This is only half of my story. The second half. In the first half, I talk about the occurrences that lead me to prison and serve a 10yr sentence. I'm not at liberty to share the first half now.
A CRUEL WORLD AWAITS
In “My First Prison Education” I discussed the lessons I learned as a result of recidivism and multiple incarcerations. I also mentioned my plans for the future. I’m now going to share with you the reality of the cruel world I’ve found upon being released.I found love shortly after I submitted the above story for publication. I moved in with this wonderful woman upon my release. We live in Collinsville, IL in an upper class predominately white community. She lives on a fixed income however, so I knew my challenges would be many despite my extensive managerial experience and upcoming success as an author poet. The world I found is more fraught with peril than I anticipated. A month after my release, I’m still struggling to acquire necessities (i.e. transportation, clothes, and a social network, etc.) Reentry assistance programs are limited here in Madison County. The few that I’ve found are for those on probation/parole. Most alarming of all is the fact that, due to my indigence, I can’t receive any mental health counseling while I psychologically adjust to society after almost ten years of incarceration. The last three of which were spent in segregation, which is known throughout the mental health professions to induce psychological deterioration.After many frustrations, I was referred to the local politicians by my publisher Sheila who, bless herheart, is just as angry about all of this as I am. First, I called the State Representative Jay Hoffman’s office. I dealt with a woman named Roberta who found a program that would help me, but only after I completed orientation and a three day class.The program is Reentry One Stop (R.E.O.S) in St. Louis, MO-a neighboring state. Bus fair would cost approximately $32. Her office couldn’t help me with that.How am I supposed to transit back and forth?Next, I called the mayor’s office. Sherrell Brombolich, the City Clerk, was as helpful as she could be under the circumstances. She sent me to the Clerk of Courts who connected me to the Dept. of Probation. I then spoke with Suzanne Johnson, a friendly delightful and very helpful probation officer who unfortunately could not work miracles and direct me to resource programs that were non-existent. I must give Mayor John Miller credit for personally following up on my call.
After hanging up with the City Clerk, I Called Township Hall where the people listed in the phone book as the City Board of Supervisors work. There I spoke with a Mr. Terry Allen. He referred me to the Presbyterian Church which hosts a food pantry. I visited the church and was told about a thrift clothing program that would work with me since I was indigent and that I would be aided with transportation once I found a job. The pastor said he wanted to see me helping myself. This was disconcerting though understandable.
Still, where will I get bus fare from to search for work?
I’ve taken my search for assistance to the federal officials too. Its too soon to expect in depth answers from such busy persons, but Senator Bill Haine’s office made some calls on my behalf. Congressman Jerry Costello’s office sent some information via U.S. Mail and so did Senator Richard Durban’s Office.
Another call to Representative Hoffman’s office resulted in a call to the Dept. of Probation. One of the supervisors of that office called me-with a bad attitude-and said she’d look in to it. I got Suzanne’s number from her then called Suzanne. She told me about two businesses she knew of that sometimes hired people with criminal backgrounds. I called both, but only reached someone at one restaurant.
The co-owner of that establishment told me to come in after 10:30 am. I got there at eleven and was told to come back at three. This left me with time to kill and $3 to my name. Going home and coming back would’ve left me broke.
I prolonged my job search. I visited several restaurants since this is where my experience lies. I also stopped at Township Hall and spoke with a nice woman named Marilyn. She told me that she would speak with her supervisor Terry Allen about aiding me with a bus pass.
Still having time to kill, I went to the public library to get a library card, and to borrow some books. I was surprised by how busy the library was. When I commented on this, the librarian said there had been an increase in the number of books being borrowed lately.
I responded, “I should have you call my publisher and say that.”
That comment led to the arranging of 2 book signings featuring yours truly.
When the conference call through which these arrangements were made ended, it was time for my three o’clock interview which turned out to be a rejection before it even began. What was funny was my resume hadn’t even been looked at. I’m qualified to run the place. Plus, my upcoming notoriety as an author and poet would mean publicity and sales for my employer.
I’m forced to wonder if my ex-con status blinded the owners to my skills, qualifications, and potential after all. It wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve been the victim of prejudices of all types. One of my neighbors sent the police to question me after I gave her a note that suggested we could be friends. And, YES, that’s all it suggested. The crazy part is that the police bothered to look into such a trifling complaint.
Then again, I’m a black ex-con, in a neighborhood where they feel I don’t belong, and she is a young attractive white woman.
Well, after leaving the pointless interview, I stepped into Jay Hoffman’s office.I met Roberta. Her lack of enthusiasm for participation in our discourse seeped through her pores. It seemed to me that she rated me and my problems as nothing more than an inconvenient nuisance. I think I understand why though.
I hold no grudges. She’d been told that all reentry assistance is provided to Illinois prisoners before they are released. I told her she wasn’t given the whole truth, but she didn’t care to hear that. Her argument was the question, “Then how come no other recently released prisoners have come into this office with complaints like yours?”
I responded, “Because over eighty percent of prisoners leave prison with criminal intent in the first place.
She didn’t respond. I went on to explain that the reentry resources I’m seeking aren’t provided inside prison. They don’t provide state IDs, bus passes, clothes, nor psychological debriefing for prisoners.
She wouldn’t even consider that I might be telling the truth.
Then I explained that a weaker man left in my position would be considering criminal activity as a means to survive. She quickly warned me not to say such things. I think she thought I was making a threat.
As I write this two of my problems have been solved. I will pick up free clothing in a few days. Marilyn called a few hours ago to tell me the Township Hall will provide bus tickets to get me to and from St Louis for the R.E.O.S. program.
Other than this, I’m at a loss. Ms. Johnson at probation has been working hard to find some answers though, but that’s not exactly good news. If she is a probation officer and doesn’t know how to help an ex-con locate resources, they are embarrassingly scarce.
I wonder if the recidivism and repeat offender statistics are higher here than in other places.
My experiences force me to point out two things:
1. Prisoners must work their absolute hardest and utilize every tool at their disposal to grow, change, educate and prepare themselves. Sadly though, too few of them do this.
2. Because too few prisoners do this, prisons are warehouses that enable treatment counselors, psychologists, administrators, investors and even some politicians to earn livings for nothing. The few inmates who participate in so-called treatment programs aren’t required, nor encouraged, and in some cases even not allowed, to apply themselves. They are shuffled through the programs so the conductors can meet their quotas. Thus, the administrators meet their quotas- and on and on it goes up the ladder.
The policy makers get snowjobbed-some of them willingly-about what is really happening. They get to pretend the system is working while the problem gets worse. The real crime is that the constituents’ attention is diverted from the reality that criminal justice spending increases while public education spending decreases.
I’ve been labeled a “Crusader” by those closest to me because of my determination to educate the public about this sad reality. The real truth is that, if we as individuals don’t attempt to be part of the solution, we are all contributors to the problem’s propagation.
Crime will spread. It can do nothing else.
In fact, I laughed at this yesterday when I saw Roberta walk her dog. She does this everyday right in front of my house.
How ironic is that?
The average person doesn’t care about my struggle until someone like myself turns them or one of their loved ones into a victim. Then they are quick to point the finger of blame without comprehending that desperation, miseducation, and/or ignorance drives people to criminal activity. All of which is a direct consequence of our society’s social and economic injustices.
So, now I’ve accepted the responsibility of making sure all the prejudiced finger-pointers are pointing at mirrors. . .
Of course, my readers know I've overcome my obstacles while many who will be released from prison will not be able to. I even showed evidence from a prison psychologist that this is true. I want the people of America to stand up and make politicians do the jobs they are payed to do. Protect us from the crime created by social diseases. This can only be done by treating the social diseases. Most importantly, as human beings we all must fight to cure social diseases by bettering ourselves and our families.
Supaman Tion Terrell