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From Prison to Success: Personal tips and advice for the Ex-con for achieving your Dreams and Goals After Prison

Updated on July 6, 2014

If you're reading this blog it's because:

1. you just got released from a penitentiary and already encountered issues and situations you did not, could not foresee and prepare for. So you searched for guidance when those around you failed to provide real help.

2. You know someone who is coming out, or is already out and are proactive in trying to accumulate knowledge to better aid your loved one.

3. You are just plain curious!

Whatever your reason may be, I hope you walk away with a bit more information then you arrived with.

Code of Hammarubi
Code of Hammarubi
Depiction of ancient roman prison
Depiction of ancient roman prison
New arrivals to a penal colony
New arrivals to a penal colony

First, a look back at the history of the penitentiary system.

Someone wiser then I once said

" Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

-George Santayana,


Ancient Times

The beginning of prisons can be traced back to the rise of the state as a form of social organization. The Code of Hammurabi written in Babylon around 1750 BC, is one of the earliest known form of legal code. Basically centered on retaliation or lex talionis ("the law of retaliation")This notion of punishment as vengeance or retaliation can also be found in many other legal codes from early civilizations, including the ancient Sumerian codes, the Indian Manama Dharma Astra, the Hermes Trismegistus of Egypt, and the Mosaic Code.

The Romans were among the first to use prisons as a form of punishment, rather than simply for detention. A variety of existing structures were used to house prisoners, such as metal cages, basements of public buildings, and quarries. One of the most notable Roman prisons was the Mamertine Prison, established around 640 B.C. by Ancus Marcius. The Mamertime Prison was located within a sewer system beneath ancient Rome, and contained a large network of dungeons where prisoners were held in squalid conditions, contaminated with human waste. Forced labor on public works projects was also a common form of punishment. In many cases, citizens were sentenced to slavery, often in ergastula (a primitive form of prison where unruly slaves were chained to workbenches and performed hard labor).


Penal colonies and prison ships

Penal transportation of convicted criminals to penal colonies in the British Empire - in the Americas from the 1610s to the 1770s and in Australia between 1788 and 1868 - was often offered as an alternative to the death penalty, which could be imposed for many offenses.

France also sent criminals to tropical penal colonies including Louisiana in the early 18th century. Penal colonies in French Guiana operated until 1951, such as the infamous Île du Diable (Devil's Island). Katorga prisons were harsh work camps established in the 17th century in Russia in remote underpopulated areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East that had few towns or food sources. Siberia quickly gained its fearful connotation of punishment.

Jails contained both felons and debtors - the latter were allowed to bring in wives and children. The jailer made his money by charging the inmates for food and drink and legal services and the whole system was corrupt. One reform of the seventeenth century had been the establishment of the London Bridewell as a house of correction for women and children. This was the only place any medical services were provided.

As the practice of penal transportation was steadily curtailed in England at the end of the 18th century, a popular alternative emerged. Old sailing vessels, which came to be called hulks, were used as places of temporary confinement. Although conditions on these ships were often appalling, their use set a precedent and persuaded many people that mass incarceration and labour was a viable method of crime prevention and punishment. The turn of the 19th century would see the first organised prison reform movement, and by the 1810s the first state prisons and correction facilities were established, thereby inaugurating the modern prison system as we know it today.

Something I find Ridiculous

American Industrial Complex

The American prison industrial complex is nothing more than a business, with you and I as the product to be traded, sold and bought.

Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.

There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.

What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”

According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

PRIVATE PRISONS

The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr., but reached its height in 1990 under William Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. Clinton’s program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Departments contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates.

Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, “the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners.” The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,” but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.

IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INMATES

Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state’s governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.

After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 – ending court supervision and decisions – caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering “rent-a-cell” services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.

Take Away

Knowing this is essential for you and I. Knowing that we're nothing more then a dollar sign means that we are constantly in danger of becoming once again a prisoner. Arm yourself with knowledge and KEEP out.

Taking that first step from prison to Freedom

I remember counting down the years, months, weeks, days and hours til freedom. I ignored everyones advice about forgetting dates and focusing instead on other productive activities such as poker and tattooing.

As my release date inched closer and closer, I could think about nothing else.

I planned meticulously, down to the molecule, how my first day would unfold. That mental exercise became a source of comfort to me in times of distress and paranoia that is inherent in an environment such as prison.

Knowing that I needed an education if I were to be successful on the outside, I took classes to give me an edge, something to show a potential employer that I wasn't just a shaved head knucklehead with tattoos, but rather an intelligent individual with real assets.

I read every magazine I could get my hands on, just so I could keep uptodate on current affairs, fashion and technology.

Unfortunately for me, despite all my careful planning, I still lacked one of the most crucial elements for successfully reentering the 'real' world: a support group. People to help me accomplish my goals, to help me readjust to a society that would look at me and know, just know I'd just got out.

This is where I will tell you something.

It's NOT impossible to do it alone. I'm living proof that someone with a prison record, no family, no money, NOTHING can make it without support.

But, that doesn't mean you should. it's exponetially more difficult. Here's what I did.

  • Get that food stamp card. Swallow your pride.
  • First impressions are everything!!! This can and is usually the only chance you have to prove to someone that you aren't a bum in any sense of the word. Fake it till you make it. And I'm not talking about baggy pants, baggy shirt and sneakers that LOOK nice, but a button up, slacks and casual dress shoes. Appear as if you are worth the million bucks you wish you were worth. I really can't stress this enough.
  • Get the free cell phone provided by the state, once again swallow that pride. You will need a way to be reached if you're to land a job or a date.
  • If you're homeless, check into a shelter. Failing that, you can stay the night in the lobby of a hospital if you say you're there for a family member or friend. Hopefully, best case scenario you'll have family or friends that'll let you stay until you're back on you're feet. If not, my heart goes out to you. Just remember, it's NOT impossible to do this on your own.
  • Stay busy! If you're staying with friends/family only sleep there, leaving in the morning after helping with chores to look for work. this'll ease the stress on your friends/family because even the easiest guest will eventually overstay their welcome. Plus hitting the pavement each day increases the likelihood of finding work. I suggest labor ready or whatever is nearby.
  • Invest in a bike or bus pass
  • Keep up with your workout routine. First impression!!!
  • Reconnect with friends/family but avoid the ones who are a bad influence. It's an easy trap to find oneself back into.
  • Check in with your parole/doc officer and try to intiate some kind of friendly relationship. Discuss the positive elements in your life. This'll get them off your back and possibly some leniency if you make a mistake. If you can't win their respect or friendship, at least avoid making them your enemy.

since you'll probably be on some kind of community supervison, you'll be targeted by law enforcement who want nothing more then to make your life hard. consult this to stay out of jail. Some of this is common knowledge but  it doesn't hurt to refresh
since you'll probably be on some kind of community supervison, you'll be targeted by law enforcement who want nothing more then to make your life hard. consult this to stay out of jail. Some of this is common knowledge but it doesn't hurt to refresh

Things to Think About

You are excited to finally lose those chains that have held you back, I get it, but keep in mind that things are not going to be easy. Here are some examples other then my own of people in the very same situation as you turning their life around:

  • Danny Trejo Throughout the 1960s, Trejo was in and out of jail and prison in California now he has been featured in several big hit movies: Con-air ironically, Machete, Spy kids, Grindhouse and many more.
  • Eugene-Francois Vidocq lived a very colorful life that saw him charged and jailed for a variety of crimes, such as theft and assuming false identities. After a while, Vidocq offered his assistance to the police and worked as a spy in the criminal underworld. He became so effective in apprehending criminals and solving complex cases that authorities soon created the Surete Brigade, which was later expanded nationwide by Napoleon and renamed Surete Nationale, to assist him. This is the predecessor to the modern French National Police.
  • Robert Downey Jr. From 1996 to 2001, Robert Downey Jr. was one of Hollywood’s biggest bad boys. The actor was arrested several times during these years for drug-related charges involving possession of cocaine, heroin and marijuana.He was constantly on probation and spent a year in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California.
  • Tim Allen In the beginning of Tim Allen’s comedic career, he was arrested at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in Michigan for possession of cocaine. Allen had just under 1.5 pounds of cocaine on him and was charged with drug trafficking. Because Allen disclosed the names of the other drug dealers, his original life sentencing was shortened to three to seven years. Allen was paroled after serving two years and four months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota.

Final thoughts

You know as well as I do, that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. As cliched as that is, it's as true as you make it. There have been times where I wanted to take the easy path, especially when I couldn't afford simple luxuries or even basic needs. It's important that you surround yourself with people who love you and have your best interest in mind.

If I can do it, so can you.

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    • SMavrikos profile image

      Stacie 

      4 years ago

      Just want to say this was very informative and loved what you had to say.

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