Let’s begin with a simple math equation.

If less recidivism = less crime, and less crime = less victims, then less recidivism = less victims.

Introduction

This is not my first time ‘down’. I am – by definition – a recidivist.

I am not here to make excuses or justifications for my behavior. I know what I did was wrong and that my actions were burdensome on society. I have been a victim of violence and understand exactly how it feels to want someone locked up for life.

I get it, criminals need to be punished. But most inmates are non-violent, and pose little to no danger to society, and whether you like it or not – we will get out soon.With that said, what are the long-term ramifications of an emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation?

More recidivism. More crime. More victims.

Don’t support criminal justice reform for people like me. Like I said, I had my chance. Do it because it’s better for society. Do it because reducing recidivism, by definition, reduces crime. Do it because it will help stop the generational cycle of poverty and incarceration. Do it because less crime means less victims.

All I am asking for is an opportunity to turn my life around.

On August 8th, 2013, I was sentenced to prison for the first time. In prison, I was often told that all I needed was the “desire to change”, and everything else would fall into place.
This is correct to a point. You can only be receptive to help once you’re ready to change – and you have to reach that place where you are ready to put in the work, because no one else can do it for you.

However; at the same time, humans are interdependent beings. Most of us have good intentions, but without the right support and resources in place, we fall back into old ways of doing things.

Most of the women I reside with don’t want to be criminals, addicts, or absent mothers. We want to be free, physically and mentally, and we want to be productive members of society. Realistically, we need a tangible pathway up and out of our current circumstances. We need opportunities to turn our lives around.

What does opportunity look like?

It doesn’t look like being locked into working part-time, minimum wage jobs while we’re drowning in debt from our court fines and probation fees.

It doesn’t look like not being able to rent housing in literally any neighborhood that’s even relatively safe or clean.
Where are we supposed to go when we get out? Crumbling halfway houses in crime-and-drug infested neighborhoods that make prison look like a college dormitory?

That sounds nice and everything, but…

At this year’s State of the Union, President Trump spent a few minutes recognizing a man who lifted himself from the depths of addiction and despair, found an employer willing to give him a chance, and is now sober and productive.
After Trump congratulated him, the room of congressmen gave a standing ovation, sending a message of hope and acceptance.

I wanted to turn my life around when I got out of prison. I went to recovery meetings. I got a sponsor. I rode the bus to-and-from multiple menial jobs.

I got student loans and went back to school. I made the Dean’s List. I even started a homeless outreach organization. I tried. I tried hard.

But, I was still a felon.

But the fact is, I was denied jobs and housing because of my felonies. No matter how hard I worked, I was denied upward mobility.
I was repeatedly called into my managers’ offices and told that I could no longer work there because someone higher up was bothered by my background.

There were no senators or congressmen or presidents there to have my back and tell those employers to give me a chance.
No one believed in me, and eventually I stopped believing in myself, and I ultimately, I relapsed. And here I am, again.
This time, I desperately want to turn my life around, again. But I need a way out.

What’s the deal with recidivism?

The problem with recidivism is that every sentence becomes a life sentence when we’re systematically denied housing, job, and educational opportunities because of our felonies. We’re relegated to sub-human status as second-class citizens.

Even when we are physically released from prison, we’re forever labeled as ‘felons’. As second-class citizens, we remain detained; and in this case, there is no release date.

Final thoughts

We all come from different backgrounds, but we all want the same things; safety, security, happiness, and our own version of success.
It’s time people realize that most prisoners are just less fortunate versions of themselves. The fact is, the human spirit has a remarkable capacity for growth and transcendence. We need to support each other in our relentless pursuit of a life-worth-living.

What we need, is a way out. Not only for ourselves and our families, but also because it will make the world a better, safer place.
Don’t give me a chance to turn my life around. But allow me to earn it.