Archives for April 6, 2016

Prison Reentry From A Former Offender’s Perspective

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/10/prison-reentry-from-a-former-offenders-perspective/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, LamontCarey.com. Lamont is one of the most interesting spokespeople for offender reentry, people coming out of prison. We’re titling today’s program Views on Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective. Lamont Carey, welcome back to DC Pubic Safety.

Lamont: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: All right. The best programs we do are with Lamont. Now when you go to an event and Lamont is speaking at events, because Lamont is an author, he’s a trainer, Lamont is everything. He’s a filmmaker. There’s nothing that Lamont does not do, but the most interesting thing that Lamont does is he gets up and he gives these monologues on our understanding of crime in the criminal justice system. Lamont, I want you to start off the program with a one to two minute monologue so that people have an idea as to what it is that you do.

Lamont: All right. See when I walked out that gate, I looked straight, leaving prison behind me, leaving the streets behind me. But my mother always told me that my past would always find me. See I had been looking for a job for almost a year and wasn’t nobody hiring. I’m glad that they done banned the box, but it’s that empty block on my resume that seems to be whispering, “He done been to the penitentiary.” They told me to forget my past and change people, places and things if I really want to change. Now I’m in this new job interview not knowing what to say or what to do, so I say what I’ve been taught, that I’m a hard worker, that I’m a fast learner, that I’m a dependable. She leaned over and said, “Sir what does that mean because that ain’t what we’re looking for? We’re looking for somebody with expertise in sales.”

I smiled on the outside because on the inside I was screaming, “That’s the reason that I went to jail.” Once I was able to tell her what I knew about sales without actually telling her what I knew about sales, I got the job. See they say when things go wrong we revert back to what we know, but there’s some skills from my criminal past that are indeed transferable. iTunes. All that stuff you can get that, the whole copy.

Leonard: I do love that. I heard that live a couple weeks ago and i was just absolutely fascinated with it. You understand, after listening to that monologue how convincing Lamont is. A very eloquent spokesperson, and a very forthright and forceful spokesperson for the issue of reentry because we’ve done radio programs before where we’ve argued, we’ve yelled at each other. People just need to understand what it is about people caught up in the criminal justice system and what it is that we should be doing. Crime is rising in some cities throughout the United States. People are starting to get angry at the criminal justice system again, and what we’re saying is that if you supply the programs both in prison and outside of prison, and if you supply community support, we can dramatically reduce the amount of people who are going back to prison, dramatically reduce the amount of criminality that people get involved in and we have been saying that, I have been saying that for a quarter of a century.

Lamont: Preach.

Leonard: I’m not quite sure people get it. I’m not quite sure people listen to what I have to say. Maybe Lamont Carey, they listen to what you have to say. What is the message?

Lamont: You said it. When I hear criminal justice system, let me just be straight up, I hear the system. From my personal perspective, my community reflects all the images that I see of the criminal justice system.

Leonard: What does that mean?

Lamont: That means on the news when there’s a crime committed and the picture is flashed, ninety-nine percent of the times it’s an individual that looks like me, that comes from the community that I come from. Actually on my way here, I saw a video of a young black girl, African American girl in the classroom. I don’t know what the whole story is, but this police officer forced, she was sitting in the chair holding onto the chair as tight as she could, slammed the chair back, snatched her out of the chair and tossed her. This is a grown man. This is a young girl in school, and I can’t think where’s the justification in her being treated so harshly.

She didn’t have a weapon in her hand that she was brandishing at anybody. She was holding onto the desk. Those images are what I saw growing up on a consistent and constant basis, every time I saw the police they were taking somebody that I know, somebody that I love. For me, that created that gap, that divide between me and the police because I saw the police as a threat to my well being, and that is how I saw the criminal justice system and also I saw the criminal justice system, because again, I say the system, is when I was in school and I stayed back in Kindergarten. I don’t know how you stay back in Kindergarten when all you do is color and sleep, but I stayed back in Kindergarten and I stayed back in the first grade.

When I got passed on to these other grades, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Now I’m seeing statistics and hearing people say that they’re basing third grade test scores on how many prison beds that they will need in the future. The criminal justice system for me begins in my community, and if those statistics are what they’re using as fact, that mean that there is an opportunity for there to be an intervention in third grade if that is what’s leading to defining where they will end up with the rest of their life. Why aren’t we being proactive and putting money into programs? Not only money into programs, why aren’t we getting rid of teachers and curriculum that aren’t preparing out children to go to the next grade where they will be producing test scores that say they are going to prison?

Leonard: Okay, you’re bouncing all over the place. Number one, there’s a basic mistrust either in the poor African American community or other communities, white communities, Hispanic communities towards the criminal justice system. You’re probably going to suggest that it’s more pronounced within the African American community.

Lamont: No, I’m just speaking of from my perspective.

Leonard: From your perspective, that’s what I’m looking for. Number one, what I’m hearing is there’s mistrust of those of us within the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: In your mind there’s probably a pretty good reason for that mistrust.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: From the very beginning in terms of the schools, the schools are improperly prepared to lift people up even those people who want to be lifted up?

Lamont: Right. To you it might seem that I’m bouncing all over the place but to me it says it’s connected. It’s based off those test scores and it defines who goes to prison and nobody is trying to stop that, so all of that is connected. It’s saying these young people will end up in the criminal justice system. If nobody is not interrupting that, then they’re embracing it.

Leonard: What you’re saying it’s preordained and it’s embraced by the large society?

Lamont: Yeah. How else could I read into that?

Leonard: Why would it be embraced by the larger society?

Lamont: If this is the truth and they’re not putting money there, they’re not switching out the curriculum or the teachers, then this has been accepted as the norm?

Leonard: Why?

Lamont: Why?

Leonard: Yeah.

Lamont: Why was it accepted as the norm? Well it may be I know I’ve been hearing, I haven’t actually seen them so it may not even be true that there are contracts with prison systems that’s guaranteed that a certain amount of bed space will be filled, so maybe this is a part of that process of making sure that the states meet those quotas so they won’t end up in court because they have guaranteed that these bed spaces will be filled.

Leonard: Your sense is that it’s all preordained for whatever reason, whether it be race, whether it be class, whether it be for whatever the reason is, it is preordained for young men and young women coming up in our society throughout the United States that they’re not going to do well in school and they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right. My thinking is if it’s not embraced as this is the norm, then it must be embraced that there is something truly wrong with African Americans, right? That we’re going to commit crimes, that we’re going violate the law in some form or fashion that’s going to put us behind bars. That’s saying that we are born criminals and that’s impossible for it to be true. I know we come from situations, in my community I grew up that my father wasn’t allowed to live in my household for my mother to receive the Section 8 housing.

Leonard: Is it because he was caught up in the system?

Lamont: No. What I’m speaking of, again, when I hear criminal justice I hear the system. Internally that’s what it says to me. I’m just stating from my view as a young person growing up to now as an adult trying to understand all of my experiences as a young folk. If my father was hiding under the bed and jumping in the closet so he wouldn’t be found that he was in my mother’s home so she wouldn’t lose where she was living. One, it seemed like my father, for whatever reason, that he wasn’t able to have a job that he was able to pay the rent for the housing for us, whatever that reason was that he couldn’t do that, but now my mother has housing and apparently she was under an agreement that says, “If we provide housing for you and your kids, the man can’t be living here.”

Leonard: For what reason? Was he caught up in the criminal justice system?

Lamont: No, it was just public housing.

Leonard: It was just public housing?

Lamont: It was just public housing.

Leonard: It excluded your father because they didn’t want men?

Lamont: They didn’t want men.

Leonard: Oh wow.

Lamont: He could not live in a house with us. I know in D.C., because it wasn’t HUD. HUD said it wasn’t their policy, it was the policy of the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority in D.C. is re-looking at that and trying to bring families back together.

Leonard: The bottom line, what I’m hearing you say Lamont is that there is institutional bias towards people, towards themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, caught up in failing schools. They grow up a certain way viewing the criminal justice system a certain way, viewing society a certain way.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: what does that mean? You grow up in tough schools, you grow up in tough communities, you grow up mistrusting the criminal justice system and all that means what?

Lamont: All that means, for me I felt isolated. I felt like that there wasn’t options for me, that I felt limited. Because I heard things like the school system isn’t preparing you for a future, the textbooks are old or the white man is not going to let you be nothing. This is what I heard verbally. Now I see on TV every year, every couple of months about how bad the inner city or the public school system is. Now it’s not something that I’m hearing verbally from people who have given up on life, but now it’s being broadcast and so it’s the same messages that’s being fed to our kids.

As a kid, growing up, I’m like, “All right, why should I go that route if they’re saying that route is a dead end.” I chose the streets.

Leonard: You’re not going to succeed anyway, so why not choose the streets?

Lamont: Right. How the streets seemed like an option, because those who chose the streets lived better than I did. I wanted to get out of this despair. People in my neighborhood, you can look in their eyes and see that they have given up, that they are completely hopeless. I didn’t want to be a drug addict. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic living on the corner. The drug dealers because the difference in my community. They had the cars, they had the money, they moved out of the community and it was accessible to me. I learned how to sell drugs playing in the yard.

Leonard: You understand that what you are describing, I’ll name the following five groups and there’s going to be somebody who will object because I have [inaudible 14:13]. You’re talking about Italian street corner gangs, you’re talking about Jewish street corner gangs, you’re talking about Greek street corner gangs.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: You’re talking about just about any other group out there. Everything that you’re describing describes exactly all the other folks who got involved in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Guess where I learned that out.

Leonard: Where?

Lamont: I learned that in prison.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Lamont: I learned that each group has the same or similar issues as the African American communities deal with. Italians kill, rob, sell drugs to Italians. Asians do the same and vice versa. I’m only speaking from a perspective that I grew up in. I can’t talk about an Italian kid, how they grew up.

Leonard: I want to get back to that and I want to get around the criminal justice policy, but I still think that our program should be two hours long, not thirty minutes. It’s impossible. The discussion about all of this, Lamont Carey’s at our microphone. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, views on prison reentry from a former offender’s perspective. LamontCarey.com, L-A-M-O-N-T-C-A-R-E-Y dot com. It’s impossible to describe Lamont in terms of his public appearance, in terms of writing books, in terms of video, in terms of other projects that Lamont is involved in. It’s just a fascinating, fascinating person. LamontCarey.com, go to his website.

We have fifteen minutes left. In terms of criminal justice property, in terms of something that everybody else listening to this program right now needs to understand about the reentry process is what? Everything that you experienced as a child, put that off to the side for a second.

Lamont: And go to as an adult?

Leonard: What does the larger society need to understand, what does the larger society need to do to reduce crime, to reduce the amount of people going back to the prison system? Then reduce of our tax burden?

Lamont: Okay, so starting from inside of the criminal institution, starting inside of prisons. One of the things that was life changing for me is that I had access to education. With me saying that, the Pell grants are so important because …

Leonard: Federal funding for college programs.

Lamont: Federal funding for college, right. Having access to education broadened my worldview. As I said in the poem that I was reciting earlier, that people told us to change people, places and things if we really want to change. If I didn’t have access to education while in prison I would have came out worse than I went in. I wouldn’t have only grown as a criminal. Education combated that. Education when I was in business management, it taught me that I was a businessman, but I just had illegal product. All I had to do was change my product and the services that I offered. Without access to education, I wouldn’t have learned it. That is how I’m in front of you now with books out, with films and plays. Education helps change the way a man or a woman sees themselves, sees the world and it shows them what exists out there.

Leonard: Before prison, you said you viewed yourself in a certain way and you saw your future as hopeless. How did that change in terms of college programs in prison?

Lamont: I didn’t see myself as hopeless, I saw myself as finding a way out and that’s why I chose turn to selling drugs, even though it was the wrong choice. How did that help me in prison? It made sense of my life. It made me see that black people wasn’t the only people that existed in the world. There are black people that are successful, and if you figure out what you want out of life and you be determined enough to achieve it, having access to college in prison helped me create a roadmap to success. It taught me that I can take my life, package my life, which I have done because I don’t have a product or service. My business is created of me, of my experiences that I was able to turn into books and CDs to motivational speaking. That’s what college did for me. If not having access to college, I wouldn’t have know that I could do that.

The other thing that we need, having a job, having housing is phenomenal, but more than that we need goals. We need to be able to set life goals for ourselves. We need to be able to think, be able to make decisions that’s going to benefit our life. We need life skills that’s going to help us to confront and overcome those obstacles we’re going to face.

Leonard: You’re talking about fundamentally rearranging how people see themselves through education.

Lamont: Yes, and education somehow, whether that’s a trade or whether that’s just through education, because we work. What society doesn’t understand is that in prison you have two choices. You either work or you go to school. It’s not like we have never worked before. We get up every morning, probably depending on what your job is, and work just about seven days a week. We are accustomed to working. We are accustomed to being on time. I think we just need the opportunities and that the community as a whole, employers understand that there is some value. One, we have skills. We’re used to working, and that we have skills that we’re not even utilizing. One of the skills that have that I learned from the streets is that I learned I know marketing. I know customer service. I know branding. Those were skills that I learned from a criminal lifestyle. I figured out through college programs how to see that in a different light, see that in a positive light, and repackage that and turn it into a positive product or service.

Leonard: We cut the prison programs, we cut most of the prison college programs. President Obama is trying to re-institute them on a limited basis, on a trial basis, but we cut most of the programs that you find near and dear. Most prison systems throughout this country lack career programs, lack vocational training for all offenders. They have them but only a small percentage of the prison population can take advantage of them. Vocational training is not there as necessary. Educational training, substance abuse, mental health, all these programmatic activities, they exist in every prison in the United States but they only serve small numbers. Why is that? If you’re saying that that is the key, then why do so few prison inmates actually get to be involved in these sorts of efforts.

Lamont: In some institutions it depends on how much time you’re serving.

Leonard: Correct.

Lamont: Right?

Leonard: Right, if you’re a lifer you’re not going to get it. If you’re there for nine months, you’re not going to get it. But for the eighty percent left?

Lamont: My thinking is that everybody should have access to some form of program. It shouldn’t be voluntary, it should be mandatory. If you don’t have a high school diploma, like when I went to prison because I was a juvenile, because of federal laws or what have you, I had to go to school and get a GED. That was the eye opener for me. That’s what led to college. Because at first I didn’t think I was smart enough to be able to take tests to pass grades, but once I got the GED I was like, “Okay.”

Leonard: I want two quick answers from you. Why is there a lack of programs, and B, if we had the programs, what would be the impact? Would we reduce recidivism by fifty percent, sixty percent, twenty percent? Why don’t we have these programs?

Lamont: I think the institutions focuses on warehousing for the most part. It’s on warehousing and maybe the impression is that we don’t want to learn. I’ve went to a prison in North Carolina, they have no program. They don’t even have a law library. In my opinion, I believe that it will have a great impact on the recidivism rate if you have those kind of programs. Most of us don’t even know that we have mental issues. Today I know that I’m affected by my incarceration because if my wife open a door in the bedroom, I still pop up or my eyes pop open because it was a safety measure in there. Those are some things that could have been addressed beforehand. Me, you know me, man I’m writing a book on.

Leonard: Yes you are.

Lamont: How to identify institutional behavior and possible ways you can help them overcome it. I think having education and access to programming, it’s cool if they give us the programming and education, but society has to be willing to accept that we have this training and if they’re going to offer us programming in the institution, let us be certified in it.

Leonard: That’s the other part of it, the larger society has got to care about people coming out of the prison system. They’ve got to be personally invested for their own protection. I mean just in terms of …

Lamont: Of safety.

Leonard: … crime, just in terms of their own tax paid dollars. It is in our collective best interest to give a break, to have some degree of understanding the people coming out of the prison system.

Lamont: Let me tell you, when I felt like I was a part of the American dream, when I cast my first ballot. I think it’s important that individuals that return home from prison should be given their voting rights back because I had never paid attention to politics until I was in prison because it was on TV.

Leonard: how much of all of this is the individual person’s responsibility? Because people listening to this program are going to go, “Okay Lamont, fine. Programs fine, I’ll give you that. Acceptance, fine, I’ll give you that. How much of it is the responsibility of Lamont Carey and everybody else coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont: It as a huge responsibility of Lamont Carey, but you also got to look at in a lot of institutions it’s controlled by gang activity. Either you’re in a gang or you pray. I just always stood on my own, was willing to deal with whatever and learn how to navigate those systems. An individual who doesn’t have the same outlook on life and confidence in themselves going to end up in those gangs, but if you give them opportunities like education and job training, that’ll help combat some of that stuff that’s dealing with the gang and all of that, because if we don’t put programs and I’m trained as a gang member. Quickly, I ended up in the federal prison when they closed D.C. Prison Lawton down. Now I’m in there with cartel leaders that could easily say in conversations say, “Lamont, when you get home I’m going to make sure you’re all right. I’m going to supply you with a hundred kilos or a thousand kilos.”

Leonard: I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry about it.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: Nobody else cares about you, we do.

Lamont: Right. Before I came to the federal prison, I didn’t have access to cartel leaders, but because I had access to education while I had access to cartel leaders, I chose to use the education that I got versus the opportunities that the cartel leaders were presenting me. That’s what’s important when you’re talking about reentry. Either we’re getting a good education or we’re getting an education that’s going to help teach us how to prey on the community. The majority of the individuals that I was incarcerated with, they want to come home and they want to be upstanding citizens. They don’t want to do wrong, but they come home and we hear all of these no’s. No to job, no to voting. We don’t have access to so much stuff.

Leonard, out of all the amazing things that I’ve done since I’ve been home, I still can’t go on a field trip with my son. That’s not allowing me to be a hundred percent father. I can’t go on a field trip, and I go in schools and I talk to kids about being at risk, ending up in a prison incarcerated, but I still can’t go and volunteer.

Leonard: Regardless of your success and your success has been profound, you are still an ex-con.

Lamont: Yes. I’m still an ex-con. I still can’t even get in the White House. I’ve been on programs and I can’t get in.

Leonard: There’s a bit of a contradiction there.

Lamont: Out of all the success that I’ve had, imagine somebody with no success. Can’t even participate in a field trip with their kid.

Leonard: I think the larger issue, I mean there are the Lamont Carey’s of the world that do extraordinary things. I’ve had dozens of them before these microphones, the other people like Lamont Carey, and there’s ninety-seven percent who are still struggling with the basics. You’re laying out the issues for all of them. It applies to everybody.

Lamont: My goal is to use myself and any other individual that came home and successfully transitioned to change the face of reentry. Because I think when people hear ex-con, they still see the image of who I used to be. They don’t see this individual that’s sitting across from you or this individual that was the lead in a production at the Kennedy Center last month. They don’t see that individual that can go into a company and teach companies employees on professional development.

Leonard: They just see your past.

Lamont: Right. As long as you see my past, you’re going to miss how extraordinary I am today, because that’s what I am Leonard.

Leonard: But it applies to other people as well.

Lamont: Right, because there are thousands of us.

Leonard: That’s your point. Is it the majority, is it twenty-five percent, is it fifty percent, is it seventy percent? What is it?

Lamont: I think depending on what community that you’re in, it’s a minimum of fifteen percent of the individuals come home and successfully transition. Then again, there are those of us who have jobs, that the employer told us, “Don’t let nobody know that you ever been to prison.” If you out there listening, I need for you to get on board to abandon the box, removing “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” from the job applications. Support getting the Pell grants back into the institutions.

Leonard: Always a very fascinating conversation Lamont Carey. Thank you very much for being here. LamontCarey.com. Ladies and gentlemen, DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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