From the Inside Out: Adjusting to life without bars

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Above, EPOCA member Jay McCcune gets ready to head to Boston to lobby for better policies aimed at helping ex-prisoners return to society/Elizabeth Brooks photo
Bill Shaner
Worcester Magazine
June 22, 2017

After he was released from state prison, it took 36-year-old Tim Peak of Worcester two months to get a state I.D. He said he couldn’t even get a library card, his only access at the time to a computer.

A week and a half after Mariousz Bezak, 39, of Webster, was released from the Worcester County House of Corrections, he found out his license was revoked for life, and had no opportunity to develop an alternate plan for transportation before learning that.

Christopher Williams of Lawrence was recently released from the Worcester County House of Corrections, and applied for emergency assistance through the state welfare program, but was told he needs to first see a doctor. The waiting list for his doctor is 90 days.

Thirty-nine-year-old Jason Ludwig of Lynn, who now works for the Worcester-based Straight Ahead Ministries, spent nine and a half years in and out of prison. When he was released, he would skip a court date, get drunk and into trouble, revert back to stealing for money, and wind up right back where he started. It took a religious experience and a found family to pull him out of the cycle.

CURBING RECIDIVISM

Their stories are all too common among returning citizens (a preferred term for men and women who have previously served prison terms), who struggle to find work, to find housing, to find a place in society that won’t drag them back into old habits, and to navigate a justice system eager to suck ex-convicts back in with default warrants, probation violations, random drug tests and endless fees.

The individual stories above are among thousands that contribute to a roughly 44-percent recidivism rate among Massachusetts inmates, a rate estimated to cost the state $450 million a year. The days, weeks and months following release from prison are fraught with pitfalls, both bureaucratic and of the returning citizen’s own making. Many local advocates and returning citizens feel state institutions provide woefully-inadequate re-entry service, leaving vulnerable people in near-impossible situations.