Article by Vania Brown, Image Source: EPICTIMES
Being An Outsider on the Outside: A Local Man’s Struggle to Adapt After Incarceration Speaks to a Larger Issue
Many Americans are knowledgeable about the realities of imprisonment from knowing someone who was incarcerated or as a result of their own experience of being incarcerated. Formerly incarcerated individuals often reflect on their release date as a time of renewed hope for a fresh start, however, rejoining society is no easy endeavor.
D.C. resident, Kenneth Ford, 45, encountered barriers when seeking employment upon his release. Ford was a federal police officer and worked a government position in information technology for nearly seven years and held a top secret clearance. He was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2005 for allegedly meeting someone at an airport and releasing classified documents. Ford was sentenced to 72 months in a federal prison camp and was released in August 2011 to serve 36 months of probation.
Ford spoke of his experience with the legal system saying it was made to destroy him, calling it a “21st century lynching, designed to keep black folks and people of color in their place.” While he was aware his conviction would follow him for the rest of his life, he was not prepared to endure a more negative side of society that awaited him upon being released.
Ford said, “I was astounded by how aggressive society became. Everything just got so aggressive, the aggression of people and how things were operating,” when it came to trying to find employment, Ford said. Finding a job has been difficult for Ford, who said he was “being pigeon-holed.” Most employers inquire about gaps in job history like months or years spent out of work and ask potential hires if they have ever been convicted, a question Ford said, sends shivers down his spine. Job programs for formerly incarcerated individuals, he said, “are just non-existent,” because “the stigma is still there,” about people who were formerly incarcerated. For a short time Ford worked at a cleaning company and a fast food establishment, but said he felt out of place. Both jobs were exceedingly below his level of education and neither paid well enough to live comfortably and pay off his student loans.
“You can’t help but think that your name is somewhere on a ‘Do Not Hire’ list,” he said. In coping with the six year job search, Ford said he has adopted the mindset that “you just have to deal with” the challenge of finding secure employment.
Ann Marie Mathurine, an employee of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has worked in the field of criminology for almost 10 years.
Mathurine said once released, “They have to adjust to society, but there’s little to no resources to help them do so. Even if they are prepared while being incarcerated, it is not enough to integrate successfully into society.”
Ford criticized the services that are supposed to prepare individuals for returning back to society, referring to some of the programs as “racially disparaging.” People of color usually do not benefit from such programs for that very reason.
Veronica Cruz is a social worker and University of Maryland adjunct professor who specializes in criminal defense and has practiced for 12 years. Cruz said it was not until she began practicing and working closely with clients that she realized the traumas of incarceration.
“There is blatant discrimination in our criminal justice system from sentencing guidelines, going back to the way that we penalize crimes,” especially those of the non-violent sort, Cruz said.
Cruz assists clients who encounter hardships after being released. Cruz said barriers like drug addiction, lack of education and financial support, coupled with the stipulations of the conviction, make the transition into society difficult. Incarceration affects all areas of life, such as finding employment, housing and more importantly, it can impede on one’s well being. “Depending on how long they’ve been in, they’ve been very institutionalized,” she said.
In the case of 16-year-old Kalief Browder, the teen was charged as an adult and imprisoned at Rikers Island for three years, where he spent majority of the time in solitary confinement, and never received a trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. Incarceration and societal criticism took a toll on his mental health, which led to his suicide not long after his release.
When a person becomes incarcerated, “The support system changes drastically,” Cruz said.
Prior to his conviction, Ford was ostracized by his former coworkers, saying they “cut ties” with him after he was charged. “I’m sure they were told to stay away from me, don’t call me, don’t have nothing to do with me,” Ford said.
Fortunately, he said his parents, who he currently lives with, have never doubted his innocence. He realizes not everyone has the familial support as him. Ford said, when an “individual is doing time, but their family is doing time as well.”
Cruz implements a reentry plan for her clients who need support, which according to Cruz, is the main reason she is hired. She said, otherwise, “When an individual comes out, there’s nothing in place.” According to Cruz, “the need is there, but who’s funding it? It has to be the individual that can afford it,” which can be expensive.
Mathurine said, “If you have the resources to get out, you can get out and move forward,” but overwhelmingly individuals do not have the finances, and in trying to obtain finances, many resort to activities that landed them in prison to begin with.
These post incarceration roadblocks play a major part in recidivism. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of the individuals released from prison each year, “studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years of release.”
However, “if you put certain systems in place, recidivism rates will drop,” Cruz said, citing the 2012 Unger v. State of Maryland case in which 130 incarcerated who were sentenced to life, were released because they were given misinformation. Cruz said resources like halfway housing and holistic services were allocated to the individuals, and none of them have returned to prison.
It is no question making resources and programs more readily available, would positively affect individuals who have been incarcerated multiple times. These changes would also benefit people like Ford, who never imagined they would spend a night in a prison cell.
In a brief moment of talking about his old government job, and reminiscing of a time of normalcy when he said his biggest expense was paying off his mortgage, Ford chuckled and acknowledged, “I’ll never get a top secret clearance again.”