sparks sharpened by rage, but I was okay. I had taught him a lesson about messing with me, the crazy white kid with a bad attitude.

My punishment: solitary confinement in the four-kid-cell for a month; no smoking (we could smoke with parental permission, which I had), and a restricted diet (half rations). None of it mattered to me. Most sanctions weren’t even enforced by the other staff: some brought me extra cigarettes and food when the one I assaulted wasn’t there to snitch. Because he mistreated us, the other staff members didn’t care for him; most liked me because I treated them respectfully. I enjoyed working and volunteered to sweep, mop, and empty trash cans, so I could sneak cigarettes and cigarette butts back to the cell. On visitation day people would leave cigarettes hidden in places for me to pick up.

The other children respected me for defying authority. My friend looked out for me by doing things like sliding books or matches under the door. I would have been put in isolation if my parents hadn’t caused trouble when I had spent two weeks in it for beating up another kid, and if I had been put there, no other kids could have gotten near me.

The isolation cell was on the opposite end of the building. It was the equivalent of a refrigerated mop closet with a steel slat for a bed, speckled with drilled drainage holes; no mattress, sink, toilet; nothing other than the steel slat and a noisy speaker in the ceiling that disturbed me with its static. I fixed it. The fight had happened near noon. When fed something like meat loaf, potatoes and gravy that evening, I used my stainless steel spoon (an item from days gone by) to take out the speaker cover screws. I promptly poked holes in the speaker, disconnected its wires, and reattached the cover. No more bothersome static when trying to sleep inside a refrigerator.

As I mentioned, there was no toilet in the modified mop closet. I kicked and beat on the door; screamed and yelled for someone to come let me out to urinate. No one came. I could hear them banging pots and pans in the kitchen area, so I knew they had to have heard me. The more I kicked and screamed the angrier I became. I hate being ignored. The door had a lower section with thick steel slats, which I peed through, since no one came to let me out to do it in a toilet. Sometime thereafter, the guard came by whom I wrote about assaulting. He wasn’t real happy with the golden puddle on the floor.

The following morning I was fed five saltine crackers with a cup of hot water.

When my parents learned about the mistreatment, my mother filed a complaint and testified before the grand jury on my behalf. The Grand Jury ordered that the Juvenile officials not put any child in there for more than four hours and only then if they were a harm to themselves or others, which explains why I didn’t go there for more abuse after assaulting the prick who thought it was funny to feed me saltine crackers and hot water. I thought it was funny when I returned bigger and stronger and kicked his ass. He stayed away from me after that. Like most predators, he prayed on those he viewed as weaker.

Maybe it was those types of incidents that lead me to becoming as violent as I became. Not that I ever became a psychopath who tortured and mutilated people, because I didn’t, but I wasn’t nice when I demanded something that wasn’t given to me. I never hesitated about resorting to violence to get what I couldn’t get with charm. Sex was a different matter. I didn’t have to resort to taking it, though, I probably am guilty of using coercion. I usually just dealt with the rejection when told NO by someone I was interested in, although dealing with it did make me want to get high to forget about it, which still isn’t rational behavior. I used to blame my actions on drug and alcohol abuse, until I realized I was screwed up before I started getting high. Drug and alcohol abuse did exacerbate my condition, whatever the condition may have been, but, the drugs and alcohol were not the issue; only a symptom of more in-depth problems.

Perhaps the mystery condition formed because I grew up across the street from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, enraged by the constant noise generated by jets flying so low that their thrust made tall oak trees bow. Perhaps I had deep-rooted psychological issues and needed professional help my family couldn’t afford. My parents did carry me to the Clayton County Mental Health Center when I was eight-years-old because of my unusual behaviors (stealing, isolating myself by hiding, being destructive, fighting with my brothers, etc.). The psychiatrist said I suffered from sibling rivalry: that must be something really bad, since I have been locked up for most of my life, and, keeping me locked up has cost near a million dollars with the cost of incarceration estimated between $20,000-$32,000 per year. No wonder the United States is broke! Perhaps the psychiatrist misdiagnosed me. (In 2004 I angered a psychiatrist who then diagnosed me as having an anti-social, personality disorder.)

In December of 2002, USA TODAY published an article “Study: treat addicts’ mental illness,” by Marilyn Elias, 12/02/02, USA TODAY newspaper. According to Charles Curie of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about one third of drug and alcohol abusers have an underlying mental disorder. In a Pennsylvania state prison study around the same time, researchers determined that 85% of Pennsylvania prisoners had addiction problems, with half of them (42.5%) having an underlying mental disorder. Mr. Curie stated in the same article, “That’s typical of prison systems nationally. And we know if these inmates recover from the disorders, they’re unlikely to repeat crimes.” Think about that statement: “inmates …, unlikely to repeat crimes.”

Those were high numbers to ignore for those wanting to reduce recidivism, considering that reducing it would decrease state and federal deficits. Of what should be of greater significance to policy makers is helping other human beings to become productive members of society. With it being 2014, over a decade has passed since those numbers were released: I know of very little done to treat federal prisoners who have co-occurring (dual) disorders. And given the difference between state and federal finances, I doubt if states have done much, either. The Federal Bureau of Prisons only has one facility for treating those with dual disorders, located in Lexington, Kentucky. As I’ve written, I am one of the fortunate ones who received treatment for both disorders while in prison, long before the authors released the study.

My success verifies the study findings. I have been a model prisoner for several years, who behaves in a constructive manner. I help others learn how to succeed as law abiding citizens upon release by practicing Twelve Step principles in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. If released, I would be a productive member of society by applying what I have learned in prison. Usually the opposite occurs: applying what we learn in prison causes us to return by listening to novel ways to commit new crimes and trying them out upon release. Gullible prisoners fail to realize that someone in prison who was caught for committing crimes doesn’t have impressive credentials. Another factor that increases recidivism is learning to live by prison codes to survive in prison, and then attempting to live by those same codes in society, which does not work because many such codes encourage illegal behaviors.

Recidivism: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; repeated relapse into criminal or delinquent habits.

Studies on recidivism shown in 1997, that 67.5 percent of prisoners released three years earlier were re-arrested, amounting in a five percent increase from those released in 1983. The re-arrest rate for drug offenders rose from 50.4 percent in 1993 to 66.7 percent in 1994, and now those numbers have grown to 76.9 percent.

In April 2014, the United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Statistics, released another study: NCJ244205. “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010,” by Matthew R. Durose, Alexia D. Cooper, Ph.D, and Howard N. Snyder, PhD, BJS Statisticians. The study expanded to include statistics for a five year period, compared to the typical three-year studies. The five-year study showed that 67.8 percent of prisoners released had been arrested for a “new crime” within three years of release, and 76.6 percent within five years.

Due to all of the political drama concerning new plans designed to reduce prison populations, which excludes violent offenders, what I find astonishing is not the staggering numbers on recidivism, but that the highest percentage of those arrested again were not violent offenders. The statistics do not support the violent offender exclusions. These are the latest numbers:

  • 82.1 percent were property offenders (burglary (81.8%), larceny/motor vehicle theft (84.1%), fraud/forgery (77.0%), other (83.6%));
  • 76.9 percent were drug offenders (possession (78.3%), trafficking (75.4%), other (78.1%)).
  • 73.6% were public order offenders (weapons (79.5%), driving under the influence (59.9%), other (77.9%)).

Ironically, violent crimes made up a terribly high-low of 71.3% for re-offenders (homicide (51.2%), murder (47.9%), non-negligent manslaughter (55.7%), negligent manslaughter (53.0%), rape/sexual assault (60.1%), robbery (77.0%), assault (77.1%), other (70.4%)). Not so favorable for me, statistically, is that the second highest recidivism rates for violent crime types, were for robbery (the category armed bank robbery would fall within). Favorable for me, is that the lowest recidivism rates for those released in the age-related category, were “40 and older,” of which I will be when released. However, those numbers do not concern me because I know I fall within the minority category of prisoners who received treatment for the underlying cause of what lead to prison: drug addiction and mental illness. Had all of those released prisoners who had dual disorders been treated for such issues (an estimated 42.5% of well over 2,000,000 prisoners), those numbers would not be so staggering.

Let us assume that what Mr. Curie said is true (“[W]e know if these inmates recover from the disorders, they’re unlikely to repeat crimes”). Hypothetically, if ten percent of those released inmates had received treatment for dual disorders, which resulted in them not committing more crimes, then the money saved by the criminal justice system would amount to lots of dollars. Those savings could be applied to cover the cost of revamping correctional systems with additional psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction specialists needed to help solve part of a major problem in this nation: Mass Incarceration. Ponder that concept! People going to prison and actually being helped to become productive members of society when released, due to treatment received for the problems that lead them to prison, rather than them becoming another tax liability when they commit more crimes and ultimately return to prison or die.

In considering the number of prisoners in the United States, using 2,000,000 as a base figure, and $25,000.00 as the cost of incarceration to accommodate for the lower cost of housing healthier prisoners in state and privately owned prisons, if 85% of the 2,000,000 prisoners have an addiction problem, that is 1.7 million prisoners. If 42.5% of that 1.7 million have an underlying mental disorder, then that would be 722,500 prisoners who suffer from an addiction problem and an underlying mental disorder. If twenty percent of that 722,500 asked for and received treatment, that would be 144,500 people who were treated and would be “unlikely to repeat crimes.” If Mr. Curie is correct, and I believe he is, the following numbers that I use would be much higher, and would amount to more savings for taxpayers (additional funds to apply toward associated cost for providing treatment).

Again, using a modest $25,000.00 as the annual cost of incarceration, if ONLY ten percent (72,500) of the 722,500 of prisoners with dual disorders were treated, released, and did not commit other crimes; taxpayers would save $1,806,250,000.00, each year. And that doesn’t include all of the money saved from not having to pay for re-arrest, jail time, and prosecution of recidivists, or any other hidden costs of incarceration. The money saved would pay for thousands of psychiatrists, psychologists, and drug treatment specialists. As a bonus, hiring treatment personnel would reduce unemployment figures. Nor do the numbers put a dollar value on citizens spared the expense of becoming a victim of the recidivists.

If ten percent (14,450) of the twenty percent (144,500) suffering from dual disorders, completed treatment and stayed out of prison, that would be $361,250,000.00 saved annually. If that same twenty percent (144,500) stayed clean after release, that would be $3,612,250,000.00 saved. That does not factor in prisoners, without an underlying mental disorder, who would seek help if more help was available. State and federal deficits would decline quickly. More importantly, thousands of citizens would not fall victim to those released from prison in worse shape than when they arrived; another recidivist or death statistic in the making. Nor do those figures factor in the decreased need of hiring more law enforcement personnel; not having to pay for more buildings and equipment and resources, including not having to build more prisons to warehouse the prisoners. As another added benefit to those who do not invest in the prison growth rate and deter legislatures from passing laws to reduce it, such as the private prison industries, crime rates would drastically fall in proportion to the decrease in recidivism, since most recidivist commit multiple crimes before being arrested again.

I am just one of the vast numbers of people in U.S. prisons. In 2014, I think the count is now close to 2.2 million prisoners in the United States; as of June 2014, almost 217,000 of those are federal prisoners. That number exceeded 219,000 last year, counting those sentenced and held in jails, halfway houses, etc. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced earlier this year that the average cost of incarceration is almost $30,000.00 per year. The ill and aging prison population cost much more than that.

On this one crime spree and resulting conviction, the State of Georgia, local law enforcement, and the federal government, spent far more than a million dollars on me when you consider related factors (cost of law enforcement solving crimes, manhunts leading to arrest of me and my codefendants; judicial cost for jury trial, appellate process, post­ conviction relief efforts, cost of incarceration). It didn’t have to be that way. Not to mention the harm my actions caused the victims; effects that cannot be priced or measured, there would not have been any victims in 1988 if I had been properly diagnosed and treated as a juvenile and young adult. (The fields of Psychiatry and Psychology were not as advanced then as they are now, so I do not fault the system for failing to discover my embedded issues; especially, since I was unable to open up and be intimate with professionals to allow them to help me, before I got on the road to recovery at U.S.P. Atlanta).

As my penance to society, I plan to fight to change the beast from within, “Straight from the Pen.” Several years ago I did reach out through social media outlets and sought assistance to start a website with changing the system as the objective, but no one accepted the challenge. I have not given up the idea. When I succeed, I will not have sympathy for those who lost money on their investments in prison systems.

Education, the Prisoner and Recidivisim

In studies on prisoners, education, and recidivism, the results show a decrease in recidivism by those prisoners who received education while incarcerated. Based upon findings reported in ‘Education Reduces Crime, Three-State Recidivism Study,’ [Education, The Prisoner, and Recidivism, Stephen Steurer, Ph.D., Project Director, and Linda G. Smith, Ph.D., Research Consultant] (Feb. 2003), “The research reported here shows strong support for educating incarcerated offenders. All of the analyses described lead to several compelling conclusions.” For instance, a reduction in recidivism, and “higher wages that generally indicate that individuals are better able to support themselves and their families, and that they are engaged in jobs that hold promise of sustainability.” Image courtesy journalstar.com

As noted by the authors in their conclusion, “Focusing solely on recidivism would be inadequate, however, especially when there are many other meaningful outcomes such as family stability, workforce participation, and cost savings/benefits.” Society gains if a former prisoner becomes a productive member, instead of another crime statistic in the making. The would-be-recidivist becomes a taxpayer instead of a tax liability; many become supportive family members, community servants, skilled laborers, or business professionals helping to build their communities.

In another report, “Cuts in Prison Education Put Illinois at Risk,” written by Robert Manor, with assistance from John Maki, both from the John Howard Association of Illinois, “It costs anywhere from $17,000 to $64,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, depending largely on the security level of the prison … Education sharply reduces the likelihood that someone will recidivate. A 1997 study published by the Illinois Department of Corrections found that postsecondary education cut recidivism by two-thirds, from 39 percent to 14 percent.” The 1997 Illinois recidivism rate is substantially less than the 1997 National average of 67.5% for the “Re-arrest” recidivism rate of those released in 1994 Bureau of Justice Statistics Reentry Trends in the U.S.: Recidivism, which said something positive for the State of Illinois before they stopped what was working.

Providing postsecondary education apparently made a difference. In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, only a few can afford college correspondence courses, since Congress restricted prisoners from receiving federal student aid – including the need-based Pell Grants – in 1994. Even though the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) offers an Inmate Scholarship Award program, which pays a portion of tuition fees, most prisoners cannot pay the difference and even more don’t even know about it or how to apply, so only a few can capitalize on the available benefit. (UNICOR inmate pay ranges from $30.00 to $180.00 per month: some slightly even more, but most around $100.00 or less) With federal prisoners in UNICOR earning more than state prisoners, that should give you an idea about the state of affairs in state prisons, and why recidivism rates are soaring. The federal government offers its prisoners a GED. Therefore, most prisoners leave prison armed with a GED to compete against those without a criminal history, packing postsecondary education degrees. The released prisoner’s criminal history alone presents a barrier to gainful employment in many situations, which often results in more victims, more recidivism, and more crime statistics. Providing prisoners with opportunities for postsecondary education reduces all three statistics.

In the article about Illinois being at risk, the authors wrote, “The more education an ex-offender has received in prison, the less likely he or she will again commit a crime.” Those studies remove doubt about the cost-effectiveness of educating prisoners, since it costs more to incarcerate than to educate. Therefore, there is no logical explanation for legislatures to vote to remove educational opportunities for the disadvantaged. The fear of a “Soft on Crime” label is the only explanation for such poor decisions by our Nation’s leaders. Recidivism has numerous associated costs: cost of law enforcement solving crimes, capturing and detaining criminals for judicial proceedings; judicial cost of jury trials or plea bargains; appellate processes, post-conviction relief efforts, and the cost of re-incarceration. A more cost-effective approach is for government to reduce recidivism by providing 1) educational opportunities, 2) substance abuse treatment, and 3) psychiatric care to those in need. Continuing to pay for the repeating costs of the recidivist is not financially responsible when other alternatives exist.

“More importantly, less recidivism means greater public safety. … No one can put a price on public safety, but crime prevention is the most important benefit of prison education programs.”