The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/07/truth-reentry-former-offender/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, he is President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com. The show today is the truth about reentry from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont has been around. He’s been in front of Congressional Committees, the Associated Press, he’s had plays at the Kennedy Center, he’s been on HBO, BET, author of four books, and he has been a public motivational speaker. And to hear Lamont speak is really, really, really a treat. And he talks about reentry, talks about life on the street passionately, talks about reentry passionately. He did serve 11 years and 4 months in prison and since coming out he has really turned heads. And what I wanted to do was to invite Lamont to talk about reentry policy from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Lamont Carey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been on our radio shows, you’ve been on our television shows, I’ve seen you perform; a lot of people listen to what you have to say. When you do your bit, when you do your public performance it’s The Streets Call Out My Name. It’s like –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s really amazing from a criminological point of view, because I’ve had guys tell me that kicking crime and kicking drugs is one thing, but kicking the street –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Kicking the corner is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. Talk to me about that.

Lamont Carey: Well, I mean because I was raised, well, I like to say I was raised in the street, because I had been involved in criminal activity since like the late age of 11, so that was all that I knew. So when I went to prison as a juvenile and I come home, prison and the streets is all that I knew. And so with my efforts of trying to live a positive and legit lifestyle, those thoughts of my memories from that time in my life is always was present. Like if I try to get a job and I don’t get hired, I immediately think about how can I get some money, and the only other options that I know existed at the time was returning back to the streets. So that’s what I mean by the streets keep calling my name.

Len Sipes: And if you heard Lamont, it’s absolutely powerful if you go to his website, it’s there. It is just an extraordinary performance as to how the streets keep sucking you in, how the streets keep calling you back. So what do you mean by the streets? Are you talking about the people, are you talking about the friends, are you talking about the lifestyle?

Lamont Carey: The lifestyle. The criminal lifestyle is bigger than the friends. I mean because it is where we felt most powerful, it was where we had resources, and so to change my life and try to start this new life without no resources – and so any time I’m rejected from any resources I remember how easy it is to obtain money through the streets. I remember how I used to be praised like I was celebrity because of that lifestyle –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: The drug dealer lifestyle. And so when you come in, when you’re running into mistake after mistake, not being able to overcome obstacles, you, we resort back to what we know –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lamont Carey: Where we’re comfortable. I mean some of my best years when I came home was from when I was doing really good as a drug dealer. And so naturally if I can’t find a job I’m remembering those times where I was able to go to the store and spend 1,000 dollars or take a trip whenever I wanted to take a trip. Now I can’t do none of these things and I can’t even get a job because of my felony convictions. So naturally, it’s like the streets keep saying, “We won’t judge you. We won’t stop you. We support you in whatever it is that you want to do.” And so criminal lifestyle is one of the, where it’s perceived as one of the easiest things to go back to, especially if you’ve already been there. And so –

Len Sipes: Guys have told me it’s the heroin of all heroin, it’s the drug of all drugs.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: The street, it’s the reinforcement, it’s what you’re familiar with, it’s what you’re comfortable with –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s where you get your platitudes, where you get your pats on the back. It’s where you are embraced.

Lamont Carey: Identity.

Len Sipes: How can you give that up?

Lamont Carey: Identity. Well, the thing, you can give it up, because I was able to give it up. I had to recognize that it was false. All of those praises didn’t continue when I went to prison.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: So it was a false existence. And so as long as an individual remains mindful of that, that will equip them, empower them to continue on trying to go down this righteous path. But, even with that being said, it takes some effort from society to be completely in support of me changing my life, or any individual changing their life, for them to successfully do that, because if you’re not allowing me to feed myself, then you are giving me no options but to go back to the ways I know how to feed myself.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss on this program. I’ve had Assistant Attorney Generals, members of the White House; I’ve had some of the best known researchers in the United States at these microphones talking about exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re the first – now, you’ve been on this show before, but I’m going back to my roots. I’m going to bring you and two other people on who are former offenders, who have done well for themselves. But I need to hear and everybody needs I think to hear and they’re impressed by, probably more impressed by you and people who have served time in the prison system, their perspectives on what’s going on with reentry –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What’s happening after a person gets out of prison. They’re more impressed by what you had to say than what they have to say –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Or what I have to say. So that’s the whole idea behind this show. Because I talked to, and somebody who’s going to come to these microphones in just a couple weeks, a parole and probation expert who says, “You know, Len, I’m really concerned that we’re just not getting the money, we’re not getting the support for reentry, it’s just not there. We’re talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. There are very positive things. People on both sides of the political aisle, they’re now supportive. We have a President who is supportive. We have the Second Chance Act. We’ve got a lot of things that are rolling in our direction.” But his concern is the money’s just not there. So I want to ask you, Lamont Carey, why isn’t the money there?

Lamont Carey: It’s a whole, I think it’s a whole lot of reasons why the money isn’t there. They’re expecting – if you look at the people that have the most interactions with ex-offenders it will be the grassroots organizations, because those are the people that’s in our community, those are the ones that’s trying to welcome us into their doors. But with them we run into waiting lists, long waiting lists, because they’re not allowed to grow their staff or they’re not allowed to like effectively carry out their task on trying to help us transition from prison to society, because they don’t have funding. And then I think another issue that I have with governments is the relationship that they have with private prisons. And that relationship to me it seems like it works against the reentrance, because if the prison systems and the community are supposed to be responsible for us transitioning, then how can you legally agree to keep anybody’s prison filled to any kind of capacity without, in my opinion, some form of corruption has to spring from that?

That means if I’m a mayor of a city and I agree with a private prison to keep 50% of their facilities full, then that means that I have to tell my captains at the precinct and whoever’s in charge, the chiefs and all that, that they have to increase their arrest records, then I have to tell the prosecutors that they have to expand the charges, then I have to tell the judges that they have to increase their conviction numbers in order to stay within this agreement. So for me knowing this, it’s like how can they really be working to help me transition successfully in my community when they’re working with, when they have agreements with people that are saying they’re going to keep people in prison? So that may be one of the reasons that the funding, some funding is not going to where it’s needed, because what I need and what – I’ve been in probably 11 prisons throughout my incarceration, and majority of the individuals in there, I probably know two individuals that said they was coming home to break the law. Most of us were in there working on reentry, even though they didn’t have really reentry programs. We had a plan on what we wanted to do when we come home. But it seems like when we get out that gate, when we go out for parole, my biggest road block was when I went up for parole that I couldn’t use my home address, because I can no longer live there. My mother was on Section 8, and it’s supposed to be that I am, because of my convictions, that I am not allowed to live –

Len Sipes: Live with your mother.

Lamont Carey: On those premises.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So let’s say I’m starting off my reentry as a homeless person, and then I’m hearing that they’re paroling some people straight to homeless shelters. Now, the problem that I have with that is that every time I went to a new prison my aggressive mentality resurfaced, because I’m thinking I may have to prove myself again.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So I’m on guard. For anything that happened, I’m going to deal with it as harshly as I possibly can. So when you transition a person from prison to a shelter, that’s the kind of environment that you are putting us into.

Len Sipes: All right, you’re going to talk to right now a governor.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: A mayor, a county commissioner.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re going to talk to them. They’re listening right now. And we get a lot of aides to – we get congressional aides, aides to mayors, aides to governors, where you’re talking to the governor himself or herself. What do you say to that person about supporting programs for individuals coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: Well, what I would say to them is this. This, in my opinion, this is one of your biggest public safety issues, because a reentrant that can’t find a job, that can’t find housing is more likely to return to criminal activity, which endangers the citizens of your state, your county, and your country. So as a governor, what I would like to see is our rights restored. Ban the box if you haven’t already banned the box. Give us a –

Len Sipes: In terms of employment.

Lamont Carey: In terms of employment. Give me the opportunity to make it past the application phase so that I can plead my own case on why I’m qualified for a job that will help me take care of myself, take care of my family, and add to the taxes that the state collects. And in terms of the programming – I mean all of us have different kinds of needs. I mean when I first came home, my first probably two years most of my stuff was congested in my bedroom, then I got an apartment with a living room, a dining room, and all that, but all of that was in my bedroom, because that’s what I was used to, living in that small space. And so the kind of programs that I think would be beneficial is job training. Some job training in fields that the city, the county, or the state is really looking to fulfill, not no job training that’s just going to last for three months or four months, because then I’m starting right back over. And then for programs that you have where it’s supposed to provide me job training, extend that, give them more funding, because right now in DC people are running into waiting lists, a six month waiting list. And so if I just come home and I need services, I don’t have six months to wait.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s just not DC; it’s all throughout the country.

Lamont Carey: Right. But I’m using DC as an example –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: Because that’s my direct experiences.

Len Sipes: Okay. And that governor is going to look at you and say, “Mr. Carey, I’ve got schools to build, I’ve got roads to build, I’ve got all these people constantly coming to me looking for money for this program and that program, I’ve got older people that need to be taken care of, I don’t have a lot of money.”

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Why should I take what limited amount of money that I have and throw it towards programs for people coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont Carey: The reason that you should do that is because you’re giving the individual a real chance of succeeding, a real chance of changing, because it’s twofold. The things that they are asking you money for, if I turn, if individuals start to commit crimes it’s a hassle to the school. It’s a danger to the school children in terms of recruitment for, to enter the criminal enterprise. It’s a danger to the teachers, the principals, and what have you. Then they become targets because they are known to have I mean have a paycheck. So every citizen in your state, your county that has a paycheck becomes a potential victim for robbery if I can’t find a job. If you need, if they’re asking you to, you’re trying to repair your roads then this may be one of my dream jobs of doing labor. Me personally I’m not one of those guys, but we have hundreds and thousands of individuals that are good with their hands that’s looking for their outlet to be able to build. How it affects seniors, because the seniors becomes a target of crime.

Len Sipes: So what you’re saying is the 700,000 people that come out of the state and federal prison system all throughout the United States every year, 700,000 come back to the communities, what you’re basically saying is that the crime issue affects everything, the crime issue affects –

Lamont Carey: Everything.

Len Sipes: Everybody. If you can help these folks and it reduces recidivism, they’re coming back into the criminal justice system by 20%, 30%, 40%, it’s going to have a huge payoff –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: On every aspect of society.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Schools, employment, churches, communities, factories, it affects everything.

Lamont Carey: Right. Now, and I’m not saying, I’m not telling the governors and these representatives that as a fear factor. What I’m saying is that we are untapped resources. Like me coming home – right now I can do marketing, right?

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Lamont Carey: I do event planning, I publish, I do videos, I have all of these skills that if I went and applied for a job for a lot of them that I wouldn’t be hired for because of my past conviction. And so by you removing that barrier for me on the application it gets me in front of the employer and I can stress these skills that I have that can be an asset to those companies.

Len Sipes: We’re going to go for a break very shortly, but I do want to ask you when you come back from that break as to whether or not there is a general prejudice. Regardless of race, there’s a very general prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system. But, ladies and gentlemen, were talking to Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. Lamont has been a passionate speaker, a passionate advocate for people coming out of the prison system in terms of fair treatment. Is there fair treatment, Lamont, of people coming out of the prison system? Is the prejudice towards these individuals so strong as to the point where they’re not getting the programs that they need to successfully reintegrate? When I talk to people who’ve been in the prison system, when I take a look at research, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting mental health treatment, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting drug treatment, I see obstacles after obstacles when people are coming back into the community. So people are frustrated over the crime problem, and, quite frankly, people are frustrated with people coming out of the prison system for not doing the right thing.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: But those barriers seem to be there nevertheless.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Why are those barriers there? Is there an overarching prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: There certainly is.

Len Sipes: And why?

Lamont Carey: People claim that they are, that they forgive, they forgive mistakes, but when it connects to prisoners and ex-offenders that’s not the case. Fear comes in or some need to further punish us. If the judge sentenced me to 13 years in prison, that is my punishment. My punishment shouldn’t remain after I complete that 13 years. And so but society seems to don’t see it that way. There is a fear. Now, Leonard, I’m going to be honest with you.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: As an employer, right, when I have a project and I’m looking to hire somebody, even I want to know if, one, can you do the job, two, if you have a background. And that is because I want to make sure that, one, that you’re capable of doing the job and, one, that people are, the people that I bring you around are going to be safe, right?

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?” That’s what –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying to them.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?”

Lamont Carey: Right. And so by having those policies set in line or just on the application, “Have you been convicted of a crime?” and you write yes you don’t even get to make it to the interview process. So I’m denied on something that is supposed to be I have done my time for. And so in prison, when I was in prison the programs generally sucked, for the most part.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Lamont Carey: One, I got my GED, and so I was, I began, I became excited about education, because I dropped out of school when I was on the street, and so now I’m being reintroduced to education, so when I get excited and then I’m about to enter the college program they remove the funding from the college program. And so how – I understand. They said it was people that was in society saying that they have to bust their tail to send their kids to school, so why should I get a free education?

Len Sipes: That’s what they ask.

Lamont Carey: And the reason why I should be able to get an education is because the individuals in prison that I knew that got a college degree they act different, they talk different, they think different, they had bigger plans. And so when you remove, when you deny me from continuing my education, that told me that I can no longer grow, that denied me the ability to learn more on how to be productive, how to think past go, how to actually implement my good plans when I come home. And so rehabilitation really supposed to start inside of prison. Teach me entrepreneurship, right, teach me how to – Leonard, this is how I was able to stay home. I was in a prison and ASPIRE taught me nonprofit. ASPIRE was giving a nonprofit class, right, in a federal prison. And so that taught me how to operate as a business, right? And the marketing classes that I took it taught me that I was running a business, I knew supply and demand, I just knew in an illegal way, so these things changed my way of thinking.

Len Sipes: I want to know how many people in the prison system, in terms of your own opinion –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Are you and how many are just lost. You seem to be different. I mean, look, the average person who comes out of the prison system is not speaking to congressional committees, they’re not talking to the Associated Press, they’re not, they don’t have plays at the Kennedy Center, they’re not involved with HBO or BET, yada, yada, yada. I mean that’s – are you really substantively different from the average person coming out of prison or are they all like you?

Lamont Carey: I think there are levels. I’m not unique. I know hundreds if not thousands of ex-offenders who are doing superb as productive members of society. But a lot of them don’t even admit that they even been to prison, because they’re afraid that there are going to be repercussions.

Len Sipes: That people are going to judge them based on [OVERLAY].

Lamont Carey: Right, judge them based on that, and they’re going to lose what they have already been able to establish. We’ve seen that in some of the companies that have been hiring ex-offenders for years and then they change their policy –

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: And those individuals lose their jobs. So I’m not unique in any way, but I’m just determined. My focus shifted to be on me. Before, the thing I realized, before I can take care of anybody else I have to take care of me.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: An so that means I have to, if I get a job once I’m able to take care of me then I can contribute to my family, I can contribute to my community. But the thing I think trip up so many individuals who come home from prison is that they put family, taking care of family before they’re taking of self, or they make promises that they can’t really keep once they come home. Leonard, I’d be the first one to tell you, the hardest thing for me was to somebody accept my phone call when I call home from prison. So you know what happened when they did accept my call?

Len Sipes: Yeah, go.

Lamont Carey: I agreed to anything they said. If they said, “Lamont, man, you’re going to get any kind of job, you’ll work at McDonald’s and all that?” Leonard, I said yeah, Leonard. But I knew that that wasn’t what I was going to do, but, Leonard, I needed that connection to the outside support, I needed to feel needed, I needed to feel like somebody loved me in order for me not to give up. And so when individuals come home from prison now their family members are looking at them like, “Look, I thought you said you was going to get a job at McDonald’s, I thought you said you was going to do this, I thought you was going to, said you was going to do that. Momma is sick. We need more – you need to be contributing. You need to be paying child support.” All of these needs of the community [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:20] in the family start hitting us in our face and we’re like, “What in the world. How in the world do I supposed to do this? I’m trying to find a job.” So a lot of them panic, Leonard, a lot of them start selling drugs again or getting their criminal lifestyle again just to get away from the pressures that they’re enduring wherever they’re laying their head at.

Len Sipes: So it’s got to be family. Family’s got to be supportive.

Lamont Carey: Yes

Len Sipes: Family’s got to be understanding in terms of what it is that you need to go through. You need to take care of yourself. Society needs to step up in terms of programs to help people transition out of the prison system. And if everybody did this –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: If everybody gave everybody coming out of the prison system a decent second chance –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: We could reduce a lot of crime in this country.

Lamont Carey: Right. Yeah. I think we can. And it’s not, and don’t, and, please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t take give the wrong way. I’m not looking for a handout. And if you check a lot of these organizations waiting lists, these individuals are not looking for a handout, because if they were looking for a handout they wouldn’t be on the waiting list trying to get in to something that’s going to help them better their lives. That’s not what – we’re looking for opportunity. So get giving us something us something confused with opportunity. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what I needed, was an opportunity. But I was determined. Regardless of what it is that I am going through, what I’m facing, if I had to live, be homeless under a bridge, I was not going to commit another crime, because I knew as long as I’m free something’s going to happen, some good opportunity, some good fortune, somebody out of their good graces is going to give me an opportunity to prove myself, and that’s what happened. And look at me. I’m excelling. I’m excelling in so many different areas, from publishing to motivational speaking to writing plays, directing plays, to going into schools, speaking at, giving a commencement speech, or speaking to honor roll students. I’m literally affecting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people’s lives directly and indirectly, and if you look at the social media it’s millions. And so I have been a contribution to society than I have ever been as a criminal.

Len Sipes: And you know what? I’ve interviewed hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television, hundreds. Yet you can’t overcome the newspaper talking about the ex-felon committing the crime, you can’t get beyond what they’re watching on the evening news. You get a steady barrage of people caught up in the criminal justice system going out there and doing terrible things.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: That’s what it is I think that we’re trying to overcome when we’re talking about support for reentry programs. The overwhelming majority of the news is negative.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Not everybody hears Lamont Carey speaking passionately about reentry every day.

Lamont Carey: Right, right. And, again, it goes – I mean there are individuals that’s committing crimes, and it seems that the media pounces on that he was an ex-offender, he was a former offender, or whatever the titles may be, but where’s the good stories of the individuals in that state who have added more good to that community than have taken away? Because all of the returning citizens, ex-offenders that I know that are doing good things are affecting thousands of lives –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: And nobody’s writing about that. No news is flashing that in comparison to those that come out and commit other crimes. I know it’s happening, ladies and gentlemen. I know people are coming home and they’re committing other crimes. But just compare that to, figure out from the day that they came home what have they tried to do up until that point. A lot of people, again, I’m not unique, but a lot of people aren’t as determined or as committed to success as I am. Some people run into enough walls that they just completely give up and they revert back to what they know.

Len Sipes: Final minutes of the program. So I hear family, I hear society, I hear government, I hear a need for programs, I hear a need for understanding. If you put all that on the table, if you put all that on a table, everything that people are looking for from the reentry perspective, you put it all on the table, what happens?

Lamont Carey: You put it all on the table and pushes it through I bet you that you will see a drastic change in recidivism. But this, not just outside the gate, it has to begin behind those prison walls, it has to, because you just can’t wait until we come out and then try to create a plan for us when we’ve already created a plan for ourselves. But the biggest that I think is missing, Leonard, is that they don’t, nobody asks us really what it is that we want to do. They always give suggestions or they say, “This is what we’re offering.” Leonard, I was never going on a construction site and breaking no bricks, that was never my goal. I was coming home to be an entrepreneur, Leonard. And so by me coming home and pursuing that and accomplishing that, Leonard, I’m thriving, Leonard. And I think if you create the kind of programs that individuals want, not what we think they should have like we’re kids, but what we need, what we think we need for us to succeed, and I guarantee you, you will see the recidivism rate drop.

Len Sipes: And every governor in this country is, they’re dismayed by all the money going into corrections –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Because they’re saying, “I don’t have the money for roads, I don’t have the money for schools, I don’t have the money for the elderly.” So that would cut back on the correctional budget tremendously.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It would be a win-win across the board, less crime, less burden on taxpayers.

Lamont Carey: I agree.

Len Sipes: You have people living more productive lives.

Lamont Carey: Agreed.

Len Sipes: So in the final seconds of the program, why aren’t we there?

Lamont Carey: It’s we’re not there because we’re not willing to take a chance on previous offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think we’re going to have to close with that. Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. I really appreciate you being on the program, Lamont. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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