The Amazing Life of Sidney Davis.

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the title of today’s program, “The Amazing Life of Sidney Davis.” Sidney Davis is here by our microphone. Sidney, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Sidney: Good afternoon.

Leonard: Sidney has been involved in the criminal justice system as a former offender. He has 3 articles or more written about Sidney both in the Washington Post and the Washington Times. I’m going to read, briefly, from a Courtland Milloy article in the Washington Post. “While riding a Metro bus recently, I watched a driver help a blind man find a seat and then help him off the bus, waived on coming traffic to a halt and escort him in his arm to the other side of the street. It was a remarkable courtesy made remarkable because the driver was Sidney Davis who I first met in 1981 when he was an inmate at the Lorton Correctional Complex. He was serving 9 years into a 20 year to life sentence for murder. God granted me the freedom so I could help others at Davis 66 after returning to the bus. Once considered incourageable, Davis held the Lorton record for the most time spent in solitary confinement. To the disbelief of many, he declared himself to be a Born Again Christian and started an annual prison prayer breakfast and other self health programs for inmates.”

I was encouraged to interview Sidney because again, he has had an amazing life. Caught up in the criminal justice system, coming out being a driver for the bus system here in the Washington, D.C. area and instituting dozens of programs both on the outside and the inside. Again, Sidney, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Sidney: Thank you, Brother Sipes.

Leonard: I am fascinated by this entire story. I want to go into a little bit about this. It’s interesting. Talk about the transformation. He’s currently running for president of the Transit Workers Union here in Washington, D.C. Let me go back to your present experiences. According to this article, you spent more time in solitary than anybody else.

Sidney: Yeah. It was a no practice. It was just me coming into contact with who I was in an environment that I had to make all kind of adjustments according to the conditions. Those adjustment depended upon me making up my mind that I was not going to allow my sentence to take advantage of me.

Leonard: People considered you to be incourageable. They were saying that you may have been one of the worst inmates at Lorton. You come out where you were instituted a lot of programs while you’re in prison and then you come out and you get involved in dozens of community programs. You’ve been mentoring lots of different people. You have built yourself up to the point where you’re running for president of the Transit Union. That’s a long road from a 20 year to life sentence in a homicide and spending more time in solitary confinement than anybody else.

Sidney: Absolutely. Let me just say that, in an environment where you have to make your mind of about who you are, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, what kind of support you need, all of these things come in to relate to where you are going to be in the next few minutes because you’re in a prison environment where your life can be taken instantly. I had to be able to determine which way I was going to go and what I was going to do. I had just been given a 20 year to life sentence. I was still having my life in a bucket where it could only evolve around and around and around. I had to get out of the bucket. I had to make my mind. I had to have something that was stronger to convince and convict my mind and my soul about where I was going. I had to turn to Jesus who my grandmother often told me about but I refused to practice that behavior. After getting into an environment and getting into yourself, you find that that’s real. Those words become authentic. They become a center of focus of your environment and you learn to take control of your life and your atmosphere and the things around you and affect you in that manner.

Leonard: Did you ever look back at your life and say, “Heavens, I have truly lived a long and complicated and amazing life”? Did you ever take a look back and just think and reflect that all of the different thing that have happened to you throughout your life in terms of prison and out of prison and what you’ve given to the community as a result, you’re changed as a human being? It is an amazing story.

Sidney: I always reflect. I sit and I concentrate. I reflect on where I was 20, 30 years ago. I reflect on my thinking. In my reading and having to read many pieces of literature, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X. All of these were thought changing incidents, thought changing processes that made me think more cognitively in myself as opposed outside of myself. There, I found strength. The prison environment allowed the barriers, the walls, all of the conditions, the boundaries that kept me in but my mind was forever free.

Leonard: How did you see yourself when you were on the streets and entered the prison system? How did you see yourself as a person?

Sidney: Incorrigible. I mean, I was a renegade. A renegade to the extent that everything was not taken into account of what I was doing or how I was doing it. It was just doing it. I mean, when you have that kind of life in the urban environment, not that the urban environment is one that makes the influence but you adapt to a lot of things to try to find of where you are with yourself.

Leonard: How did you see yourself as a person? Did you see a future for yourself? Did you see aspirations? Did you see goals? How did you think of yourself as a person?

Sidney: My family had always injected in me and tried to stear me in the right. When I was going to school, I was always a good student. I went to school but school was not always an interest. I took trades; welding, carpentry, shoe repair. I had all of those things in junior high school and high school. School was not an instrument. I went to school to play around. I didn’t give full concentration to the maximum of my ability that allowed me not to get caught up into this criminal justice process. Subsequently, I tried to get into military because I knew that was upon me. Go into military, get my life straight, get some discipline, travel some, come out with skills and directions and purpose, but I couldn’t get in the military because they said one of my legs was longer than the other and so I did not make it into military. Therefore, I was out there, so to speak.

Leonard: So many of today’s youth and throughout my experience within the criminal justice system committing crimes end up in the criminal justice system because they don’t see a life for themselves. They live for the moment. They don’t see a future for themselves. They’re just aimless, wondering for their life. Was that you or was that not you?

Sidney: That was me. In part, that was me. Let me just say that, those kind of values are reinforced where they’re not intrinsic in the school process. They’re not intrinsic in their community in a civil way. At one time, the community cared for one another. They cared for each other. They made sure that people weren’t hungry. They made sure that the village was a nurturing place and not necessarily a place of destruction. There were some things going on. They’re drinking. Drugs was not a primary in communities back when I was coming through. Alcohol was okay. They made Moonshine. People enjoyed themselves and they work and then they loved each other and they reach for each other. They cared for about each other and they were for each other regardless of the circumstance. They would look out for one another’s children. All of those kinds of things made for the strength of the community where you had models that you could look up to. They were elders and who nurtured you and told you what not to do and showed you what to do and how to do it.

Leonard: Do you think that’s in place today?

Sidney: No. We are missing a great deal of leadership and the strength of the elders and communities. They’ve all passed away or gone to glory. That’s not in place today. What we do have is, those who were coming from prison who have experience, that can be a benefit to the young people. That’s where we have to begin to look at the value of the people who are now in prison to see what value they can bring back to bring about that reconciliation.

Leonard: Is that how you see yourself now? I was reading the Washington Post article about how you quiz students who come on your buses and ask them questions about history and asking questions about philosophy and then gauge them and tell them that you want to see their report card the next time they enter your bus. The Washington Post article went on to say that where other bus drivers were having problems, you didn’t have those problems because you meaningfully engaged the young people getting on your bus. Is that how you see yourself today taking on that mental of an elder guiding young people through the life of living in the community?

Sidney: Yes. You must be able to take a position or someone will give you one. Sometimes, the position that they give you, you won’t necessarily like. You have to take one that’s going to bring humanity close to you, let you know who you are and what you’re doing and what value you are to other people. It’s always that people in work and these institution, the government institution, you have to find something that’s more bigger than you. In order to have appreciation for life and fullness, you got to have something bigger to do than yourself. You can’t get caught up in the selfishness. What I have been given, what I have learned, what I have been exposed to is no value for me just to hold it. I have to give it back. Seeing these young people get on the bus with no directions and real playful and joyful and going out on each other is always an opportunity to put their consciousness when they step on the bus. You ask them the kind of the question that I believe they should know at that level and not greed.

I ask them about Paul Robeson. No one seem to know who Paul Robeson was and so I give them research projects. When they come back, they have, for me, the clear example who Jack Robeson was, who Elvis Presley was. I mean, what did he do? How did he become famous? All of the challenges in a particular community have to be always reinforced all the time, not just by me being a bus driver who didn’t get the money. I’m not supposed to let them on the bus.

Leonard: Everybody is supposed to do that, correct?

Sidney: That’s right.

Leonard: I mean, all of us of a certain age and when I say a certain age, you could be 25. We all have the responsibility to interact with the kids in our community and challenge them to be better.

Sidney: Absolutely. That’s a necessity.

Leonard: That’s the way we solve the crime problem beyond law enforcement and beyond the criminal justice system and beyond the correctional system. That’s your point, correct?

Sidney: Absolutely. In school, the day you have to be introduced to the life of what it means, not to be able to grow and develop and be fullness of thinking about decision making. That has to be a part of the curriculum in schools because if it’s not reinforced there, that value, of being complete in your thinking as to how to love a person as opposed to going to get a gun or going to get a gang of guys to jump on somebody. You have to reinforce the values that are strict, that are going to forever remain in the life of a child, of a community, of a family, of the broader society. We have to demonstrate that. We have to lock our minds, our spirits, our hearts into one another and know that we can make the difference.

Leonard: A fundamental change, you say, came upon you through religion. You said about something that your grandmother gave you. Do you think that that was the pivotal moment in your life that changed you as a person?

Sidney: I would have to say yes. I mean, yes, twice, 3 times. Yes, because when I was younger, I was introduced to church. I was introduced to the spirit of the reality of who this Jesus was. I didn’t embrace it until such time as I was in a predicament, where God put me in a predicament, for me to pay attention to what he was saying to me. I had to listen. I asked …

Leonard: What was he saying to you as you’re sitting in prison? Because I’m assuming that this conversion came in prison. I think, according to the article I did, what was God saying to you as you sat in prison, as you sat in solitary? Because if you serve the longest time in solitary in the Lorton Correctional Complex, you had to be doing a series of pretty nasty acts. There was a certain point where you sat there in solitary and something happened to you when I’m trying to figure out what that was.

Sidney: It was a transformation. It’s like, we being in a womb. 270 days, we lay in a womb and we’re being nurtured. We’re being nurtured according to the adrenaline and the thinking of the person that’s carrying us and then it comes a fullness of time. The fullness of time in every season where food grows right. Food cannot grow out of season and be as it was intended to be. Now, it could be [inaudible 15:04], it could be given some kind of chemical to grow but the natural order of life is for you to get quiet with yourself and yourself, see yourself as to who you are and you pray. Because the power of prayer intervenes and gives you an instant transformation.

Leonard: Do you believe that God was speaking to you directly?

Sidney: Spoke directly to me.

Leonard: What was that message?

Sidney: I asked him. I asked him if he, in fact, would take from me, all of the ills, of the drugs, and all of the desires that were not a part of the light that he was allowing me, then I would do the rest. Just allow me that opportunity. He did that. My life has been consistent with that practice.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. The title of today’s program, “The Amazing Life of Sidney Davis,” and it truly is amazing. He’s gotten a lot of press in the newspapers in Washington, D.C. and throughout. He is running for president of the Transit Workers Union here, the District of Columbia. He has come a long way from the most times spent in solitary confinement to a pillar of the community. I find that that’s the principal part of his story. When you got out, you ran into a jam because you’re talking on the bus, you’re talking to lots of different people and you ended up talking to people about a candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C. who was supportive of re-entry programs for people coming out of the prison system and you lost your job.

Sidney: You’re absolutely right, Brother Snipes. I lost my job because I took a position. I took a position based upon the candidate’s record. I was talking to people on the bus about not getting caught up in the emotion or be driven by your emotion, check out the record of the person. It’s the same situation where our records are always held against us once we come out of prison and people getting a job. I’m telling these folks to look at the value of the person’s record to see how they voted, to see what their thinking is and so there was a report on the bus who was recording the information. After the article came out in the paper and the same what I had adapted and supporting the candidate, Vincent Orange, who is now a councilman at large.

Leonard: The thing that gets me is that, you’ve been through, undoubtedly, a tough life. You come out, you do find work, you’re working, you’re interacting with the passengers on the bus in many pro-social ways, you say something political that transit folks objected to you engaging in political advocacy while on the bus, you lose your job. You lost your job for over a year. How did you feel when you lost your job?

Sidney: I felt kind of disempowered so to speak. I couldn’t contribute in my family. I had to go back and get another skills that I’ve had. I’m a barber by trade. I’m a welder by trade. I had to draw from all sort of skills that I learned while I was in prison. I was not going to be turning back on myself and doing something that was going to put me back in prison. My mind had been made up to do the correct thing.

Leonard: For so many people who come out of the prison system, when they do find success and the success is stripped from them, they spiral back into drugs, they spiral back in the crime. My point is that, you did not let that happen to you. That had to be immensely disappointing to you but it had to be a very hard time for you.

Sidney: It was a hard time. It was no more harder than the fact that I had done 21 years in prison without anything. Therefore, that had become a practice in my life because of that catastrophe or because of that blockage or barrier or wall that was set up, it wasn’t going to prohibit me from continuing to progress to build myself.

Leonard: You measured the process of losing your job against where you’ve been and simply say, “If I can survive that, I can survive this.”

Sidney: Absolutely.

Leonard: You did get your job back after a year.

Sidney: I went through the arbitration process and it [would be 19:41] to mean that they didn’t have facts to substantiate what they were doing to me.

Leonard: Did you get back pay?

Sidney: I didn’t get back pay and I lost my …

Leonard: You did not get back pay. Oh my heavens.

Sidney: I didn’t get … Unemployment. They took my employment. I had an option whether to go back to live the old life or to take what had come out as a result of the situation with the political thing. What came out was, here’s a choice. “You take the job, we’re taking this.” If you work, you can get more money.

Leonard: By the way, you and I, we have similarities. You went to John Hopkins?

Sidney: I attended John Hopkins right up here on Massachusetts Avenue.

Leonard: You got your bachelor’s degree while in prison, right?

Sidney: I got my bachelor’s degree in prison. Yes.

Leonard: How important was that to you?

Sidney: It was exceptionally important. I mean, to come to get my GED and to continue to go on to get the AA and then to get the BA. Those were major cons for education. It was the fundamental thing that I continue to concentrate on to make myself aware to myself so I can improve.

Leonard: Now, you know that most of the college programs have been stripped from Lorton prison. When I looked at a Washington Times article, they addressed that and they interviewed you about that. How important do you feel as to the educational process within the prison system, whether it’d be vocational or college?

Sidney: We’re talking about 2 aspects. We’re talking about education as it relates to young people, introducing them to the fundamentals of who they are. Subsequently, if they wind up in the criminal justice process, it seemed that the education is separate. In other words, there’s no more concentration. Education is fundamental to being able to respect oneself, to respect somebody else, to love somebody, to get knowledge of knowing how to grow, how to understand, how to apply to understand, how to apply economics with situation. You have to know that this life is one that you must be educated in and to be able to exchange socially, politically, and economically at whatever institution you decide to go in.

Leonard: We pulled the programs. The programs had supported … The vast majority of this programs have been pulled. President Obama is reintroducing them on a limited basis. You’ve already told me how important it was to you. How important is it to everybody else in the prison system?

Sidney: It is a fundamental prerequisite that everybody be exposed to education. It reduces violence inside the prison. It reduces violence to oneself. It reduces a behavior to get along with the prison officials. No one can’t be point the finger at for the wrong that you commit. You got to come out of that and be able to appreciate that you made a mistake. Now, what are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with the mistake? You’re going to let it grow or you’re going to cut the mistake off and begin to look more into the value of what you need to do and not only it comes to fundamental education, not only these programs being cut out.

These are the minds of people who are looking for those individuals as there’s like a … It’s just like an individual having to be ate up and not being able to think themselves out of a condition. These conditions have been created and folk in prison want to get out and tax payers want to see them come out to be better. However, people who runs this prison industry, if they’re not applying those things, then it’s detrimental to the community, to the health of the community, to the safety of the community. We have to begin to impose upon the policy makers to change the paradigm.

Leonard: Where would you have been if you did not have the college programs? Would you have come out and be the success that you are today?

Sidney: I would say yes, because I made a determination that I wasn’t going to go back the other way, regardless. I think that it was essential that I had that educational support base so that I could do even that much more.

Leonard: The articles talked about the programs that you ran in prison and it makes reference to a youth summit locally on [inaudible 24:29] engaged in. You have been involved in the re-entry community, you’ve gone out and entered kids, you’ve gone out and talked to different groups, you’ve been an organizer and an advocate for the re-entry community. Why?

Sidney: Again, you have to do things that are more and bigger than yourself. In order to be a God-driven instrument, you have to be able to touch people, in fact, with what you had been given. I believe that I have been given some divine principles that I need to impart and practice to other people to show them the benefit of the sincere happening as the day I suppose I had with an [inaudible 25:17]. Therefore, it won’t be all of this entitlement. You have to have a freedom to know and to be able to do and to practice the things that you’ve been given. Now, if we don’t have no exchange about those things, then it won’t see it. A teacher can’t engage a child like I can engage them because they haven’t been there, you understand?

Leonard: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sidney: A judge won’t be able to do that. The students in college won’t even be able because they haven’t been exposed to it. Now, I work with Howard University. A professor there by the name of  Adel Jackson and Douglas Hall. I’ve known her since ’76. I had a chaplain of the United States Senate to pay her to come to Lorton, to teach us, and the prodigy, linguistics, sociology. Now, becoming a part of the Howard University program through Lorton was one that I had to create myself because I had the resource to do it. Ten of those men were taking those classes. I’ve still been in contact with her since coming in the community. I’ve given a [preface 26:22] up there at Howard University so that the student population that comes from different states can be able to have a practical experience of what it means to integrate their education with the reality of community work.

Leonard: You do understand that most people who come out of the prison system don’t do what you do. A lot do. I don’t want to take away from anybody who have been advocates. You have just been there steadfastly throughout working with youth, working with anti-crime summits, working with re-entry community, being an advocate. You’ve been a bus driver for years. You’re now running for the local union presidency. What motivates you to do all these things? You’ve said religion. Is there anything else beyond religion?

Sidney: My belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the ultimate driving force in my life. That’s where I get my energy. The power of the holy spirit allows me to be driven to do things to help others.

Leonard: That young men early on in life probably had all that instruction, probably had all that encouragement. You were, probably, as you said, exposed to religion but there was a certain point where it took root was in prison.

Sidney: Yes. It was the fullness of time. You cannot continue to be destructive to yourself and expect to get something out of life more. You have to be able to be a contributor. You have to be able to be a participant. You have to be able to be involved. That goes across the board with the criminal justice process. The fact is that, they don’t have experiences that would make … For the difference, once a person is caged in an environment. Now, we have to look at what value can we get out of these people now that we’re locking them up, now that they committed some wrong in society or have been found guilty for some particular crime, how can we get the best of this? Now, what I did was, I looked at the special Olympics that was a population of people that was not being addressed …

Leonard: While you were in prison.

Sidney: While I was in prison. I met this guy who was part of the world football league. His name was Joseph Wheeler and he was an oceanographer. I challenged him. He was on the field. He has some guys doing some football trials. That was in the transition of the world football league. I challenged him and wrote him a letter. He took the letter to [inaudible 29:06]. They sent this boss directly down here and we got something going. It lasted for 10 years successfully.

Leonard: All right. Final 30 seconds of the program. The answer has been quick. What message do you give right now to somebody called up in the criminal justice system doing the wrong thing, hanging out in the street, you’re talking directly to that person, what do you say to him?

Sidney: I believe that I would want this person to begin to evaluate themselves, build a support base in the community with their families, with the church, with someone that will keep them conscious, motivated, and educated about where they’re going once they are released.

Leonard: All right. That was a wonderful story, Sidney. This is a program, The Amazing Life of Sidney Davis. This is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticism. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-The Urban Institute

Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-Transcript

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, back at our microphone is Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute,, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Jocelyn: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: Okay. There are three projects that you have been involved in and I’m going to read very quickly about them. Safer Return with a research program in Chicago that you published findings this past July. Part of it was engaging families and that was one of the core goals of the program. You’ve also done research on Responsible Fatherhood Reentry Projects and Promising and Innovative Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents. You’re one of few researchers who have really looked at families and reentry.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that there is a growing interest in the families and, in particular, the children that are left behind as a result of the incarceration of men and women. Recognizing that many folks who are behind prison walls leave families and children behind who must suffer the burden of their family member’s, which includes both emotional and financial challenges for them.

There has been an interest among a large set of government providers, or government agencies rather, as well as foundations in really looking at the importance of families in the reentry process and their own unique needs. Doing a range of research and evaluation projects to understand how can better meet the needs of families who are left behind as a result of incarceration, as well as what we can do to bring family members and children into the reentry process to better help men and women get back on their feet when they come back to the community.

Leonard: It’s interesting, I’ve interviewed probably 100 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television shows over the course of 20 years. When they talk about their parents when their parents were incarcerated, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the background because for many of them they had strained relationship with their parents, they needed their parents in their lives and that was a common theme throughout. It didn’t matter what happened. It didn’t matter about the agreements or the disagreements or the frustrations of growing up in families that are struggling. They all needed contact with their mothers and fathers.

Jocelyn: I appreciate you saying that because that’s what we find in our research as well. We’ve done dozens of interviews and focus groups with formerly incarcerated persons or individuals who are in the community, asking them about their family relationships, pretty extensive focus group conversations with them. We’ve also done them from the perspective of family members as well asking about what it’s like to have someone who’s behind bars and what it’s like to support them when they come home.

We hear from both sides that, yes, there are these feelings of shame and stigma. Often there are strained relationships felt by both sides, family members as well as the incarcerated person due to a number of issues, but recognizing that they need each other in order to, you know, feel whole emotionally as well as from the folks who are coming from prison and jail. They need their family members in order to get back on their feet. We find through numerous research studies that individuals are most likely to live with their family members on the first night at their home from prison or jail and that makes sense. Where else are they going to go? They really need them.

It really makes a lot of sense for service providers as well as parole agents or parole departments that are in this space to recognize the importance of families to do as much as they can to support families. It is a low-cost vehicle or it’s free in a lot of sense to provide them support because those individuals are there and the more supported family members feel, the more support that they can extend to family members that were incarcerated. When I say support I don’t just mean monetarily. I mean emotionally as well.

Family members who can have outlets to talk about what it’s like to be a family member of an incarcerated person and what it’s like in supporting them, those kinds of things can go a long way to furthering the reentry process again from individuals who are coming back from prison and jail as well as for the family members themselves who are part of this process.

Leonard: Out of all the research, what’s the most important finding regarding families and reentry? Was that just it, the fact that they need each other?

Jocelyn: The fact that they need each other but I would also say an important finding is just that family members are also strained, and they need services and support too. A work that we’ve done in Chicago in high-density reentry neighborhoods, meaning neighborhoods that are dealing with a lot of poverty, a lot of crime, a lot of disadvantage. The family members who were there who have an incarcerated person in their life who they’re supporting need a lot of stuff too.

We find really high rates of poverty among them, really low educational attainments. Not a lot of them have graduated high school or gone beyond that. A lot of them have really fractured limited employment histories as well and those are the individuals who now need to support someone who’s coming out of prison with a lot of challenges. It really knocks me in the gut, actually, all the time when I look at that data just to see how disadvantaged family members are with the knowledge that they also now need to support individuals who also have disadvantages.

I think that there’s a lot of space for service providers to recognize that we are very much putting additional, and I don’t want to say burdens because family members do it willingly, but we’re putting a lot on family members to support individuals coming back from incarceration, who themselves need a lot of stuff as well. They need education. They need employment. Some of them are dealing with substance abuse histories. Some of them are dealing with their own criminal justice histories and are now needing to support a returning citizen.

Leonard: We’re now having a national conversation through the president of the United States who is now visiting various locations throughout the country talking about the reentry process. The reentry process has its good points and its bad points. Research has not been overly encouraging in terms of the rate of reduction, in terms of recidivism. There have been, in some cases, some fairly decent rates of recidivism reduction, but most don’t.

We in the criminal justice system come together and say, “What is that factor? What is that issue that we can use to our best advantage that we haven’t been using?” I think a lot of us come to the conclusion that the overall family needs to come to the assistance of that individual. If they don’t, it considerably increases the chances for the person not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Everyone needs support, right? If we think about ourselves after just going through an incarceration experience, on our first night home, who would we rely on? We’d rely on our family members and our friends. There are some share of folks who don’t have those social support networks and so that’s when we see programs, reentry programs, reentry service providers providing that social support network for folks.

For others who are fortunate who have mothers, who have sisters, who have intimate partners, it is very often women who are providing that support. Those families need support as well and need to have as much at their disposal by the way of understanding what resource exist. How can they support or facilitate more successful reentry. Just a better understanding of what it’s like, how they can support individuals, what resources are in the community I think is really to strengthening that support that family members already provide.

Leonard: There’s a certain point where we recognize that we within the criminal justice system are probably going to be the frontline troops in terms of interacting between that person coming out of the prison system and their families. Here within Washington, D.C., within my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have caseloads of 50 to 1 and we have some of the lowest caseloads in the United States. I talk to my contemporaries throughout the country and anybody who’s listened to this program before knows that I harp on this. They have 150 to 1 caseloads, 250 to 1, 300 individuals to 1.

There we have a paradox because we’re asking parole and probation to be an intermediary at times and a facilitator to somehow, someway come to an understanding with family members that they need to support the individual coming out of the prison system and, in many cases, you have strained family relationships.

I’ve had, before these microphones, women caught up in the criminal justice system who routinely tell me that they were sexually abused by a family member or by a person within the family. You find that the families will say, “He’s stolen from me way too many times. He’s not welcome in my home.”

You find the individual coming back and living with his sister, but her husband is not exactly thrilled about the individual coming back. There’s a lot of human dynamics that are going on and somehow, someway, somebody has got to get in between the two parties and say, “What can we do to promote this person’s successful reentry? What can we do on our side? What can we do on your side?” Correct?

Jocelyn: Right. I think that people coming back from prison are getting services somewhere, right? Let’s just call that group of people, outside of whether they’re under community supervision, circus providers. They’re getting, hopefully, employment services; hopefully, some housing service. Some of them are getting substance abuse and treatment services. That core group of service providers who are interacting with the reentry population, all of them need to be cognizant about the importance of families.

When I use the word families, perhaps a little bit different than how you were referring to them, I mean that broadly defined. It’s probably more accurate to just talk about folk’s social support network, recognizing that for some individuals, yeah, it is not appropriate in the case of sexual abuse or domestic violence cases that an individual will return to their intimate partner. Sometimes sons don’t want their sons to come back to their homes because of strained relationships.

Leonard: They can’t let them back in because of restrictions in public housing.

Jocelyn: Public housing, of course, but there is somebody, I like to believe, in everybody’s life that is part of their social support network that they see as family and that can be included in the reentry process. That could be friends that they’ve met in the institutions or in the community. It could be mentors. It could be the faith community.

The point that I’m trying to make is that service providers broaden how they think about family and social support to be not just biological family members but others who are in the individual’s social support network and think about the ways in which the services that they are providing can incorporate that broader social support network to make sure that they understand the larger context with which people are returning back into, if that makes sense.

Leonard: Our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, what they’ve told me is that they do … because we do plans before they come out of the prison system, and we interview the families, and make sure that they’re welcome, and what the support network is going to be. There are issues such as violence or sexual violence that we have to deal with if the parents themselves or the people who that person’s going to live with is caught up in the criminal justice system.

These are all factors that we’ve gone to go through in terms of that interplay. What they’re telling me is that it takes an enormous amount of time. They say two things: the more, the greater, the larger the social network, the larger supportive network, as you’ve just said could be uncle, could be a neighbor, could be the faith community, the larger that supportive network, the better he or she is going to do when they come out of the prison system.

Is there a way to rally that social support network. Would you please take the person inside your home? Would please provide him with the necessary monetary support in the first couple of months until we can find the individual an employment, recognizing full well that our employment statistics are about 50%? That finding, I find, is not unusual for people under supervision throughout the United States. There’s an enormous amount of discrimination against people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. How do we, as parole and probation agencies, find the time to do those interactions, to do that home plan to gather the resources, to gather that larger social network together to support that individual when it’s that labor intensive, when it’s that time intensive?

Jocelyn: As a person who doesn’t do a ton of research on the organizational capacity or structure of parole and probation departments, it’s difficult for me to identify how they find the time other than to really underscore the importance of it that it is a more effective way of doing reentry planning. As we’ve discussed, families are there. They’re important. Yes, it may be labor intensive, but I would still argue that that’s one of the more important things that parole and probation officers can do.

The more that they do this work, this foundational work, I believe, in supporting families, then the less that they have to do supervision and monitoring, I would argue. Not that that means that they should totally take their eyes off of the ball, but the point is that this is an effective way of supporting formerly incarcerated persons. The logic is if they can do more of this, then that will get them better outcomes in the long run.

The other thing that’s important to mention, we found this in our Safer Return demonstration, is that when parole agents know that there are family members there and there’s case managers who are also using family members as part of the reentry process, then that is another kind of eye that they have on formerly incarcerated persons on their caseloads.

If they feel like someone is perhaps slipping, going down, maybe not doing criminal activity but starting to exhibit behavior that they think that they’re going down the wrong path, then that’s another check-in that they have. They can check-in with mom or the intimate partner and say, “How is this person doing? How is [Glenn 00:16:30] doing? What additional can I do to support him? What can I do to support you?

Leonard: I do want to talk about that and I also want to talk about t research in Chicago, but we’re more than halfway through the program. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute,, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, that’s exactly what we found because mothers will call and say, “He’s hanging out on the corner again. You need to talk to him. You need to intervene.” Fathers will say, “Look, he’s tried to find jobs. I’ve tried helping him find jobs,” and it validates the job-finding experience. Now we have to ask for proof of that.

We have family members who are actively engaged every single day because they don’t want to see this individual go back to prison. You do have cousins, you do have uncles, you do have neighbors, you do have different people who are trying to exhibit and support this individual, and they do contact us when he’s not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah because they’re interested in supporting them. They want good outcomes as well. They want them to stay out of trouble and to stay out of prison. If family members feel like parole agents or probation agents support them and feel like they want them as part of their processes, then family members would be more likely to interact and engage with them, and provide that kind of “additional surveillance” or just more information.

Leonard: I just think a lot of us in parole and probation need more training, need a greater sense of being sensitized to these issues, and the potential for a family. Again, I agree with your definition of family. It’s much broader than mom, and dad, and brother, and sister, but that if we can broaden that support and that work, we’re going to have less work to do, and we’re going to have greater numbers of check-ins because family member check-in with us all the time, and they bring problems to our attention. We’ve got to nip this in the bud right now.

Jocelyn: Right.

Leonard: I saw him doing spice or synthetic drugs the other day. That’s not going to work. He’s not going to live in my house. You need to talk to this individual. You need to talk to my son, and you need to convince him to stop doing this, and you need to start testing him for K2 and spice. We do have those interactions all the time, which is I think one of the reasons why our success rate has increased from 63% to 69% who have successfully completed supervision over the course of the last couple of years because we’ve done more family intervention.

Once again, I’m going to get calls and emails from people in parole and probation throughout the country and go, “Leonard, I’m sick and tired listening to your 50 to 1 caseloads. I have 150 to 1. I don’t have the time as your folks do to sit down and do this interactive mentoring with this larger family group. I’m really struggling here.” That’s always the issue. The research community comes along and says, “This is probably the way to go. This is probably a fairly decent idea. Boy, we wish we had the resources that you folks in D.C. have to do these sort of things.” I’ve got to acknowledge that frustration.

Jocelyn: If I could, just to insert some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the Safer Return demonstration.

Leonard: Oh heavens, yes because that’s what I want to talk about.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Safer Return included a lot of things that was based on a lot of work that had done working with practitioners and the research community to identify what are the best and promising practices to support prisoner reentry, or prisoners coming back from prison, or individuals coming back from prison, and included job training, mentorship, and a host of other things.

What I wanted to highlight, in the context of the conversation that we’re having right now, is one of the core components of it was a strong partnership with parole agents and the program. The program case managers were using family inclusive case management practices. They had been trained in how to use a broad definition of family to incorporate them in the case management process for the individual participant, but they were also supposed to extend their case management to include parole agents so that parole and the case managers for the program were doing this what they called co-case management, which just means they were teaming up together to have …

Leonard: Yes. These were social service providers, not parole and probation agents. The social service providers were teaming up with parole and probation agents.

Jocelyn: Yes.

Leonard: Okay.

Jocelyn: One of the great findings of Safer Return is that it did reduce re-incarcerations due to parole violations relative to a comparison group and it also was successful in getting more people jobs. More jobs, higher wages, and they got those jobs quicker relative to a comparison group. We really feel, based on this finding, that it really demonstrates the importance of parole and practitioner partnerships and, in this case, it was Safer Return case managers. In other cases, it’s just other folks who are providing the other social services for reentry. We strongly encourage, based on this finding, that parole agents make these connections with the service providers who are doing reentry stuff.

It could be a housing provider; it could be an employment provider; it could be an education provider to get this more comprehensive perspective of individuals, to have another check on the person to say, “How are they doing,” and both of them using their position, the parole agent has … what do they have? They have the stick and the program folks with the carrot, like this is what you get, as two complimentary perspective sand a way to get individuals to move forward and to be more successful.

Leonard: It dovetails very nicely with the research on cognitive behavioral therapy where you engage the individual coming out of the prison system in such a way that the person opens up. It’s really a two-way conversation between two people rather than the coppish in the past, parole and probation agent, who is there to revoke you when you’ve reached that point. That individual tries to get into the heart, get into the mind of that individual. That’s the only way you’re going to find out about the fact that yes, I’m living with my sister but her husband is not appreciative of my being there.

You’re not going to get to that point unless you were able to have a conversation, a meaningful conversation, unless you can break down the barriers because most people caught up in the criminal justice system don’t look at us as people who they really want to talk to. They look at us as the possibility of people who can send them back to prison. Doing cognitive behavioral therapy, getting involved in the life of that individual, finding out what their issues are, and once you find out what the issues are, then you can talk to the husband and say, “How can we work together on this?”

Jocelyn: Yeah. Talking with the organizations, the individuals who are providing other services for them is another way to just get greater perspective on folks because they may not be willing, they’re probably not willing to tell their parole agent when they’re struggling. They may be telling their case manager and we certainly wouldn’t argue that that’s what the parole agent should use in order to revoke the person, but it would give them a greater understanding of what some of their challenges are, and provide greater context, we believe, in probation and parole planning, and supervision as well.

Leonard: There are seven million people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day. Seven million individuals. Five are on community supervision. They’re under the auspices of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. That’s just an enormous amount of people. We’re not talking about juveniles in this and we’re not talking about the jail population, I think, in this. We’re talking about principally five million people under adult parole and probation supervision. Overwhelming numbers of people.

Return to prison rate, according to the Department of Justice, has been two-thirds rearrested, one-half go back to prison. Governors throughout the country are basically saying, “We’ve got to get better rates of return.” People on both sides of the politic [while 00:25:11] are basically saying, “We’ve got to do better in terms of not sending people back to prison, stabilize them, do as much as humanly possible.” The governor is a screaming bloody murderer because they’re saying our correctional budget is the second most costly item within our budget. They’re turning to parole and probation and saying, “Look, you’ve got to do better.”

One of the things that we are suggesting, I think, through this program and the television show, and I’ll put this in the show notes, the link to the television show on what we called, at that point, Family Reunification, was that unless you involve pro-social elements int community, you’re not going to get better rates of return.

Jocelyn: Right. That’s right. To the extent, and this is certainly the case in Illinois, that returns to re-incarceration are largely as a result of violations of the community supervision, that is right, violating their parole. Then if we can make some meaningful changes in the way parole departments engage with families, engage with other social service providers to reduce those technical violations, then we can have meaningful reductions in the re-incarceration rate which translate into significant cost savings.

Leonard: The story out of Baltimore County, I’ll mention the county, when I was with the State of Maryland for 14 years. The guy comes out of the prison system and the wife accepts him back inside the house. They’re trying to make a go of it. We were trying to help them adjust to each other and he is doing pretty good. He’s being a good husband, being a good father, going to work, and he was doing all the things we asked him to do, but he kept [pulling 00:27:05] positive to marijuana.

We’re up to 5 and we’re concerned, and then we’re now worth a 10. Now we’re approaching 20. What we did was to arrange for a family intervention. The parole and probation agent in the State of Maryland was not successful in terms of reading this individual [inaudible 00:27:26]. He was doing so well that he wanted to celebrate. We were saying, “But you can’t celebrate through substance abuse.”

We had the family confront him and it was an emotional event, tearful event, and he stopped. That’s the power of the family versus the limited power of the criminal justice system. Our ability as people, parole and probation folks, to convince people to look at life differently is very limited compared to what their mother can do, what their father can do, and what their cousins can do, and what their neighbors can do.

Jocelyn: Yeah. That’s a tremendous story. Thanks for sharing it. It’s possible because, in that case, you’re willing to involve the family. Otherwise, if they were just constantly testing dirty, then you’d be more likely to violate them because you have no other lens, no other way to bring them around to changing their behavior, really feeling like there’s no other option other than to send them back to prison.

When you know that there’s family members there, know that you can use them to bring the individual around, then feeling like there’s more options other than I just have to violate this person because I see no other options, no other opportunities, and no other way to get them to change their behavior.

Leonard: Had the person gone out and committed a violent crime and somebody said to the media, “Oh, by the way, he had 20 drug violations within 6 months,” then the newspaper headline would be parole and probation fails. That’s the other part of this. Getting families involved early is the key to possibly mitigating some of these technical violations that come along. It’s not just getting them involved but getting them involved at the very beginning of the process.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that’s right.

Leonard: It’s a fast [leading 00:29:26] conversation. Jocelyn Fontaine, Urban Institute,, talking about families and reentry. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We really appreciate your comments, and we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective-Lamont Carey

Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective-Lamont Carey-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio


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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, Lamont is one of the most interesting spokespeople for this whole issue of reentry, people coming out of prison. We’re titling today’s program View 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., 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., 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 large 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. 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.


The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show available at

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, 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,, 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,, 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.


Comcast Interview with Nancy Ware

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Yolanda Vazquez:  Hello, I’m Yolanda Vasquez, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I am joined now in the studio by Nancy M. Ware, she is the Director of the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Nancy it’s a pleasure to have you here in our studio.

Nancy Ware:  Thank you, Yolanda.

Yolanda Vazquez:  So, I was asking you earlier to give us a little brief history of CSOSA as you call it, and I was saying you established in 1997 by the US Congress but you said actually, that was part of an Act. You were established a little bit later. Tell us a little bit about how you were formed initially.

Nancy Ware:  Sure, well originally in 1997 actually, we had the Revitalization Act at Washington DC, which federalized a lot of the law enforcement agencies. And CSOSA was one of those agencies. So they moved probation and parole from the courts and from our parole board, which was in DC, over to this federal executive branch agency. And that’s how CSOSA was formed and we were formally put in place as an executive branch agency in 2000.

Yolanda Vazquez:  And the reasoning behind that was to kind of lift some of the burden from the state level agencies?

Nancy Ware:  That’s right. That’s correct. And also to consolidate a lot of the functions under one branch, one area of government. We also have other parts of the federal government that have take over responsibility like the prison system which is under the Federal Bureau of Prisons and our US Parole Commission which is part of the Federal US Parole Commission now. So we have a number of functions that have been federalized.

Yolanda Vazquez:  It’s good to get a good overview like that. So tell us a little bit more about CSOSA, and what are some of the things that you do and the population that you serve?

Nancy Ware:  Well, we’re responsible for supervising men and women who are on probation/parole. We supervise release in the District of Columbia. So although we’re a federal agency, we’re focused specifically on DC code offenders. And although we also have responsibility for interstate, which means that we also work with other states who have people who are on probation/parole or who are also in the District of Columbia, so we have relationships with other states. But primarily we’re focused on those individuals who live in the District of Columbia. And we have about fourteen thousand individuals under our supervision on any given day, and about twenty-four thousand throughout the course of a year.

Yolanda Vazquez:  How do you go about prioritizing your list of services to the various populations?

Nancy Ware:  Well, we really use a lot of research and evidence based practices in our practice throughout CSOSA, so what we do each year is to take the pulse of emerging trends and emerging issues across the population and also across the District in law enforcement. And as a result of that we’ve put in place specialized units throughout our agency to focus on emerging trends like mental health issues, which we’re finding to be more and more a concern among our population. Mental health and substance abuse have become an issue as well. Well, substance abuse has always been an issue, but we also have co-occurring disorders that we’re working with. And so we’ve put in place specific units and well-trained staff and contractors to work with that population. We also have units for women, domestic violence, we have specialized units working with youth and that’s a new one.

Yolanda Vazquez:  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Nancy Ware:  Yeah, that’s one that’s particularly of interest to me because we were having a lot of challenges with our young men in particular under twenty-five. And it was very difficult to get them to comply with their conditions of supervision. So we formed two campuses we call them, the Northwest and then Southeast and Southwest to serve that population better.

Yolanda Vazquez:  And it’s been a wonderful experience, the past two or three years for you, working with this?

Nancy Ware:  It has. It’s a great agency.

Yolanda Vazquez:  It sounds like it is. Well Nancy, we really appreciate you coming in. We had the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Thank you so much for your time and explaining so much to us about what you do.

Nancy Ware:  Thank you.

Yolanda Vazquez:  Thank you so very much! And that’ll do it for this edition of Comcast Newsmakers. I’m Yolanda Vazquez. Thanks for watching everybody. We will you see you again real soon.