Getting out of prison is tough. That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. It can be overwhelming. After years of being told when to eat, to sleep, to shower, you literally begin forgetting how to direct your own life. Being released places you back in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. Life never stops whether you’re ready and able or not.
Finding a place to live is the first hurdle every newly released prisoner needs to clear.
If you have family or friends this is often not a problem. But when you don’t… Finding housing is nearly impossible to navigate without significant risk to successful re-entry. Many, well most, places want or require some references from previous landlords. They want some assurances that you will not destroy their property and that you will pay your rent. For someone who has been out of circulation for several years, this is impossible. The temptation to lie or deceive is strong, but this puts a person back on the road to being a criminal and that’s back to prison. This, therefore, is not the best option.
Option two is to offer a lot of money upfront. Some landlords like money enough to accept the risks for enough cash. Of course, not everyone fresh out of prison has thousands of dollars to throw at a landlord upon release I sure don’t.
The third most common option is to find a place that doesn’t want referrals or do background checks. These places tend to be of lower quality and populated by people getting out of and on their way to prison! It is the easiest way to find housing, but ultimately the most dangerous. It is common for someone trying to do the right thing to fall back into all the crappy habits that landed them in prison in the first place.
The second hurdle was mentioned already. It is background checks.
If you have a criminal record people tend to distrust you. For good reason, I may add. I don’t trust 280 of the 288 people on my cell block. Being a sex offender will ruin nearly any chance of living in a decent place. It’s funny because Society seems to think it’s sex offenders that ruin a neighborhood, but when you think of low rent districts and slums you think of drug dealers, addicts, and gangs; not sex offenders.
Again the lower quality housing tends to be the solution to this hurdle. But let’s assume I have found a place to stay that is decent and not likely to result in SWAT accidentally kicking in my door. How will I continue to pay for it? Wow, I need to find a job. So off I go to look for a job. I am old fashioned, I guess I’m just going to be filling out applications. I start putting in my information into the fields and I get to the lower portion of the second side. “Have you ever been convicted of a felony, if so please explain?”
Now what? If I lie they might find out and they can legally fire me for lying on an application. If I tell the truth they will illegally refuse to hire me. It’s illegal, but how do I prove that’s why they didn’t hire me? And do I want to work at a place that was forced to hire me and will be looking to fire me at the first opportunity? That has been my experience as a convicted felon. It would be even worse for a sex offender. So most jobs are out.
My go-to job was always as a laborer for some building trades. It is hard physical labor, but it paid decent tax-free wages and they don’t ask questions. It didn’t matter if you are a drug-addicted, murdering rapist as long as you showed up, worked hard, and didn’t do any of that crap on site. Personally, I believe that that’s how it should be everywhere. Judge me for what I am, not what I was. But alas…
I’m 46 now and back-breaking work like that is just not as feasible as it once was. So I am truly afraid of how it will be when I get out. I lied on an application before and have been fired for it. I have been honest on applications before and not been hired for it. I truly have no idea what the future holds.
One time I worked in Brentwood New Hampshire at a recycling plant. Nearly everyone was a prisoner in the work-release program. 12-hour shifts $9 per hour I couldn’t even live on that money. I think I took home around $200 a week and spent 10% of that on gas just to get to work. I still needed all the welfare and public assistance I could find in order to survive. I failed and went back to prison.
So I don’t know. I have no real professional skill set that does not require intense physical labor or significant starting money. I could run a roofing outfit but who’d hire a contractor with a record longer than his resume? Would you? So that’s the dilemma of freedom. I may be free, but how can I make good use of it? I am permanently placed at the fringe of society. I am as unwanted as a stinky fart on an elevator.