Life beyond bars.
October 19, 2006 1:31 PM   Subscribe

So what's it like being released from prison?

Three seasons of "Oz" and extensive Googling haven't helped. "The Shawshank Redemption" wasn't detailed enough. "Prison Break" is no good because it's escape, not lawful release.

I need to know what happens when someone is released from prison. Specifically:

- What's actually happens the day of your release? No detail is too mundane here.

- What about the first 24-48 hours? Money? Clothes? Food? Do you leave with only the stuff you brought in?

- Are there work-related programs for ex-cons that are either optional or mandatory?

Pointers to books, movies or URLs are also welcome and will be greedily consumed. Personal stories can also be sent to the e-mail in my profile.

Many thanks, AskMes.
posted by CMichaelCook to Law & Government (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in this NPR story:
"On the day they're released, a few people have relatives and friends anxiously waiting in front of the prison to pick them up. But the vast majority of ex-cons walk two blocks through town, to the Greyhound bus station. There, they cash a $50 check given to them by the State of Texas; inhale on their cigarettes (tobacco, although smuggled into the prisons, is banned); and stand around the station, waiting for afternoon and evening buses to "D-town" (Dallas), "H-town" (Houston) and other Texas destinations."
posted by mattbucher at 1:41 PM on October 19, 2006

Erwin James had a column in the Guardian on just such a topic. You might find it interesting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:42 PM on October 19, 2006

As I understand it, your first step is typically getting the band back together.

Actually, while this is a joke, The Blues Brothers actually does have a release scene that's pretty accurate from what I understand: they inventory the items Jake had on him when he was brought in and make him sign a form acknowledging receipt of these and probably (as the Guardian link says) affirming that nothing's missing. Presumably if the prisoner was allowed to earn money while he was in jail, which I understand is possible in some prisons, this would be paid out to him at this time. Then he's let out of the building and a friend or a relative picks him up. I think some states do give you bus or cab fare in case you don't have anyone to pick you up.
posted by kindall at 2:01 PM on October 19, 2006

read Edward Bunker
posted by matteo at 2:06 PM on October 19, 2006

Maybe cedar could chime in on this one. I've been dying to know how this went (if he's out yet).
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:14 PM on October 19, 2006

Edward P. Jones's Old Boys, Old Girls is a fantastic short-story that deals, in part, with this question.
posted by saladin at 2:23 PM on October 19, 2006

Check out MSNBC's "Lockup" documentaries. Here's a link, including schedules. There are at least 12 hour-long episodes, each dealing with a different jail or prison. They frequently follow an inmate or two who are being released, and sometimes show the whole process even as far as check-in with their parole officer.
posted by katemonster at 2:39 PM on October 19, 2006

TV: Have you read cedar's blog?
posted by jaysus chris at 3:00 PM on October 19, 2006

Edward Bunker for sure. Also, Monster by Sanyika Shakur. That one has a good passage about how riding in a car in the highway feels completely insane after being locked up.

Books with more incidental evidence: The Hot House, A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun by Razor Smith, You've got Nothing Coming (full of shit in some respects, but full of great detail). I'm pretty sure Jim Goad has an essay about getting out on his website.

Check out the documentary Omar and Pete, which Docurama put out this year.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:07 PM on October 19, 2006

re: signing for your stuff when you get released

My leather jacket (and everything else) smelled awful. My pocket knife was taped around (to prevent the blade from opening) about a zillion times with scotch tape. My shoes were crushed.
posted by porpoise at 3:10 PM on October 19, 2006

Only my last minute cruise to Antarctica from Argentina left me feeling more alive. It's been over six years but I've never really told anyone so here it goes. This was a Texas prison & I had served over two years & been denied parole once. The second time I met w/ a parole board member I was given an approximate release date & sent to a minimum security run by Corrections Corp. of America. We had to go to Huntsville first, where they execute prisoners, & saying it was surreal
gives the experience no justice. But at least you knew you were almost home. Almost in my case was another 6 months but it was better than being in the real system. We were able to wear our own clothes sent to us by friends/family. That's a real mental lift from wearing orange jumpsuits believe me. I was never given a release date but hoped I could make it out for the New Year's 2000. Well that passed & in two months I got "the slip", which ment I went to talk to the parole folks & gave them my release details. My parents disowned me so I planned to go back to Seattle & start over. I had to wait a few more weeks since it was an out of state transfer but then got a letter with my release date. Lots of emotions but just ready to get out. As luck would have it, the money in my prison(commisary) account that I needed to pay for my transportation was frozen due to their computer being down. I had to make it from outside Dallas to Seattle on $50 & within 72 hours or else I could get thrown back for a aprole violation. I remember being sad that no one was meeting me at the gate when I was released. Anyway for folks in similiar straights we were put on a bus & taken to some small town. Most guys bought smokes at the store where checks got cashed. I then took another bus to Ft. Worth & walked into the Westin or a similiar style hotel to call my ex. I remember looking at people to see if they could sense I was an ex-con. I had $50 in my pocket & had pizza at the hotel. I couldn't get back to Seattle for fifty, she had no money so I was panicked. Somehow she knew I had a bank account w/ $200 or so in it & was able to close the account & then took a greyhound to Seattle. I guess she received a statement but it was a life saver. I was originally sentenced to two months in harris county jail but being naive of the justice system & a first offender I didn't take it but went w/ 10 years probation instead. I finished a couple yrs. then took off to Argentina to travel not knowing what could happen. I was pulled over in Seattle, coerised into signing my rights away then shackled in a van(extradited) to texas. The judge then shocked me w/ a 6 year sentence. Oh well that's my story
posted by poodlemouthe at 3:13 PM on October 19, 2006 [13 favorites]

I know someone who is institutionalized, for all intents and purposes - has not been out for longer than six months since he was eleven and originally dropped at a boys home by his mother.

From what he's told me, he was given bus fare and his parole officer's contact information and a date to be there. That's about all I know as far as logistics. The work situation is dreadful, as parolees are often given the worst job for the least pay. Which, hey, you choose that life and you really shouldn't be expected to get out and be welcomed into society without being bottom of the totem pole for a good long time.

I knew another guy who, had he not been on parole, could have gone after his boss and won a lawsuit against him for the way he was treated on the job, no problem, but parolees who want to stay out are generally so afraid to rock the boat they put up with a lot. Or, on the other side, they don't put up with it and end up back in prison.

The initial first week out was a rush for the guy I knew, a thrill, he used to say the world was moving too fast. He never managed to hold a job during his brief times out and hung out with other parolees almost entirely. No, he wasn't supposed to, but I have to say I could see where he was coming from, we all long to have companions who understand where we've been. Unfortunately most of his parolee friends were like him, unwilling to be humble and suck it up long enough to get off parole, and often they ended up doing jobs together and getting arrested together.

I have a good friend who I met through that institutionalized guy, and though they did eight years together, this friend managed to turn it all around and stay out against all odds. It does happen, it's just so rare. Depending on why you want this info and what you'll do with it, he might be willing to give you a first hand account.

My email is in my profile.
posted by routergirl at 3:23 PM on October 19, 2006

Well then, there you go. Firsthand account in the thread already happened while I was typing up my comment. :)
posted by routergirl at 3:24 PM on October 19, 2006

Oh & like routergirl's friend that first week is rather euphoric. Plus I was in incredible shape & I think women sinced something different. The hardest thing has been work. I got a job with Qwest only to be turned away at the front desk on training day. HR just told me to leave, even though I had listed my conviction. The worst part is not being eligble to get professional licenses so I'm now a poker player. I would rather be in medicine or law.
posted by poodlemouthe at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2006

Dan Rodricks, a Baltimore Sun columnist has written a lot about the work issues associated with being released from jail, and he helps ex-drug dealers find jobs. Here's one guy's story.

A story line in last season and this season of The Wire follows a former drug dealer released from prison. If it's to be believed.
posted by Airhen at 3:51 PM on October 19, 2006

The only thing I can contribute, from a friend who was in prison in the UK, is that they let you out very early in the morning, something like 5.30 AM.

This is presumably because you don't want to be noticed, and so you can get a head start on travel if it's a long distance.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2006

A kick-ass meal. I know many, many people who have served time. The most commone thing I have heard when talking to them while they are still on the inside is that they want to have some of whatever their favorite food is.
posted by flarbuse at 6:36 PM on October 19, 2006

Most of the guys I knew who had done time were seriously ripped when they got out from working out while incarcerated to pass the time. That and the dangerous gleam in their eye usually pulls in the women for them pretty quick.

Oh and yes, like porpoise said, I hear the personal belongings get ruined or lost pretty often. I played caretaker for that institutionalized friend of mine during one of his stints in prison - picked up his personal items and kept them in my care until he was released. He just signed a release and the next time I came to visit him I picked up everything but the clothes he'd been wearing when he was arrested.

I remember once, he was in his early twenties at the time, and had been out of prison for a few months when he went grocery shopping for the first time ever. I got such a kick out of how thrilled he was with his "accomplishment". All grins and sparkly eyes while he unpacked his apples and milk. Well...and twinkies...and soda. Of course he was living week to week in a hotel at the time and all he had was a little kitchenette, but still. Even the simplest things we all take for granted made that man happy.
posted by routergirl at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2006

Although I assume it's the US process you're mainly interested in, if you're wanting to find out about other countries too, then this report from the Social Exclusion Unit is a useful companion to Erwin James. (PDF - although it's a Government report, it is quite accessible and well-written and not too jargon-y).
posted by greycap at 12:40 AM on October 20, 2006

Response by poster: Hey AskMes! Thanks for all the awesome replies -- especially poodlemouthe's and porpoise's personal stories out here on the green. Will follow the links, check out the books, watch the DVDs and, I'm sure, find what I'm looking for.

BTW -- I hope it's not too mundane a reason, but wanted the info for a novel-in-progress.

Long live the hive mind.
posted by CMichaelCook at 7:39 AM on October 20, 2006

TV: Have you read cedar's blog?

I have not. Thanks.

posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:05 AM on October 20, 2006

A friend of mine knew a guy who had recently been released from (I believe) quite a few years in prison. They were at a store and he was just staring at all the toothbrushes. He said he was overwhelmed by all the choices. I think he ended up back inside fairly soon. For a lot of people who spend much of their adult life inside the prison system the fact that they have so much freedom and so many choices paralyzes them.
posted by witchstone at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2006

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