I was 16 years old when I went to prison, and 66 years old when I was finally released, and legally blind. After 48 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary I was lucky to still have my mother and ten of my brothers and sisters able to support me, but despite all of their help and the incredible relief we felt the day I arrived home nothing could have prepared us for the trials and tribulations of life after incarceration.
I was released because of the Graham v. Florida ruling, which allowed juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for non homicide offenses an opportunity to take their cases back to court. Thanks to attorneys and advocates at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and the Equal Justice Initiative I was re-sentenced on December 3rd and arrived home shortly before midnight that evening with nothing but the clothes on my back and a ten dollar check. Thanks to the people at the First 72+ I got enrolled in free health care, became a client of Lighthouse for the Blind, was able to pay my probation fees, I was connected with affordable psychological counseling, and avoided one of the hardest parts of the re-entry experience – feeling completely isolated. Kelly drove me to every appointment I had during the first few weeks I was back, navigated countless social services agencies to help me get an identification card and enrolled in social services, raised money so I could go see my mother for Christmas – for the first time in over 20 years, and called me every day to make check in and make sure I was doing OK.
It has been almost four years since I walked out of Angola, and although it has gotten easier, it is still an ongoing struggle. I thank God every day that there are people who have been through this process who make themselves available to see me through.
I left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola with one large legal envelope full of court documents, a $10 check, and the clothes on my back. That night I slept on the couch of my sister’s house, sharing the living room with six of my nieces and nephews. The very next day I faced one of the toughest realities of my re-entry experience: in order to comply with the provisions of my parole I needed to get a state identification card – a card that cost $15. Ironically, I needed that $15 ID to cash my $10 check. Basically, I walked out of Angola, after 28 years in prison, $5 behind – and this was just the beginning.
For a year I unsuccessfully sought employment, and lived on food stamps. Even though I had been working nearly every day for the last 28 years of my life, and had certification in horticulture and landscaping, I had no traditionally recognizable work history – and on top of that, a felony record. I eventually found a job that paid $300 a week, but the cheapest house I could rent cost $600 a month, and eventually I fell behind on my rent and was evicted. I lived in a homeless shelter for the next few months which of all the time I did at Angola, was the hardest period of my life. Through it all, thanks to the people at The First 72+ I had help. Calvin and Kelly and Norris came to visit me at the shelter, helped me raise money to pay my parole fees, got me clothes and food, and helped me every time I fell behind on my bills. I’m back in a rental apartment, I have a job that helps me break even each month, but I still face the same struggles I faced the day I came home, but thanks to the people at the First 72+ I am able to keep my eye on the prize, and they help me get closer every day