The bridge between successful reentry for returning citizens and recidivism may be a narrow path to follow but those who chose to become productive members of society learn to cross it and to stay focused on living a new way of life. Dr. K. and I are only two examples of those who continue to be success stories by choosing not to return to old behaviors.
In this blog I am giving props to Dr. K., because I am proud of him for satisfying the full term of his court mandated supervised release. Supervised release in the federal system is the same as parole in state systems.
Dr. K. is a man I helped a few years ago to win a post-conviction relief motion.
He won his case in federal court and left the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons several years before his original release date. He remains a free man and is living his new life as a truck driver/owner/operator.
In one of my favorite blogs, Out of Many (Out of Many | STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN), I mentioned Dr. K. for giving me one of his magazines to read that I used to write the blog. He also used to encourage me to write from a more positive perspective, rather than the negative one I used to shoot daggers into an issue or public individual I found offensive.
Dr. K., like me, walked out of the prison doors with a goal in mind related to helping others to successfully reintegrate into society. I sought to use straightfromthepen.org and straightfromthepen.net to challenge the status quo of mass incarceration, and he the creation of a non-profit organization geared toward providing resources to help returning citizens. After our release, mine of which came much later, both of us ran into an issue of not having public support to accomplish our goals. That hasn’t stopped either from continuing to live our lives in a productive manner that does not include committing crimes.
Prison life often divides people because of its racial nature.
He is an African American and I am of the lighter persuasion. Our racial and cultural differences never interfered with our bond as friends while working in the Quality Management office for an ISO certified factory, or when walking an asphalt track to discuss events or to plot the next legal move in his case.
The main thing today is that we remain free and strive to be successful as returning citizens to show others that positive change is possible and that our past does not define who we are today. Our lives show that returning citizens can stay out of prison to become part of the solution (being a positive role in society) instead of part of the problem (another number in the recidivism column for Mass Incarceration).
I’ll close with an excerpt from Out of Many
“UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL: Our beliefs and values may unite or divide us; whether based on racial or cultural differences or similarities, religion, politics, fears, sexual preference or identity, and a whole array of other reasons.
“How do we keep from falling? Join hands and accept each other so we can work together to survive this thing we call life. If each of us represents a ‘cell’ of the humanity organism, those who damage and injure others are the cancers of society, driven by hate and indifference.” Wayne T. Dowdy, Out of Many.
I found the inscription on the medallion shown above in the photo to be inspiring and true: “If nothing ever changed there would be no butterflies.”
Several years ago, I was published in an international magazine and was quoted as having said something like, “I was antisocial until AA turned me into a social butterfly.”
Butterflies are free and so am I!
On April 5, 2021, a doctor called me on the phone and thanked me for a personal magazine/book that I gave her: Essays & More Straight from the Pen. She said it changed her life by allowing her to understand more about how one’s experiences in life shape the person they become (or something along those lines. I’m paraphrasing from memory).
For such a compliment to come from someone as prestigious and intelligent (and pretty) as her, I was moved deeply and more thankful for her call than she probably realized. Knowing how busy she is in her profession and that she was so thoughtful that she took the time from her busy schedule to call me, meant a lot.
She began the conversation by saying she hoped that it was a good time for her to call, and by acknowledging that she knew the day was a special one for me (the last day I used mind-altering substances in 1995). Then she thanked me for my very well written book and for writing openly and honestly about the sensitive content from my past.
When I promised to give her a copy, I asked that she please remember me as the person she met versus the person she reads about inside the book.
I felt honored that she had remembered me as the man she met and was so grateful that she called to thank me for the truthful content inside the pages, a lot of which I am not proud of having done decades before.
People can change the same as butterflies do when metamorphosing from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly. Read about the man who did in Essays & More Straight from the Pen.
Essays & More Straight from the Pen by Wayne T. Dowdy
Essays and More Straight from the Pen shows the power of
change, gives hope to readers wanting a different life.
The well-written essays take readers deep inside the life of
the author who overcame circumstances and obstacles that kept him chained to a
life of drugs and crime.
The stories inspire and motivate people to not give up or
lose hope, and to fight for a new life.
UNKNOWN INNOCENCE consumed my first novel, UNDER PRESSURE by Mr. D, and part of my second book published by Midnight Express Books (UNDER PRESSURE–MOTIVATIONAL VERSION). What separated the second novel from the first was the addition of “The Story Behind the Novel” and the addition of the first two chapters of UNKNOWN INNOCENCE.
After writing the sequel, I decided to give readers a better value by allowing the sequel to consume the original novel.
For this blog post, I’m providing a peek into the most important part of the Motivational Version (The Story Behind the Novel ), and one randomly selected chapter that shows one aspect of prison life in some of the more dangerous prison settings, Chapter #6, Let It Go.
Warning: Not Politically Correct! Contains Violence, Profanity
Let It Go
Months later, on a cool spring morning, Stan
and Bobby returned from the yard and took their showers before being counted at
10 A.M. Shortly thereafter, they went to eat Spanish omelets, oatmeal, biscuits
and gravy for brunch. That afternoon, Stan sat near the center of the TV room
watching VH1. The TV room was on the walkway at the rear of the cellblock that
joined the tiers. Terry, Jake, and three of Jake’s friends were huddled in the
back corner. Two Jamaicans, who were acquaintances of Stan, sat closest to the
only door, talking. Stan lowered the volume on his Walkman to hear Jake and
Terry’s conversation. A few minutes later his suspicion was confirmed: Terry
still planned to involve Wendy.
“She’s coming over the holiday weekend in
July and I’ll talk her into bringing in the package,” Terry said.
Stan stood and turned to face all five in
the corner. “Keep my sister’s name out of your mouth,” he said.
“Keep out of my business, boy,” Jake said.
Him and his three friends stood. Terry stayed seated.
“Don’t try fucking with this boy!” Stan said.
Terry stood. “I won’t let anything happen to
her, dude,” he said, his voice a high-pitched tone, almost a shrill.
Rastaman stepped out the door and cleared
the corner of the tier to get Big Bobby. At the same moment, Bobby walked out
of his cell to go get some hot water. Rastaman saw him and yelled in his
Jamaican accent. “Yo, mon, Stan need you.” Bobby slung the cup in his cell.
One of Jake’s partners positioned himself
near the door by the other Jamaican, who sat looking toward the television with
a know-nothing stare on his face.
“You’re damn right you’re not because you’re
not going to pull her into your shit,” Stan said. “Find another way to feed
Jake’s other partners tried to position
themselves behind Stan, who turned to put the wall behind him. Jake moved
closer to him and said, “What’s up? You want to get this out of the way, right
“Smash that punk!” the one by the door said.
Terry edged closer to the door. “Y’all cut
this bullshit out, dudes,” he said. “We’ll all go to the hole.”
Jake moved within arm’s reach. Stan shoved
him in the chest with both palms. “Get off me, punk,” he said.
Jake stumbled backward. He regained his
balance and rushed back to get in Stan’s face. “Want some of this,” he said,
and pushed him back.
“Don’t take that from that cunt,” another
yelled. “Hit him!”
The one by the door pulled a shank from his
waistband. “Let’s stick this bitch,” he said, his back a foot from the door.
Everything changed fast: Big Bobby barged
into the room. The door smacked the doorman holding the shank, knocked him into
Terry, who shot to the wall near Bobby.
“Hey,” the doorman shouted, as he turned to
see who had hit him with the door. His face paled when he saw Bobby. He hurried
beside Jake, faced Bobby.
Jake had moved to the corner when Bobby
rushed into the room. “What’s up?” Bobby said, his voice coarse.
The two who had surrounded Stan moved with
Jake. Terry stood against the wall with his arms crossed. Bobby moved within
striking distance of the doorman.
“Let it go, man,” he said. Rastaman had
followed him into the room. The other Jamaican stood and positioned himself
beside his partner and Bobby.
Stan eyed the two who tried getting behind
him, and then he moved near Bobby and the Jamaicans. He looked at the one with
the shank. “Put that up before I stick it up your ass,” he said.
“You got the easy part done,” the doorman
“Cut the bullshit,” Terry said.
Still winded from rushing down the tier,
Bobby said, “All of you need to put this on ice. Nothing good’s going to come from
us going to war over whatever the hell y’all got going on in here.”
Jake took a step closer to them. “Tell your
boy to keep out of my business, big guy.”
Bobby started to speak. Stan pointed at
Terry. “I’ve done told that idiot I didn’t want him involving my sister in your
business, buddy,” he said. “If you can’t respect that, we’ve got big problems.”
“You’ve got big problems with all that
mouth,” the doorman said. Seconds earlier, he had slipped the blade of the
shank in the front pocket of his pants and covered its handle with his hand.
“Look, man, my problem’s not with you but we can make it that way if you don’t back off,” Stan said. He moved closer to him. “I don’t give a damn about you having a shank.”
Bobby stepped between Stan, Jake, and the
doorman. The Jamaicans stayed in the background, propped against the wall by
the door where Terry stood. The doorman jerked out the shank. Before Bobby
could stop him, Stan maneuvered around him and grabbed the doorman’s wrist
holding the shank. In a continuous motion, he twisted it behind the man’s back
and yanked it to the base of the neck, as he forced him against the rear wall. “What
you want to do now, bitch?” Stan growled, keeping the pressure on the back of
Jake advanced toward Stan. Bobby grabbed him
by the shoulders and slung him against the wall, and then turned his head to
glance at the other two, making sure they weren’t getting involved. “Stay out
of it!” he said.
The Jamaicans, who were much larger than
either of the two they faced, had moved between them and Bobby. Both Jamaicans
had their arms spread, angled toward the floor, palms opened, inviting war or
peace. “We don’t want no trouble,” one of the other two said.
After he had failed to free himself from Stan’s hold, the doorman dropped the shank. It clanged as it struck the floor. “All right, man. You got it,” he said, his voice strained from stress.
Jake stayed still against the wall; fear
written on his forehead: Bobby’s massive chest six inches from his nose.
Stan used his foot to slide the shank to the
far side of the room. Then he released his hold and stepped away from the
doorman. “Let’s all let this shit go and get the fuck out of here before the
hacks come and slam us in the hole,” he said.
Everyone exited the television room; their
eyes darting one from another, sweat dotting their foreheads. Stan waited until
last to leave, motioning for the doorman to get his shank and go. He did so
silently, his head held low.
Five minutes after leaving the TV room, Stan
had told Bobby all that had gone down before he walked into the drama. They sat
in Stan’s cell with their arms crossed, sodas sitting on the floor by each of
their legs. Neither one uncrossed their arms except to take a sip from their
“What you think about it?” Stan said. “You
think they’re going to let it go or what?”
Bobby cleared his throat and repositioned himself on the toilet bowl where he sat. “I’d like to think they’ll let it go and leave us alone, but you know how things go in these places. They may claim a truce only to gain an edge for an attack. I’m going to keep an eye on ‘em, for sure.”
“You know I’ll keep an eye on them. And if
Terry and Jake don’t leave Wendy out of their plans, they’d better keep an eye
on me,” Stan said, and then got up from the edge of his bed. “I’m telling you,
man, if they don’t, it’s going to be bad. Wendy may become a widow before it’s
over with if they don’t.”
“Well, … we’ll just have to play the cards
dealt and play the game well. Let it go if you can,” Bobby said. Then he rose
and patted Stan on the back. “Gotta go, Pal. Keep your eyes open. Yell if you
need me, okay?”
“Okay, man. I’m sorry I got you into this
“Don’t sweat it. It’ll all work itself out
however the hell it’s supposed to turn out.” Then he ducked to leave the cell.
He stopped on the tier.
“See you later,” he said and threw up his
hand before walking back to his cell.
The Story Behind the Novel
August 14, 2019: This novel was published while I was in prison and most
content remains the same; however, on May 8, 2019, I was released from the
custody and control of the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons. I removed some
of the original content from “The Story Behind the Novel” because it became outdated.]
story behind the novel may surprise you because I wrote it while serving a 420-month
federal prison sentence. Mr. D.” is the pseudonym I used for my first book to
avoid any confusion associated with my writings. I am a writer of many genres
and am aware that some readers are “profanity-sensitive”; I don’t want anyone
to be confused when purchasing my books, essays or short stories. Though not
used frequently, profanity is often necessary to capture the personality of a
character or to make a scene or setting more realistic; especially, when writing
about prison life. A person allergic to profanity may safely read most of my
personal essays (inspirational, political, creative nonfiction), but may break
out into a rash or go into anaphylactic shock when reading what I write as “Mr.
D,” a pseudonym I chose based upon the song, Dancing with Mr. D., by the
Rolling Stones, and because my last name begins with “D” and some people call
me Mr. D.
should the reader find motivation by reading this? It came from the confines of
a prison. If I wrote this from inside, without an electronic data storage
system, and without access to the Internet, someone “out there” with all of the
available technology and resources can really work some magic. This is the
story behind the novel:
am a federal prisoner serving a lengthy prison sentence; to be precise,
thirty-five-years, without parole, for armed bank robbery and associated
charges. I started on August 18, 1988. I have never used the Internet or seen a
cell phone, other than in magazines or on television. I’m somewhat prehistoric,
prison, our movement and activities are limited. For instance, I only have until
7:45 pm, Monday through Thursday evenings, to type at the library, which does
not begin until my living unit gets released for chow (usually by 6:00 pm). At
the library, I use a dumbed-down, AlphaSmart, word processor to type with until
the library closes [AlphaSmarts were removed from the library before my release
and replaced with the worst typewriters available, with no memory recall
Normally, a writer using an AlphaSmart would have an interface cord to connect to their PC to upload what they typed on the AlphaSmart, and would then make modifications to the text in their PC; e.g., change line spacing, font size or style, underline words or adjust margins. I don’t have a PC to upload what I have typed and cannot modify what I have written, other than typical editing functions, such as copying and pasting and using spellcheck to correct misspelled words (program does not check grammar or punctuation). Fortunately, the presets include double line spacing, one-inch top, left and right margins, and a 12-pt Times New Roman font. If I want to add an underline to a word or a case cite when doing legal work, I have to create a separate file, count spaces, and then use the underscore key to create an underline. Then I have to run the original document back through a low-quality printer to complete the process.
That gives you an idea of what limited capabilities are when writing and typing from inside a prison (and I am fortunate to be able to do what I do). Some prisons only have ancient typewriters, with no memory storage capabilities. (I authored Under Pressure on such a primitive device.) The only other day I have to work on my writing is on Saturday because the library does not open on Sunday or holidays. During the morning I skip going to eat to type from 7:30 am (or whenever the door opens) until 9:15 am. Then I have to return to the cellblock to be counted. Yes, all of us men must stand up and be counted at 10:00 am, 4:00 pm, and 10:00 pm on weekends and holidays. The 10:00 am Count is a special event: we don’t have one during the week. I often use the break for the count to proofread what I’ve written, or to prepare for what I will write.
Once the count clears and the prison staff begins feeding the noon meal, I often skip chow to go type some more. I am usually typing by 11:30 am until I have to turn in the AlphaSmart at 3:15 pm. Fridays and Sundays are my days of forced rest from typing at the library: the only place I can type personal projects.
Where am I during the week when not at the library? Working. I work as the document control clerk in a textile factory of the Federal Prison Industries, Inc., trade name UNICOR. My meager MONTHLY salary averages near $200.00. I used that income to pay for my enrollment in the Long Ridge Writers Group on January 8, 2007. The course is outlined for completion within two years. On July 7, 2008, I graduated. During the same time that I was taking their writing course, I wrote the short story, “Under Pressure.” I attempted its publication by submitting my 6,158-word manuscript (typed on the ancient typewriter mentioned earlier), to various magazines, college literary journals, and entered it in PEN’s Prison Writing Contest. It didn’t win. Then on January 1, 2012, my ambition was born to convert the short story into a novel, the hard way, almost five years from the date of when I enrolled in the Long Ridge Writers Group to learn how to write and market short stories and essays. One year after I decided to turn the short story into a novel, it was available worldwide.
biggest problem in getting started with converting the short story into a novel
came from not having any way to electronically store data. When I finished
typing at the prison library to return to the cellblock, everything I had typed
was deleted according to policy. I knew having memory storage would ease the
pain of the revision process (some pages I retyped up to five times to correct
a typo, verb tense, or to replace or to add “one” word). I solicited help from
my family and friends to have my manuscript scanned and stored on a disk or CD
as a word.doc format for the manipulation of data. One of my two sisters, who
was not real computer savvy, did go to different places attempting to find what
I needed, but the best she could find was someone to scan and save it as a pdf
file, which I didn’t think would allow her to alter the text back then (now
converters are available that allows a person to modify Portable Document Format
I began the conversion process in light of the troubled waters ahead before I learned about the publisher, Midnight Express Books (MEB). Approximately six months after I had surrendered the idea of finding an easier, softer way to write the novel, I discovered MEB through an ad in the Education Behind Bars Newsletter (EBBN). EBBN ran an ad in Prison Legal News and asked for submissions. I submitted an essay and began receiving complimentary copies of the newsletter. In the last issue I received, I noticed an ad for MEB, who works exclusively with prisoners seeking publication [the publisher retired].
that point, I had decided to go the traditional publishing route, so I passed
along the information to another aspiring writer. MEB sent him a brochure. He
asked me to read it and asked that I give him my opinion. I was sold when I
read about MEB’s optical character reader and computer program for scanning
manuscripts, and then being able to digitally alter the text. I immediately
added their contact information to the system provided for e-mailing and
recording addresses (TRULINCS & http://www.corrlinks.com). Thus, began the
correspondence that lead to MEB helping me publish my first novel.
On January 14, 2013,
CreateSpace.com released UNDER PRESSURE for sale to the public as a print-on-demand
book. [Note: Amazon closed CreateSpace,
which was a self-publishing division for paperback books. Now authors must use Kindle
Direct Publishing and pay Amazon twice the amount of commission for books sales.]
following day Amazon.com posted UNDER PRESSURE. Now it is available worldwide
upon demand through the following sources:
[Link removed due to agreement with Amazon KDP Select program]
[10/26/2020: Removed several links where sold. eBook sold on Amazon contains all links in updated version, August 14, 2019, NOT original version]
[THE POINT IS] If the product in your hands (or before your eyes) came from inside a federal prison, with the assistance of MEB, imagine what you can do “out there” with all of the available technology.
Maybe one day I will find out. For you, though, if you are an aspiring writer or just a reader with ambitions, apply yourself to the task and reach for your dreams: they may be closer than you imagine.
T. Dowdy aka, “Mr. D.”
I welcome all comments and will respond to all questions as soon as possible, which may vary according to the number received, but I will respond.
Yesterday I roamed the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, on a hot and sunny day. The sun, heavy backpack, and the day’s events wore me down. I was exhausted by the time I returned to my place of residence, emotionally and physically drained, parts of my body sore from toting a heavy load. My mind on overload from keeping rational thoughts in the driving seat of actions.
I did not have a
wonderful day, per se, as I was denied financial aid by the Finance department
at Grady Memorial Hospital, because I couldn’t honestly provide a Fulton County address. I could have lied and got
what I wanted but I must live by certain principles if I am going to stay out
Irrational thought process: I snapped at one point when things weren’t working according to Wayne: “That’s why so many people go back to prison. They get tired of dealing with all the BS when having to deal with these kinds of places.”
The lady politely reminded me that I hadn’t been doing what I was told to do to obtain the approval. True. I’m guilty.
This is a short video clip from part of my day, and if you notice the expression on my face, it does not show being thrilled and happy to be here.
Damn the Torpedoes!
I lived to fight another day and will be okay. The medical conditions that I sought financial help for their treatments are not life threatening, today, so life is good. I am a survivor and will survive.
If I believe that everything happens for a reason and that things work the way they are supposed to, which I do, then I must accept that just because the world doesn’t work according to Wayne, does not mean that it is BAD.
What is GOOD or BAD is a matter of perception. For Me To Still Be Alive and Kicking … is Great!
Storms ravage the United States: tornados, thunder storms, snow and ice storms, in April, along with the political and technological storms that drive the progression or digression of the nation. Storms fuel change: Cruise Missiles that bombed Syrian chemical weapon sites, were launched with the intent to create change, to deter a tyrant from using chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. Advancement in technology drove the Cruise Missiles.
A political storm drove the decision to attack another country. Maybe a different political storm, driven by humanitarian concerns, will form to attack policies that fuel mass incarceration in America.
CHANGES: During the early seventies, I loved listening to “Changes” by Black Sabbath (album title: “4”), and “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After. Throughout the decades of my life, I’ve witnessed numerous changes. Things once viewed as fantasy become reality. For instance, in the sixties cartoon, The Jetsons, phones used to communicate became cellphones of today, with technology that permitted users to see the person on the other end of the line, like Skype.
STORMS: Natural storm patterns changed, as have the nature of storms that fueled technological changes; advancements in medicine and technology used in the treatment of illnesses that extended life expectancy, created other storms: World population explosion, food shortages, soaring health care cost and big business profit increases that often thrive on the misery of others. Private Prison companies fall within the latter category.
One of the largest private prison companies is CoreCivic, formerly Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). Investors filed a lawsuit against the corporation because CCA had fraudulently claimed to provide a high level of quality services that assured satisfied customers, boasting about its contracts with the United States Department of Justice.
Former BOP Director Harley G. Lappin is named in the securities fraud lawsuit. Him and J. Michael Quinlan left the BOP under unfavorable circumstances to work for CCA. (Read “The Truth About Incarceration, Part II” for more on the issue.)
SALLY Q. YATES: And then came the “Yates Memorandum.” Ms. Yates is the former Assistant United States Attorney, who planned to phase out private prison contracts because of inferior services and numerous quality and safety issues. One CCA prison of concern, was Adams County Correctional Center, where a riot erupted over poor conditions that resulted in the death of a prison guard and several injuries to staff and inmates, and over one million dollars in damages.
The Investors filed suit and claimed to have lost $1.2 million when their “159,000” shares of CCA/CoreCivic stock dropped because of conduct covered in the lawsuit; however, since then, President Trump and Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, revived the stock value.
As I’ve previously written, CCA and GEO Group’s stock value SOARED within a week after the last Presidential Election. When AG Sessions rescinded the Yates Memorandum and agreed to maintain private prison contracts, including the one with Adams County Correctional Center, it was back to business as usual.
I wonder if that decision put money and CoreCivic stock into the pockets and portfolios of AG Sessions and President Trump?
PERSONAL STORMS: The calm storms of my life continue as I fight for freedom and refuse to give up until that day comes, or when my time expires in this thing called life. Whatever the case may be, I will not give up. If life exists after bodily functions expire, I’ll fight from the other side in my pursuit of justice.
I have not won the lottery, at least, not yet. On April 5th I received a March 29, 2018, denial of my Administrative Remedy Request (BP-10) in reference to my halfway house placement date. The author essentially stated that the Warden properly responded, and then noted that the halfway house budget led to placement terms being reduced to 120-days or less.
In my BP-11, I pointed out that the Regional Director failed to address my abuse of discretion claims against the Warden, Residential Reentry Manager, and BOP Director. I also shown that 300-days in a halfway house, at $72.00 per day, would cost $21,600, but if I failed to receive enough time in a halfway house to successfully reintegrate into society and became a recidivist, it would cost much more.
If I fail on supervised release and get the full 5-years revoked, with the cost of my incarceration soaring above $100,000 per year due to a medication I take for a lung condition, that’d cost over $500,000. If I committed another federal crime, that’d be real expensive; however, I did stress that that is not on my agenda. My plan involves becoming a positive success story upon release.
The day after the BP-10 Response was dated, President Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation.
PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION OF SECOND CHANCES: On March 30, 2018, President Trump stated, in part, “I am committed to advancing reform efforts to prevent crime, improve reentry, and reduce recidivism. I expressed this commitment in my 2018 State of the Union Address and reinforced it by signing an Executive Order to reinvigorate the ‘Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry.’ In the spirit of these efforts, I call on Federal, State, and local prison systems to implement evidence-based programs that will provide prisoners with the skills and preparation they need to succeed in society. This includes programs focused on mentorship and treatment for drug addiction and mental health issues, in addition to job training.
“This month, we celebrate those who have exited the prison system and successfully reentered society. We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chances for all who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2018 as Second Chance Month. I call on all Americans to commemorate this month with events and activities that raise public awareness about preventing crime and providing those who have completed their sentences with an opportunity for an honest second chance.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord, two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the two hundred and forty-second.
AFTER PRISON SUCCESS STORIES: Brandon Sample, Shon Hopwood, and Tara Simmons are three of many ex-offenders who became success stories after their release from prison. All three entered a field many people said could not be done: Brandon Sample became a practicing attorney; Shon Hopwood an attorney and then a Professor of Law at Georgetown Law University, and Tara Simmons took her fight to the Washington State Supreme Court to become an attorney.
Justice Mary Yu wrote in her opinion that “[S]immons began ‘meaningful treatment’ while in prison and ‘changed her life to a degree that can only be deemed remarkable, both in terms of the efforts she had put forth and the positive results she has achieved.'”
Justice Yu also gave props to Shon Hopwood, who represented Simmons. “‘Both Hopwood and Simmons are living examples of a person’s ability to change if he or she has the will and opportunity to do so.'”
Prison Law & Prison Education News Services, 04/13/18, (email: email@example.com), quoting from Seatletimes.com and Prison Legal News.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the Washington State Bar Association should allow her to take the bar exam, another victory for Mr. Hopwood and Real Justice in America.
I know of numerous others who were released and become success stories in their own right, especially my peers who are members of Twelve Step programs, as well as several former UNICOR employees who got out and became successful in the world of work.
UNICOR: In 1936, Congress created the Federal Prison Industries, Inc., trade name UNICOR (for UNIque CORporation), to teach inmates marketable job skills. UNICOR is supposed to be a Work Program for Inmates, not a conglomerate to increase earnings that allows executive staff to give themselves bonuses: Some current practices border on exploitation of prisoners.
(A 04/10/18, USA TODAY article, “Federal Prison Bonuses Stir Outrage,” included bonuses for an array of federal prison officials, including wardens who shave dollars from prison budgets at the expense of prisoners.)
Statistically, UNICOR does reduce recidivism, so it is a good program within the BOP that allows inmate employees to earn enough to buy essentials for survival in prison. But in recent years, inmate pay has dwindled to allow the organization to increase its profit margins. I made more money per day in the early ’90s ($10.80) than I do today ($10.51). So much for the show of gratitude by my employers for my dedicated years of service, huh?
Sometimes I feel like the old work horse in George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, who the Pigs hauled off to the glue factory after having served his purpose. (Well, maybe not that bad. They are keeping me around to mentor others and to pass on my accumulated knowledge before leaving.)
PROGRAMS: The BOP does have some beneficial programs taught by inmates and staff alike. Recidawareness is one such program, founded by a federal prisoner, Frank C., who devotes himself toward helping others through a curriculum that combines spiritual and practical principles. The program helps participants focus on interpersonal aspects of their lives and the improvement of decision-making skills to assist them in changing behavior to avoid becoming a recidivist.
The Psychology department also offers programs that, if practiced, assists participants at living their lives in a different manner by teaching them to make better decisions (e.g. Cognitive Thinking, Anger Management, Health & Wellness, Job Application & Resume Writing, Non-Residential Drug Treatment Program, Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program). However, even though Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are suggested programs for graduates of the drug programs, and are listed in the Psychology Services Program Statement, to my knowledge, most institutions do not focus on making AA/NA meetings available to inmates.
CO-OCCURRING (DUAL ) DIAGNOSIS: In “No Sympathy” that you can read on this blogspot, I reference a 12/02/02, USA TODAY article, “Study: Treat Addicts Mental Illness.” Studies show that treating substance abuse and underlying mental disorders help people to not “reoffend,” and thus decrease recidivism rates.
BOP policy remains the same (ONE (1) institution offers treatment for those with dual disorders.)
FOCAL POINTS: The current focus in prison reform appears to be on reentry initiatives. Focusing on recidivism makes sense, since we fuel the system we claim to hate, when we get out and return to make the system grow bigger and stronger.
Now if Congress or the President will implement laws or policies to make prison administrators accountable for failure to comply with Congressional directives, things will change. Until then, corrupt politicians and prison officials will continue to accept bribes from private prison executives and continue to feed mass incarceration in America.
My opportunity to reenter society approaches faster than additional studies can be produced to predict the likelihood of success for released prisoners. I am prepared for successful reentry. Failure is not an option.
Without thinking of that particular day, I have worked toward it for almost three decades. Even when my release date seemed more distant than the stars that glittered in the night (too far away to see without a telescope), I moved forward on faith of better days.
Others have led the way that shows I can reach the stars by following their paths. One such person is Brandon Sample, Esq., whose inspiring story I will share before conclusion of this blog.
PREPARING TO REENTER: Part of my preparation process included getting help for addiction and associated mental health issues, back in the early to mid-Nineties.
I also worked for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR, a UNIque CORporation), since December 1, 1989. I learned lucrative job skills to increase my chance of gaining successful employment upon release; e.g., technical writing (writing and editing quality manuals, operating procedures, manufacturing and inspection instructions, training modules, designing & creating forms, etc.); internal auditing, ISO 9001: 2008, Quality Management System requirements; working with NSAI external auditors during the ISO certification processes, and many others.
This week (January 9, 2017), I begin a twelve-week, Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program, which I am taking more so to mentor others than for an interpersonal reasons (I stopped using drugs and alcohol in April of 1995).
BRANDON SAMPLE, ESQ.: Brandon ignored the naysayers and moved forward toward his future as an attorney.
As a troubled youth and young adult, he made decisions that led to a 168-month federal prison sentence in 2000, at the age of twenty. During his twelve-year stay in the federal prison system, he “fell in love with the law,” while fighting for his freedom. It was then that he decided to begin college to study law to become an attorney.
Brandon did not pay attention to those who said he could not be an attorney with felony convictions on his record. “When I look back now, that 14-year sentence saved my life. I very well could have ended up dead or caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison had I not received that serious wake up call. I say that not to suggest that all sentences, no matter how long, are fair and just.
“But the key, for me at least, was that I decided to change. I wanted a new life, a new future with all my being. So many people along the way told me that my dreams were unrealistic. I never listened to any of them and just plowed ahead.”
While incarcerated he paid for correspondence college courses through Adams State University. Upon release in 2012, he walked out the prison doors with his Bachelor’s degree.
In August of 2013, he began classes at Vermont Law School, where he graduated in May of 2016, magna cum laude, and now holds a Juris Doctor degree.
He received his law license from the Vermont Supreme Court in October of 2016. Now he is licensed to practice in the State of Vermont, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits.
Brandon may have lost the battles for his freedom in the courts. But he won the war when those battles led to him successfully becoming Of Counsel for the Law Firm of Jeremy Gordon, Esq., Mansfield, Texas (www.facebook.com/gordondefense).
Brandon’s story proves that prison does not have to be a negative experience. Miracles do happen. My hope is to become additional evidence of that important aspect of life, as many of my peers have proven true over the years; especially, those I met through Twelve-Step Programs. I will not fail!