An Interview With Ex-Offender Randy Kearse-DC Public Safety Radio

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Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, today’s program is an interview with ex offender Randy Kearse, his website www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y  Randy is a five-time publisher, reentry advocate, speaker and entrepreneur, has several stories to tell.  Once deemed a menace to society by a judge who sentenced him to 15 year in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, he served his lengthy sentence which in his show notes he has exactly down to 13 years, six months and two days and returned to society a changed man.  Randy’s been on a bit of tear ever since coming back.  He’s written a variety of books.  He’s been interviewed by the New York Times and the New York Daily News, The Amsterdam News, The Colbert Report, Wendy Williams Experience just to name a few, and to Randy Kearse, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy Kearse:  Oh, thank you for having me on Leonard; it’s a pleasure to be here.

Len Sipes:  Alright Randy, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about a variety of things, about your experience in the prison system and there are three things that I really want to focus on, this whole concept of prisoner reentry, how society views people who come out of the prison system and what the criminal justice system is doing or not doing to keep people out of prison.  So let’s start off with the things first in terms of your own experience, you served 13 years in federal prison, 13 years, six months and two days to be specific in federal prison for a crack cocaine conspiracy charge.

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I got caught up in the whole whirlwind of the crack explosion epidemic that swept through the urban communities, actually the nation during the late 80’s, early 90’s and you know I was sentenced under the harsh mandatory minimums of crack cocaine, 100 versus one,

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  The whole, you know, the whole thing.  So, you know basically being that there’s no parole in the federal system, I wound up spending 13 years, six months in federal prison.  My experience with the federal system is it’s a mixed bag of nuts for me.  I went in 27 years old.  I was very at the end of my, I guess you could say my criminal career and just basically figuring that I was going to be there for over a decade at the time.  So it’s a long kind of journey that I document in my books, especially Changing Your Game Plan.  As far as speaking specifically about rehabilitation and reentry, we can just fast forward past the time that I spent and I’m about to get out.  During my experience of being in federal prison, what I was able to get out of the whole reentry thing and what the federal system provided for you was actually non-existent.  I mean they had this so-called program that was supposed to prepare you for getting out that you attended maybe like six months to a year before getting out.  But it was a joke to be honest with you.  I mean whoever implemented that program, I don’t know if they did it just for the sake of saying that they had a program, but there was no accountability to the people who were supposed to be giving the program, the staff.  There was no accountability for anything.  I mean you came in, you signed in and you went about your business.  They gave you some papers and if you didn’t show up there was no penalty.  There was nothing.  As long as you had your name on a piece of paper, I mean pretty much that was the extent of what you were, you know, looked for to do.  So basically I mean I went to a couple of the classes and I sat in and just I mean it was a joke, to be honest with you, it was a joke because they kept telling you things about how to prepare for getting out in a way that I guess was textbook.  It wasn’t from anybody’s personal experience.  It wasn’t from the reality, just say the unemployment numbers for ex-offenders.  It wasn’t, you know, any of those things wasn’t taken into consideration.  And you could sit there and really guess like how many people would not make it when they got back out to society based on this program itself.

Len Sipes:  Well, if you look at national statistics, most people go back to prison, most people are re-arrested, the national data at the moment and it’s years old, it’s fairly old data, but that’s what most people quote is that most people are re-arrested.  About two thirds are re-arrested and about 50 percent go back to prison.  This is after three years.

Randy Kearse:  I mean the thing is I mean how do you prepare a person who’s been away from society say five, ten, fifteen years and you start preparing them a year before they get out and then the program that you’re providing them is only what, an hour, two hours?  You talk about resumes, you might not go back for another week or two weeks and, you know, it’s just a checklist of things that you have to say that you did in order to want to make in your exit to say that you fulfilled those requirements.  But again, there’s no real preparation, there’s no skill based preparation.  There’s no academic based preparation.  There’s no real life housing preparations.  I mean I know guys that got out and had to go to a shelter.  There was nothing that really can prepare a person for actually getting out, to be honest with you man.

Len Sipes:  What should the system do then Randy?  I mean part of the problem, one of the things that we were talking about before the beginning of the program was the fact that 80 percent of people in the criminal justice system, who are caught up in the criminal justice system, have substance abuse histories and according to the latest data, about 10 percent receive drug treatment within the correctional setting.  So obviously there’s a disconnect.  80 percent have histories of substance abuse, 10 percent get the treatment and nobody’s talking about the quality of that treatment.  It could have been just, you know, following some sort of a process like you’re describing and we’re not even talking about how good the treatment was.  But the numbers involved are startling.  80 percent need, 10 percent get, there’s the disconnect.  Why is there that disconnect?

Randy Kearse:  Again, I mean I’ve participated in a so-called drug program.  I mean even though I wasn’t there, it wasn’t mandatory for that that I go, but I participated in what they call a 40 hour drug program.  I mean you sat there and again it was some textbook stuff that you went through.  They showed a couple of films.  But there was no accountability to say whether this program would actually have an impact on whether or not a person, once they got out would return to that type of behavior.  What should they be doing?  To answer that question, you should be preparing a person pretty much as soon as they enter the system, whether state of federal or local.  You should be preparing that person because it’s a mindset that you have to recondition people to get away from thinking from a criminal aspect.  So once you can kind of recondition a person’s thinking and show them that there are possibilities, that there are opportunities in society for them, it makes a greater chance for them to make a positive reentry back into society.  And when I say prepare them, I mean you got to give them hand’s on skills that they can use when they get out, construction, maintenance, air condition, all of the things, computers, all of the things that would give them an opportunity to have a leg up on society when they get out.  I mean just to let a person go through their sentence and not focus on what they’re going to be doing when they get out is an injustice to be honest with you because if you’re talking about corrections, corrections is supposed to be fixing the problem that brought a person into the system in the first place.  So if the system doesn’t provide any type of mechanisms that will allow a person to change their ways and change their thinking, that’s when you’re going to have this high percentage of recidivism because there’s a bleak outlook for that person once they return to society.  One of the things that I’m really advocating now is bringing programs into the system that would teach people business and entrepreneurial skills.  We have a lot of people who are in the federal and state systems that have managerial type of skills, business order type of skills but they don’t know how to transfer those into real working settings.  So if you allow a person like myself, I mean I’m a self-published author, entrepreneur, I sell my books online; I sell my books hand to hand.  I do a lot of different stuff and basically what I was able to do was transfer a lot of the things that I was doing illegally when I was selling drugs and transfer those skills into a legal setting where I just switched the product.  So it was drugs at first, now it’s the books, now it’s workshops and skills that I already had the concept of but I was able to transfer it to a legal setting.

Len Sipes:  Randy, I want to talk a little bit about your personal background because the average person comes out of the prison system is a fairly powerless person.  The average person coming out of the prison system, when I say the average, I’m talking about 99.9 tenths percent don’t talk to anybody.  They don’t talk, I mean you’ve talked to The New York Times, you’ve been on the Colbert Report, you’ve talked to the New York Daily News, you’ve written books, you’ve done a lot of different things that talk about your experiences, but the average guy, the average woman getting out of the prison system doesn’t talk to anybody about anything for any reason.  Why did you have that experience?  How did you manage to come out of the prison system and become so well known?

Randy Kearse:  Well what I set out to do when I left prison was to show society that people do change number one, people do deserve chances number two and that not everybody is your stereotypical criminal.  I mean let’s not, some people need to be in prison, let’s put it like that; you know what I’m saying?  There are some people who are just evil.  They will never conform to society’s constraints and things like that.  And there are cases where people actually need to be incarcerated.  I mean I know guys that I met in prison that I wouldn’t even want to live next door to.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  So I mean I’m not an advocate of saying that, you know, we need to not have prisons.  But my thing was just put a human face on people who do come home.  We always see the statistics about the high recidivism rates but what about the statistics of people who never go back, people who actually go on to start their own business, own homes, contribute to society, pay their taxes and never ever get in a situation where they’re back in the criminal justice system.  I think we need to put a face on that.  We need to showcase those people in order to encourage those who might be wavering, who might not see any opportunities past incarceration that, you know, you can go on.  There’s life after prison.  You know there’s life after parole.  There’s life after probation.  We have over two million people incarcerated now at this particular time.  But imagine over the last just say 20 years, how many people have filtered through the criminal justice system.  So you’re talking maybe 10, over 10 million people who have a criminal

Len Sipes:  Well there are 700,000 people who come out of state and federal prisons every year, 700,000.  And you can easily do the math times the last decade.

Randy Kearse:  And that’s just it, I mean that’s a staggering number.  I mean [INDISCERNIBLE]

Len Sipes:  It is a staggering number.  But you’re still not helping me fill in this blank.  You came out, how did you attract the attention of people?  I mean if the average coming out of the prison system has a hard enough time finding a job and finding a place to live, let alone talking to The New York Times and ending up on the Colbert Report.  How did you end up doing that?

Randy Kearse:  I think that people gravitated towards my story.  I think they gravitated towards my optimism towards the future.  I think that they gravitated to the fact that I didn’t let prison define me that I defined who I am.  I think that as a society even though we sometimes cast away people who have been through the criminal justice system, we champion sometimes those who have been able to pull their self up by the bootstraps and, you know, really actually show the American dream still does work even for those who have been incarcerated.  And I think that people kind of especially under economical times, were impressed by the fact that I didn’t allow anything to stop me from doing the things that I’m doing.  And I think that as human beings, we love to see people who have been able to rise above their situation.  I think that the reason why a lot of people who have come from prison don’t take that stance of, you know, how I have because they already feel in their mind that society won’t accept them.  So I came home I was like you know what, listen man, I’m human, I made mistakes.  I don’t think there’s anybody that never made a mistake before.  And we all have made mistakes, some have been graver than others, some have been in different areas than others.  But we’ve all had a challenge.  We’ve all had some adversity.  We’ve all had something that we’ve had to overcome.  And I think that my story resonates to that, you know, so that’s why I’ve been able to get the recognition that I have.  But again, it’s not about me, it’s about the other two million people that are still fighting for a place.  And hopefully through me I give them a voice to show society like, you know, it’s better to rehabilitate and have someone make a positive re-entry into society overall because I mean it costs a lot to keep somebody incarcerated and taxpayers have to pay for that, you know what I’m saying?

Len Sipes:  Well your point a little while ago was important, 50 percent go back but 50 percent don’t.  And we in the criminal justice system very rarely ever tell the story of the 50 percent that don’t and that’s

Randy Kearse:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  One of the things that we’re trying to do today, that there’s a lot of people who choose to cross that bridge, but it’s a hard bridge to cross.  You’re talking about society’s perception of offenders.  I mean it’s not very good.  If you look at all the cable shows that come out at night, if you take a look at Lock Up and Hard Time and all the rest of the shows, why would anybody after watching one of those shows give any attention or allegiance or favor programs for people coming out of the prison system if all you hear on the 6 o’clock news is ex offender does this and ex offender does that and you see these cable shows.  I mean how do you,you know, it’s almost impossible to compete against that.  It’s almost impossible to say hey, 50 percent go to prison but 50 percent don’t.  Let’s tell the stories of the 50 percent that don’t go back.

Randy Kearse:  I mean that’s why it’s important for shows like yours, it’s important for people like me to get out there and even against the odds of being able to be heard, be able to highlight those stories and tell those stories and give encouragement to society that, you know, let’s face it.  I mean no matter how much you lock a certain amount of people up, a good majority of them are going to come back to society.  I mean that’s just a fact.

Len Sipes:  The overwhelming majority are coming back.

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I mean that’s what I’m saying.  So it’s best to have those type of programs or mechanisms in place that they will come back and hopefully not do any damage to society.  So it’s in society’s best interest to pay attention to what’s working and not what’s not working.  It’s easy to look at what’s not working but to look at what’s working would be the challenge.  I mean let’s face it

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway, let me reintroduce you Randy.  We’re more than halfway through the program.  We’re doing an interview with ex-offender Randy Kearse.  He is at www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y  The website will be in the show notes.  And one of the reasons why I’m interviewing Randy is because different people have said to me in the past, Leonard, when you’re dealing with former offenders; they’re all from the DC metropolitan area.  Can’t you get somebody from outside of the DC metropolitan area?  Randy you’re from what, New York City?

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I’m from New York.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so

Randy Kearse:  But I travel to DC, I travel all around again advocating reentry and putting more into the programs that would help ex-offenders make that successful transition.

Len Sipes:  And I really enjoy keeping up with your postings on Facebook.  So you have a very interesting point of view.  Alright Randy, so you didn’t get the programs that you thought were necessary.  Just answer this one question.  If the programs that you felt were necessary to help people to do right when they come out of the prison system not to go back to the criminal justice system, if those programs were in place in prison, if those programs were in place when the person is released, what do you think that that would do to cut down the recidivism rate?

Randy Kearse:  Oh, it would cut down the recidivism rate greatly because you give a person a sense of being able to have a sense of pride; you give them a sense of dignity back.  You allow them to feel, you know, that they’re part of the back in society and doing.  But overall, I mean just look at it.  It’s better to have a larger number of people contributing to society, paying taxes, maybe starting their own business, helping because it helps the overall fabric of society especially when it comes to the economy.  That’s why I advocate teaching entrepreneurial programs in prison because I mean let’s face it, a lot of these employers will not hire someone who’s been formerly incarcerated.  So why not teach those who are teachable how to start their own business so they don’t get discouraged when they can’t find a job and then the chance of them going back to the criminal behavior is greater.  So teach them how to start a lawn mowing business.  Teach them how to paint and start their own painting business.  Teach them how to open up a barber shop.  Teach them how to do these things so when they are in the position to, they’re not only helped by not going back to prison, buy they also contribute to society as far as the services and needs of society as a whole.

Len Sipes:  To take control over their own lives and not having their

Randy Kearse:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  lives in the hands of so many other people.

Randy Kearse:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  Alright.

Randy Kearse:  That’s very important.

Len Sipes:  Let me get down to this point.  Everybody I’ve interviewed and all the times that I’ve been in the criminal justice system where I’ve talked to people who have done well after the prison system, and you’ve just done it, you did it a little while ago.  They all basically said to me it was me who made the decision.  Is it that internal drive?  It is that self-sufficiency?  Is it that determination not to go back or is it programs or is it a combination of the two?

Randy Kearse:  It was self-determination Len.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Randy Kearse:  I mean for me failure was not an option.  I didn’t have a choice because I knew that I didn’t want to come back to prison.  I knew that I hated prison.  I mean I hated people telling me what to do, where to go.  I hated giving up my freedom.  So I made a vow to never do that again.  So it was my sheer determination not to go back.  If I had relied on what was available to me in prison, oh man I would definitely be in a greater percentage, I’d wind up being desperate and, you know, God forbid doing something can just put me back in prison.

Len Sipes:  But help me with this Randy, everybody says when they leave prison they’re not going back.  Every single person said man, I’m not going back.  I’m not going back.  And 50 percent do in three years.  So there’s got to be a disconnect somewhere.

Randy Kearse:  Maybe in a person’s mind they’re telling them that they’re not going back, but they weren’t properly prepared for leaving in the first place.  So that’s why a lot of times people wind up going back because preparing is a process.  You can’t figure out what you’re going to do six months before you get out.  You can’t figure out what you’re going to do once you get out.  You have to know what you want to do and what you’re going to do.  You have to know the steps to take.  It’s a process.  When I got out, I got a minimum wage job 10 days after being released from prison after almost 13 years.  So I knew that employment was very important.  It didn’t matter.  I didn’t care if I had to pick up cans or if I had to sweep floors.  That wasn’t important to me.  But I knew what I needed to do and I had the plan.  So people have to have a plan that is doable.  I mean you can’t come home thinking that you’re going to, you know, own a baseball team as soon as you step out the door.  But you have to have a plan.  And I think that it would be in society’s best interest to go into these prisons and help people put together a foreseeable, doable plan; you know what I’m saying?  Get your CDL license or whatever your pursuit is; provide some type of mechanism that would allow people to connect with the resources that would help them to be able to pursue their goals when they get out.  Because I mean it’s easy to say oh I’m not going back, but getting out is only half of the puzzle.  What are you going to do when you get out?

Len Sipes:  Okay, the larger society, Randy, is and it’s something again you and I talked about before the program, the larger society is not terribly keen on people connected to the criminal justice system.  Again, if you watch the cable shows, if you listen to the 6 o’clock news, it’s not like you’re going to get a lot of positive stories about people connected to the criminal justice system.  The average person out there is saying to themselves, you know, I’ll support programs for kids.  I’ll support programs for the elderly.  I’ll support programs for veterans.  Heck, I’ll support programs to spray and neuter pets before I’ll support programs for people caught up in the criminal justice system.  How do you get beyond that?

Randy Kearse:  I think that if you asked the average person on the street and not the talking heads about what should be done and what’s not to be done, I think the average person on the street would say we need to do something to help these people reintegrate back into society and help them do a positive reintegration back into society and help them.  The talking heads are pretty much against that up to a certain point of helping people make a positive reentry.  Cause let’s face the facts.  Prison is a big business.  Prison is big business.  Prison industrial conflict is a big business and there’s a lot of money that would be lost if you had a larger population not going back to prison or not going to prison.  If we went back to the numbers of people who were incarcerated 20 years ago, we would lose over a million jobs that were tied into corrections.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but the people on the opposite side would say nobody’s forcing anybody to commit an armed robbery.

Randy Kearse:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And so they’re going back for the armed robbery, they’re not going back because I want to create a job.

Randy Kearse:  No, so it’s them that would more or less be promoting we need prisons because people keep going back or we need prisons because, you know, it helps society.  Those would be the people that would be promoting, you know, not to have successful or impossible reentry programs because again, if you were to integrate people back into society and people were not going back at the staggering numbers that we see now and it dropped dramatically, then you have to downsize prison industry.  Then you have to lay people off and the same people that you laid off might become the criminals.  So I don’t know.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but you do understand, I mean a lot of people are out there saying the reason why we have the prisons is because people commit serious crime.  It’s there because we have no choice and but every–

Randy Kearse:  Studies show that a large majority of people that are locked up in prison are in for non-violent offenses, mostly drugs.  So we should more get away from lock them up, throw away the key and rehabilitate them as far as what their needs are for substance abuse.  That would be a more suitable solution to this whole prison thing.

Len Sipes:  We only have about four minutes left.  So you’re talking to the average person in society.  You’re talking to an aide to a mayor and plenty of aides of mayors listen to this program, aides to governors, aides to congressional people.  You’re going to tell them what Randy?

Randy Kearse:  That I’m pretty sure that they know somebody, maybe not immediately, but they know somebody who has been affected by the criminal justice system.  It can happen to anybody and everybody.  Everybody makes mistakes.  Everybody deserves a chance to prove that they can make it back out of society.  There are a certain amount of people who will never conform to the rules of society.  We do need prisons.  I mean I’m not advocating we don’t need prisons.  But we need to find more and there are programs out there that help ex-offenders make their successful transition.  We need to take what’s working and build on those programs so we can have a more suitable avenue for these people to come home and be successful.  And that’s what I’m out here doing.  I’m out here showing society, I’m showing the world that, you know, there’s life after prison.  We all make mistakes man.

Len Sipes:  Well, you know, I’ve known hundreds of people in my career who have crossed the bridge, who have served very hard time in prison.  And I always bring up this example and he’ll kill me if I say his name, but a guy who served some really hard time in the Maryland prison system, who is out there selling insurance.  And he lives in a beautiful home, beautiful kids, you know, he’s got the whole suburban lifestyle and he’s a two-time ex-felon.  So it is possible and 50 percent don’t go back but that story is once again not told.  So we have a disconnect.  We have a disconnect in society.  We can lower rates of recidivism.  We can lower the numbers going back to the criminal justice system.  We can save taxpayers scads of money.  We can improve the climate of our cities and our metropolitan areas by not having so much crime, but to do that you’ve got to have good solid programs in place.  I mean is that what you’re saying.

Randy Kearse:  Definitely, definitely, 100 percent.  You took the words right out of my mouth man.

Len Sipes:  You know and reason why those programs aren’t in place is my guess is and I shouldn’t say my guess, the guess of  a lot of people that I’ve talked to is that simply society is very reluctant to support programs.  People are saying there’s not enough money to go around.  I mean we’ve got crumbling schools.  We’ve got elderly people who need to be taken care of.  There’s only so much tax paid dollars out there.  Why do I want to give money to somebody who’s put up a gun against somebody’s head and said, you know, give me your money or I’ll blow your head off?

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, but in certain states they had to cut their educational budgets in order to supplement the money for their prison budget.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  So I mean come on, I mean where is there checks and balances here?  The reason why a lot of programs are not working in the system is because there’s no accountability.  There’s nobody who’s taking the time to really make sure that these programs are working in a way that will have an impact on the overall fabric of recidivism.  And that’s just the bottom line.  I mean the federal reentry program is a joke man, to be, you know, just to be short of words.  It was a joke.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we talked about and you only about 20 seconds left, we’ve talked about what you would say to the society at large.  What do you say to the average guy, average woman getting out of the prison system?  What’s your message to them?

Randy Kearse:  Be patient.  Be patient, don’t be in a rush to do anything.  Just be patient, pace yourself, believe in yourself no matter what everybody says and listen, you’d rather have your worst day on the streets than your best day in prison.

Len Sipes:  And you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been doing an interview with ex-offender Randy Kearse.  He is at www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y,  Been interviewed by The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Amsterdam News, the Colbert Report, Wendy Williams Experience.  He’s written books and he lectures throughout the country.  Randy, I want to express my appreciation for you being on the program today.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We do appreciate the cards, the letters, we appreciate the comments, the criticisms.  Please keep them coming and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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