The below opinion piece is just one of the many stories of the over 4,500 individuals that wait in limbo. Waiting to see if they will be returned to prison after being released under the Cares Act last year. These individuals have reunited with their families, leased housing, purchased vehicles, obtained employment, and integrated back into society. They are true success stories. The author is identified as Anonymous. This is because many who are serving the remainder of their sentence under the Cares Act are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation or being violated. Just one more reason these individuals should be granted clemency. #KeepThemHome
Home sweet home….That’s how I felt in The Spring of 2020. I’ve been home since June of 2020 when I was released (transferred to home confinement) from federal prison custody in Mendota California.
That same day, I met my new counselor at the halfway house so she could place a permanent ankle monitor on me. It is thick with buttons and blinking lights; it even has a speaker where she can send me voice messages.
But I’m free, this is my new reality. It was extremely cathartic for me, my kids, all seven of them, my mom, and all my friends who were worried about me. In graphic detail I had thought about this day since I was allowed to self-report to prison. In every way I had envisioned this freedom, I will now be able to test all my hopes, aspirations, and plans for a great future.
I can now send my wife a monthly check, as I agreed when we divorced. I will now be able to send child support to my children. I will be able to help my elderly mother, in her late 70’s, and struggling physically.
It all starts with a job. I hope that I can find a job. I hope one of my friends, or even a stranger, who owns a business, will stand up for me, and follow the government’s encouragement, and provide employment to this felon…. Will it all work as I envisioned it? On June 9, 2020, all the excitement about freedom, the fears and anxiety of what it really means to be free would be tested!
As I write this, it’s been 14 months since I was released early to home confinement due to the CARES Act allowing federal inmates who are deemed community safe and the lowest risk of committing a new crime, to go to home confinement custody… I write this to inform you on what I’ve done and accomplished with that freedom…
I’ve reunited with all my children; they came to me because I am not permitted to travel. I have seven kids; I’ve even got a granddaughter! and we’ve all connected here in my mother’s home where I live. I live in a guest bedroom that she graciously provided. I am 53 years old, serving a 60-month sentence after pleading guilty to a set of facts negotiated on my behalf in order to stave off the trial penalty exposure of 28 years.
But I’m home now and I have a new job with a large commercial property manager in my city. I love my job and the people I work with. I love the ability to go to work every day with pride and feel like I make a difference in this world. And I think the people I work with like me too, treating me with great respect and as one of the team. I know my boss does because He tells me how important I am to his business. My boss went out on a limb to hire me.
When I first got home, I met with him and many others from my network, all are great, high-quality people, telling them that somebody needs to take the risk and give me a fresh start. After all, I’m starting over with no financial resources. My family and friend network are limited to people that know I went to prison. The fact that I’m a felon doesn’t provide the best job prospects. Not to mention, a huge issue with the resume’. Yet with that taken into consideration, my boss took a chance. He knew me, my history, my character. My boss was willing to put me out front as the face of his company to his most valuable clients, both current and potential, to help grow his business, as well as qualify for the tax credit the federal government offers employers willing to step-up and employ a formally incarcerated felon. It has worked out pretty well for him and his company, not to mention me and my family, who depend on me financially, as well as emotionally.
Last week I had to let him know that I may be going back to prison. I had to explain, that all though I had done nothing wrong, that this was a policy the government has determined as appropriate once the pandemic ends. Not only is it an inconvenient (irrational?) policy to my employer, but it is also a policy that upsets him.
My boss now must grapple with, and reconcile, the facts of taking a chance on me, following the government’s lead and encouragement of offering second chances, and now the same government pulling the rug out from him and his business, and me and my family. He felt so good about giving me a job, and the great results it created, that he wanted to have other people who are in similar circumstances work for him also.
Well not anymore, not after I let him know that the Office of Legal Counsel for both the Trump and Biden administrations has decided that those of us who passed a high-level security screening, evaluated, and determined to be non-violent, model inmates, with minimum recidivism risk, and pose no threat to the community and ultimately released to home confinement, must be returned to prison (after being told by the BOP and Trump administration that we would NOT have to go back as long as we behaved).
Look at the success statistics of our group: Of over 28,000 released to home confinement due to the CARES Act over the past 16-months, only 5 have been arrested for committing a new crime, over 99.98% success! Never in the history of the BOP, or any other correctional program, has there been this kind of success. 99.5% of us are employed, earning degrees, paying child support, reconnecting with family, volunteering in the community, paying for our healthcare, and paying taxes. The exact results the POST-incarceration advocates, Second Chance organizations, and the government on both sides of the political spectrum hope to achieve. And yet, here I sit with the stress and anxiety, shared by my family, friends and employer, knowing that the moment the pandemic is over, I must return to prison . . . America and my community aren’t safer, nor better off, because I go back to prison.
No longer do I dwell on all my hopes, aspirations, and plans for a great future. Now I have to grapple with the government’s policy and dwell on what is to come: letting my employer know that today’s my last day; sitting down with my children to inform them, “guess what, dad‘s going back in”; how to let my ex-wife, who counts on my child support check I am gratefully able to pay, that her financial situation is going to take a dramatic change for the worse and that when I let her know it’s over, she breaks down emotionally because she knows she can’t make ends meet as a school teacher for the mentally disabled on her income.
There are 4,500 us, men and women, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, all facing this reality. We were all released to home confinement not only to reestablish our own lives, but to also reconnect, reestablish, and restore the people around us, who desperately depend on us. In my case it’s an employer. A 76-year-old mother who, physically, is unable to make it on her own and, likely, must move into a nursing home if I’m not here. An ex-wife who’s managing the lives of six of our children and be without her alimony and child support while I finish up the balance of my sentence. And of course, the community which I gratefully interact with daily and provide value.
This is my plight, as well as all of us that are on home confinement. I mentioned that when I first got out, I had to meet with lots of people about employment and about the gentleman who decided to take a chance and followed the government’s encouragement of hiring felons, well, he and I have become great friends. We’ve been able to talk about incarceration. What it means to be free, and the perspective of having been incarcerated and now having your freedom somewhat restored.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still live in that spare bedroom in my mother’s home and still have an ankle monitor with blinking lights, and periodically has a voice activated message that says, “call your counselor” or “call the Halfway House.” It is a robotic voice that can, and does, occur in a sales meeting, a meeting or dinner with a client, a pre-approved dinner at a restaurant with family, it has even gone off in my church while sitting in the pew. When that voice goes off in public, it is beyond awkward, and the status of our custody for all of us on home confinement. A reminder that I am still in custody and serving my sentence.
I’m not free, but I feel free. I believe that all the hard work I did while incarcerated is paying off, and that this partial freedom has given me perspective, it has allowed me to reestablish my roots. It’s been a hard fight. An unbelievable amount of self-encouragement, self-talk, keeping your mind straight, keeping your head about you, keeping emotions under control, knowing that so many people depend on you.
The notion that the CARES Act has allowed this opportunity to reestablish ourselves in our families and communities a little earlier, while still in custody, supervised and monitored 24/7, seems like the very objective our government would want for the people that exit prison, after all, isn’t this exactly what the First Step Act, when implemented, accomplishes.
After tearing out these newly established roots when I return to prison, I sure hope I can do it all over again in a year and a half – picking up the Rolodex one more time, saying, “guess what, I’m out again, and do you mind, Mr. Employer, giving me that job again, once again inconveniencing your company, your associates, and your clients, knowing once again that you’re taking another chance on a federal inmate who’s been released from custody, once again taking the risk with the knowledge of being taken from him and the disruption it caused previously. This is too much to ask.
It’s not really so much about me, I can do the time. I can go back in and finish up with what the calendar says is the right amount of time, no problem. But what about my ex-wife? My children? My employer? Are they supposed to suspend their lives also? I don’t think so. Who will pay the bills for my ex-wife and family? Who is going to pay her rent? Who’s going to pay to feed my children? I really don’t have an answer to these things.
I know that for the past 14-months, and right now, I am doing all these things, providing. I am a law-abiding-provider, meeting all my obligations. And I feel great that I can, and am, do it.
I know I must remain anonymous with all I have to say, I’m in custody after all. I feel so blessed, I would do anything to not have this level of freedom revoked. My message is to the President, and Senators Grassley, Durbin, and Booker, as well as the Director of the BOP, and Attorney General Merrick Garland – all these men have said in recent months that they want to fix and reform our criminal justice system, well let’s start here. Keep us home for the sake of the thousands who depend on us.