Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ex-inmates may go back without help

Ex-inmates may go back without help

By John Davis
Montgomery Advertiser

Joanne Wright left the state women's prison in Wetumpka on March 13 with all of $10 to her name.

She went to live with her mother because she didn't have anywhere else to go. Now, Wright, who served two years on drug charges, is working to put her life back together. It isn't easy.

State prisoners released after serving out their time get $10 and a bus ticket back to the county where they were convicted.

"I don't know any place you can live on 10 bucks," said Kenneth Brothers, head of New Beginnings Foundation Inc., a nonprofit group that works to help former inmates adjust to life outside of prison.

On Friday, Brothers and more than 100 prison ministers and activists gathered at First Baptist Church on South Perry Street to find ways to keep released inmates from returning to prison.

"We've got to get them moving," said John Jacobs, a Department of Corrections deputy commissioner. "We've got to get (former inmates) stimulated."

In Alabama, 58 percent of the 27,000-plus state inmates have served time before. Brothers says the challenges of the free world are too much to handle for convicts without help.

"A hungry man is going to steal because you've got to survive," Brothers said. "In Alabama ... you do not have to rent to an ex-felon."

Quincey Beckwith, 36, is renting a house after serving seven years in state prison for manslaughter. She says her family's support has been crucial to her success since leaving prison.

"I don't go clubbing," she said. "I don't go to parties. I select my friends wisely."

Brother would like to see the majority of the thousands of inmates released in Alabama each year never return to prison.

If this happened, it would largely alleviate the crowding problem at DOC, which now has twice the number of inmates it was designed for.

But to do that, he says, released convicts need a place to stay, a job and community support.

"I was real fortunate to get a job with a person who kind of knows where I've been," said Wright, 34, of her job as manager at a small restaurant in Dothan.

Wright and Beckwith both got help from their families and nonprofit, Montgomery-based Aide to Inmate Mothers.

"Housing is one of their biggest problems," said Larnetta Moncrief, Aide to Inmate Mothers assistant director. "Some of them don't have any family support.

According to Moncrief, it is often nonviolent criminals such a drug addicts who can't seem to stay out of prison because they fall back into addiction after free-world disappointments.

"(When inmates get out) they really feel in their heart they're not going to return," she said.

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