LESLIE EARL DEWBERRY
BORN IN: 1967, Fortuna, California
INTERVIEWED IN: San Francisco, California
Interviews conducted by Ion Vlad and Reggie Daniels
We first meet Leslie at the University of San Francisco in December 2019, in an empty classroom. It’s early evening, and he’s just come from a speaking engagement, where he explained his incarceration experience to a group of students. He’s a personable man, who laughs loudly and frequently and he was visibly excited by how receptive the students had been. Leslie served thirty-two years in prison and was released just over a month before our conversation.
Before I left prison, I had my plans all written out. I knew how this was going to go: by ninety days I expected to have this, this, and this. But it’s not going the way I imagined. I’ve been incarcerated all over the state of California. I served thirty-two years and about twenty-five years of that was in level-four institutions, which have the highest security level in the state. I was released on November 13, 2019, from Mule Creek State Prison, near Sacramento.
DEEP INSIDE THERE WAS A LOT OF LONELINESS AND INSTABILITY. I grew up in Humboldt County, five hours driving from San Francisco on Highway 101.
Mule Creek is a prison for male inmates located in the town of Ione. It incarcerates almost 4,000 individuals and is over capacity by 120 percent. The staff is approximately 1,200 people and the annual operating budget is $157 million. I’m not a city boy. I’m a country boy. I didn’t come from a life of crime or a gang family, or anything like that.
My earliest childhood memories have to do with growing up in a real small town, when my parents were still married, and spending a lot of time with the elderly couple who lived next door. They were friends of the family. Dad worked all the time and mom was taking care of the house. I remember just being a toddler. I don’t really recall anything very disturbing around the house, but my parents did eventually divorce.
I was five when my parents divorced. I didn’t really keep in touch with my dad afterward, although he was only a few miles away. It was pretty ugly because there was a lot of animosity, a lot of childish things went on between my parents after the divorce. I tell people that I was the child of children. My dad was eighteen and my mom was sixteen when I was born. I was not that close to my mom. I was probably more of a daddy’s boy. It wasn’t too long after that my mom remarried and I had two older stepbrothers. I got along with them.
I was pretty precocious and rambunctious as a child. I was quite a handful. I was being obnoxious all the time, I really wasn’t very mature. I played sports a lot. When my mom got me involved in sports, that probably changed me being so wild. But I lived way out in the country, nine miles out of town. I grew up in the woods.
As a teenager, I never really fit into any social group. I never was really close to anybody at all. My wild side probably came from not having my dad in my life, you know. But my mom was pretty abusive, both physically and verbally, and so it was really hard to get close to people because I felt I was always going to get hurt one way or another.
I started to play sports as young as I was able, in third and fourth grade. I was playing mostly football and baseball. I was really good at football. That made me more popular with people, especially in high school. I was also involved in student government then. In the summertime, I’d work managing irrigation equipment and assisting my father in the sawmill. On the surface of things, I was well liked by my peers. I got along with everybody. But behind the scenes, I had a problem. I was drinking and partying too much.
Basically, my reputation in high school was kind of the party animal guy. I was the one who would kick over a stump and light it on fire and go get a keg of beer and throw a party. I followed professional sports and wanted to play pro-football. My senior year in high school I was afforded the opportunity to play football at San Diego State, but I wasn’t able to take advantage of that because I was partying excessively. That’s really what it was: I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone, I was scared.
The culture in Humboldt County is a bit different than other parts of California in the sense that it’s a lot more rural and isolated than the coastline and the main metro hubs. But I’d never been in trouble legally before the offense that led to my lengthy incarceration. Nobody in my family had ever been in trouble with the state before. At the time, I had just finished high school and was in pretty good shape if you looked from a distance. I was an outdoorsy man, fishing and hunting.
But deep inside there was a lot of loneliness and instability and feeling inadequate. That probably had to do with the instability in my household early in my life. As a youth, I think I was a decent individual who had a lot of potential but just couldn’t find any direction in life. I think I missed having a mentor and never had one growing up. I didn’t have any teachers or close friends who filled that role.
A LOT OF WORK TO REGAIN A SENSE OF EMPATHY
I was arrested in 1987. September 20th is when I lost my freedom. The crime that I committed was terrible and inexplicable, you know, and it boiled down to me being irresponsible, irrational, impulsive, violent, and lacking empathy. I was a violent individual thirty-two years ago.
It was a culture shock walking into prison. Coming to the institution, being subjected to a whole new set of rules of engagement, a whole new social structure, was a major shock. The learning curve was pretty steep when I showed up. Based on my conduct in prison and the nature of my crime, I was placed in level-four institutions. There was a lot of trauma. While in prison, I’ve seen some shit that I won’t talk about, I’ve participated in some shit that I won’t talk about.
The stigma of a lifer, a convicted murderer, carries a lot of trauma. I think there are three aspects that play off one another: the trauma that I’ve inflicted on people and my victim, the trauma that I’ve experienced personally, and then the trauma that I’ve been exposed to, that I’ve seen other people subjected to in prison. Some of the trauma I’ve brought out of the system with me. Probably the number one thing is being exposed to violence. The average person may be horrified to see somebody shot — laying on the ground, bleeding everywhere. That really doesn’t faze me. I’ve become numb to that level of violence after being exposed to and living in that kind of atmosphere for so many years. That would be the best way to describe it, as being numb to violence. It’s a lot of work to regain a sense of empathy, to recognize the level of trauma you’ve created.
EXCITEMENT AND FEAR
Coming out of incarceration in November 2019 was really intense. That day was pretty amazing. I was released about eight o’clock in the morning. My family picked me up. I spent time with my mother, a really good friend, and my girlfriend at the time. They picked me up at prison and we drove from there to a spot in Northern California and picked up my sister. We didn’t really have time to do anything special since I had to be at GEO, a reentry facility in San Francisco, by about 4pm. We didn’t go out to dinner. My family rented a Suburban and we all just kind of piled in there, enjoyed some time being with one another, and drove into the city.
There were people all over the place. I remember the first stop we made. We drove for a couple of hours and we stopped at a gas station with a little convenience store. And, you know, I had a problem with the fact that there were people moving around and behind me, to the side of me. And they were just shoppers! They were doing their thing inside the convenience store. But I’m used to knowing where somebody’s gonna be when I’m in a room with other people.
Over the thirty-two years I was incarcerated I’d spent a reasonable amount of time in the visiting room with my family. My family was really good about that. But to do that in a new environment and under new circumstances, I just felt like a deer in the headlights all day. But it was really wonderful, kind of surreal. It still didn’t set in for a few days that I was a free man.
There was such a combination of excitement and fear in those moments. In any institution things are very structured. There are not a lot of variables on how things are run from day to day. There’s an orderly arrangement of how people walk into the chow hall and pick up their tray and sit down and that’s all they do. And so I remember at about seven o’clock that night, hanging around the lobby at the GEO facility down on Taylor Street. It had been a long day. One of the residents comes up to me and tells me: “You need to mellow out! You’re looking pretty intense right now.” I was there with my mom and my girlfriend. And it was really intense. I had just been extracted from an environment I knew forward and backward and dropped off there at GEO and for a while I didn’t know how to manage myself. I was really hyper.
GEO San Francisco is part of GEO Group Reentry Services, a national network of reentry, residential, and nonresidential centers and services. The emphasis in GEO programs is on the first few months of transitioning from incarceration to self-sustainability, while serving parole. In a case such as Leslie’s, formerly incarcerated individuals get to live together, learn, and support one another during this difficult period, as they prepare to secure a position in the labor force and, subsequently, independent housing. The residential facility in San Francisco has 240 beds for male and female adults. GEO gets its funding from the state but functions as a private entity.
There was an element of fear that was internal. These were new and different experiences from the penitentiary or something that I’d been exposed to on a regular basis. It was all fear based and I had to ride it out. There was nothing wrong, I knew that this was supposed to be happening, but it doesn’t mean that the bells and the whistles weren’t going off in my head. This is part of the post-traumatic stress disorder of dealing with the institution of prison: getting in strange situations and feeling uncomfortable and things becoming really intense. I can hear every conversation in the room and my hearing intensifies, I get a little squirmy, I shut down, my pupils dilate. There’s nothing going on, just people standing in a room, but I’m getting uncomfortable.
I didn’t sleep for the first three days. I mean, I probably got a couple of hours of sleep every night, but that’s not enough. I was a babbling idiot, come the weekend.
I’VE GOT TO WORRY ABOUT ME FIRST
But things have improved over the past few months. I’ve been living at GEO San Francisco. It’s located in the Tenderloin at 111 Taylor Street, kind of a rough and gritty part of town. But almost all the services that we need are within walking distance, in a couple-mile radius.
I haven’t really seen any violence happen in the area where I live now. I’ve seen people on the streets, people sitting on the corner shooting dope, smoking a crack pipe openly. I’ve been exposed to those type of triggers related to my substance abuse, but, you know, my recovery is pretty solid in that area. I wasn’t triggered. There are people standing on a corner smoking weed all the time here. We’re in Frisco, you know. A lot of people who appear to be broken are also living on the streets. I do empathize with the struggles that they’re facing. There’s a little saying, “There but by the grace of God go I.” You know that could be me just as simply as it is them. The way I deal with that is, I’ve got to worry about me first.
The Tenderloin is historically an impoverished and high-crime neighborhood adjacent to the financial and shopping districts of downtown San Francisco. It generally houses single-room apartments and studios, traditionally occupied by low-income residents. In recent years, the neighborhood has experienced a combination of increased crime rates and gentrification.
I have to spend a minimum of six months at this transitional-living facility, as part of my parole conditions. It was mandated by the board of parole terms that I stay here at least six months, but the service is available for me here for up to a year if I need it. GEO is a pretty good place, and I’ve requested that my stay here be extended by another six months. At the end of my stay, the decision about my leaving is going to be made by the director of the house and my parole agent and I assume that I’ll have some input, too. But during the period that I’m here at Taylor, there are several classes I have to take: finance management, personal relationships, relapse prevention. I can’t leave GEO until I complete those classes. I really can’t go anywhere or leave the jurisdiction or transfer my parole to where my family’s at in Humboldt County, or anything like that until those classes are completed.
GEO gives us a meal, a bed, and a place to do our laundry, and an opportunity to reintegrate back into society. The room that we get is really small, with a bunk bed, like a cracker box or a cell, and we share with a roommate. One of the first things that you need to obtain in order to survive or to be successful on parole is your identification card, your Social Security card. You need to get medical insurance and then you need to begin a job search. We have a little saying about reentry, “First, you take any job, and you try to find a better job while you look for a career.” So that’s what the transitional facility down at GEO does. It provides for our basic needs and allows us the opportunity to investigate and explore this new world. So we can get headed on the right path and get done what we need to get done to succeed in society.
The board of parole is an entity under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations that conducts parole suitability hearings and reviews.
THEY’RE NOT WEARING BLUE
Fortunately, I have a full-time job now and I’m an essential worker here in the city of San Francisco, doing building maintenance for an organization called Community Housing Partnership. In the morning, around five, I get up, get dressed, try to be quiet. I’ll leave my room so I don’t disturb my roommate too much. He’s a big, friendly guy, biggest guy in the facility. Go drink some coffee downstairs at GEO and use my phone. Catch up with some messages, maybe schedule some messages to go to my people. After, I’ll go eat the breakfast that GEO provides. I leave the house at 7:30, I start work at eight. My job is a five-minute walk down the street at the corner of Sixth and Market. I work eight hours a day.
When I’m free, I like to just walk around and people watch. There’s a lot of people around Market. It seems that the people that you have a bit of conversation with are all from someplace other than San Francisco. What I love the most about people watching is just that they’re not wearing blue. They’re not inmates. They’re not walking around a tiny one-eighth mile track. The most common uniform color for inmates in California state prisons is blue.
I was given a cellphone by my girlfriend one of the first few days after my release. It’s really useful for moving around the city. I was pretty intimidated by the public transportation system, was scared to death to get on it. I kind of grew some legs up under me and started becoming not so afraid of the system because I had this phone. You can find information, you can do job searches, you can get from point A to point B. This is probably the biggest change — how integral this phone is in our society — for me coming out after thirty years. On top of that, there’s the internet. I have a laptop. I’m not really good with it. I’m not really doing the social media thing. I don’t have time for it. Between finding jobs, keeping my current job and family ties, I have a lot going on already. But my lady friend hooked me up with Netflix and I’ve found a movie or two. And a short while ago I bought a DVD player that’s real cheap, thirty-two bucks, and one of the guys in the house said: “Oh, you got a DVD player!” and he gives me a bag of about seventy-five DVDs. He says, “Here, when you get done with these, I got another bag for you.”
As in prison, I still use headphones when I watch TV. My roommate works all day and he wants to come home, take a shower, lay down, and relax. He doesn’t need to hear my TV. I don’t actually have a TV, I’m watching stuff on my computer. I found Pluto TV and they have something called the Pursuit Channel, with shows where people hunt and fish all the time. As an outdoorsman, I like to watch that.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
So when I got out, I had a few job interviews lined up and I worked a couple part-time jobs to become an electrician. As soon as the coronavirus hit in March 2020 though, that stuff all just went away. The potential employers called me up and scrapped the interviews. And the two part time jobs that I had also went away. Around that time, I started working at Amazon stocking the warehouse at a fulfillment center to fill the gaps between part-time jobs. When the two part time jobs went away, my work at Amazon just took off. They gave everybody a two-dollar per hour raise and instead of being a part-time employee, where you can pull only twenty-four or twenty-six hours a week, they opened it up to sixty hours per week, plus the two-dollar raise. Anything that was over forty hours, any overtime, was double time. So I went full speed ahead there. I was working twelve hours a day, four to five days a week, getting as many hours as I could.
I now work for Community Housing Partnership. Community Housing Partnership is a nonprofit based in San Francisco that provides housing, job training, and other rehabilitation services to formerly homeless individuals. The organization administers and oversees fourteen residential buildings in the city. I’m doing building maintenance in one of the residential buildings that houses the formerly homeless. Their mission statement is really driven toward ending homelessness and assisting homeless people to get off the street. While they get them housed, they also provide a lot of supportive services, like job training. And there are case managers for mental health and medical needs. I’ve seen health people come in and out of the building to ensure that people get their dietary needs met.
I found out about this job through a friend who was formerly incarcerated. He worked at Community Housing Partnership for a while when he got out. I called my buddy up and told him what happened to me with the electrical job interviews and he was like, “Hey, you know what, why don’t you call these guys over here? Send me your rėsumė!” And so I applied for the janitor’s job. I walked into the interview thinking I might have to be a janitor for a while, to get into a building maintenance technician’s position. When I walked out of the interview, they had decided to make me a maintenance technician. I started on April 1, 2020, so I’ve only been there a few weeks at this point.
The real beauty of this job is that it allows me to utilize a lot of the skills I’ve gained in prison: a bit of electrical, a bit of plumbing, dealing with vendors. I like the job, I like the challenge. There are new things going on every day. But the problem is that they do not pay enough money for me to make it in the city. They like me, and they like the work I do. I take initiative to solve problems for them instead of getting on the phone and asking for their assistance. They like that; they do not want to have to babysit me. They want me to take care of this building for them. I do a pretty good job, but I’ve only been at it for a few weeks, so I’m certain there’s a lot more to learn. They’ve told me, “Look, we already know that we’re going to have to find a lot more money to pay you if we want to keep you.” I was like “Yeah,” because they only gave me $15 an hour. But for right now, I’m building rapport with people, I’m being introduced to contractors who are getting ready to completely remodel the whole building. They’re going to gut the place. This has actually been designated as a state historical landmark, so they can’t just tear it down and build a new apartment building in its place. They’re going to go in and put all new electrical in it, all new plumbing, all new heating. Everything is completely getting redone.
NOT ANYTHING WITHIN MY SKILL SETS
I’m really trying to become an electrician. I did a lot of studying while I was inside the institutions and got certifications for completing a lot of vocational training in electrical. I’ve got my electrician’s training card and part of keeping that card active is that I have to accumulate 150 hours of classroom time a year so I’m doing online classes two nights a week now. They’re electrical classes — fundamental electrical theory, residential electrical, and then learning how to use a national electrical codebook. And you know what drives me nuts? This is all stuff I’ve already done! But nobody cares because, ironically, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) uses different curriculum than what they require here on the West Coast. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations is a state entity that runs the state’s prison system and community reintegration services for former inmates. The curriculum that the CDCR is using is from the East Coast, so none of the union jobs here on the West Coast recognize it when you apply. The CDCR just paid for the cheapest bid on the curriculum training, which happened to be from the East Coast. That’s how it happened!
I think that there should be some mutual cooperation between the education departments in the institutions and CDCR. The local laborers union here in Frisco has a program that they’ve gone into San Quentin and trained guys there. Skills taught in those classes and the courses that we took while incarcerated are recognized. But that needs to be expanded, you know what I mean? It took me three and a half years to get the HVAC certification while I was incarcerated.
Overall, things haven’t moved as quickly as I planned. I figured I’d have a driver’s license within the first thirty days, which didn’t happen. I figured I’d be tied into the union and going through an apprenticeship program within sixty days, and I couldn’t do that. It’s not advisable to try to get a job through a union if you don’t have a driver’s license. The first thing they see is okay, you don’t have reliable transportation if you don’t have a driver’s license. The other thing they say is, “How can we put you in a company truck and send you to the shop to pick something up, or have you drive to a work site if you don’t have a driver’s license?”
My parole officer looked at my résumé and said: “You have skill sets that are in high demand in this city. Look, as soon as you get a job and start making money and get a car under your belt, I don’t want to be chasing you around town because you’re going to have a lot of money in your pocket.” Ninety days later I don’t have any of that.
I really thought I’d have access to way more solid, concrete job development avenues, where I could use the skills I developed while I was in prison. I learned how to splice fiber optic cable, how to install low-voltage cabling. I was on it. I took advantage of a lot of opportunities. I’m certified in HVAC, which is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and I’m finding that the job counselors that I’m meeting want to run me into working at a Target as a cashier. It’s not anything within my skill sets.
I COULD SLIP
I knew that decompressing from more than thirty years of incarceration would not be easy. When I’m having a hard time, when I’m struggling, I tell myself that at GEO I’m in a pretty good place. It would be a lot worse to be sitting on a family member’s couch and have them not know what the fuck is going on with me. They would know something’s wrong, but there’s nothing they can do about that. If I’m in a house with other people who are experiencing the same circumstances, everybody knows what’s going on with me. One of the things that I experienced coming out and would never have suspected while I was still incarcerated is PTSD. It’s very real and I’m learning that I have to manage that.
In my cohort, which is a lifer community, the post-incarceration classes that we need to take are structured around cognitive behavioral therapy and MRT, memory recognition therapy. I’ve done that before and I’ve actually taught an MRT class to other inmates in the system. So, the classes at the parole office, although they’re relapse prevention courses, we go in much more depth and deal with things that are specifically related to lifers: post-traumatic stress disorder, really understanding what our triggers are, and how denial is a big motivator in our lives. Denial management isn’t something that’s taught in the recovery community as a whole. It’s a unique subject. But for the lifers, it seems to be key to recognize when you’re using those denial tactics, whether you’re dealing with the shame, the pain, the fear, the guilt, the anger over your thirty years of incarceration or just the way somebody on the corner made you feel. You need to have a serious internal understanding of who you are, how you function, and why you function the way you do in order to control your emotions.
I managed to get a grip on my PTSD. I now know where to reach out, who to reach out to. I got some guys that I’m employed with who were formerly incarcerated, all lifers who have done a substantial amount of time. I meet with them once a week. They really understand my situation. Some of them are five, six, seven years ahead of me in the reentry process. They remember when they went through what I’m going through right now and can relate, which makes a big difference.
I would’ve never been released from prison if I didn’t have a high level of emotional insight. But if I’m not vigilant and getting fellowship and making sure that I’m on top of my game, I could slip, you know, and maybe relapse. The substance abuse thing really isn’t a problem for me. My problem revolves more around my temper and my attitude. I can be an asshole sometimes, you know, I can run my mouth. And it doesn’t do me any good. I did get in trouble for this previously and had some fights, but not since I left jail. I’ve been working on this!
I have a relationship with somebody who’s not really my girlfriend, a relationship that I brought from prison. I grew up with her though. This isn’t somebody I met through the internet or something. I ran her off once. I had to tell her that for the next year — this is going to sound really selfish — but this has to be about me. It’s gonna take me a year to get my shit together, get a job with a living wage, find affordable housing.
I CAN’T GO BACK HOME
The biggest challenge in the city for me is to find affordable housing. That’s one thing I haven’t been able to do since this pandemic kicked in. Since I now have a full-time job, I was just starting to look around to see what I can find for subsidized housing when all those housing placement agencies shut down. And so I’m kind of stuck in the water, just doing Craigslist and looking around. I’ve found a few places, but a thousand bucks a month is going to kill me if I step out on my own.
I’ve talked to people and they said, “Look, you gotta get used to the idea that you’re going to have roommates in the city. You get three or four people together and go rent a house somewhere over in the East Bay for three or four thousand dollars a month. You just divide it up.” I definitely want to stay in the Bay Area, even if I end up leaving GEO and going to a similar program. I know that they are there, I just do not know if there’s space.
I want to stick around here because of the opportunities. Although it’s kind of hard to crack the door open, I think I can take advantage of them based on the skill sets that I have in the various trades. It’s not like somebody gives you a piece of paper and says, “Here, give me a call.” I had to beat the bushes a bit. I got exposed to the process and how I need to go about this. I mean, where else can an electrician’s apprentice make $42 an hour? I had a conversation today with a contractor and he told me that’s what he pays his apprentices. And that’s a non-union apprentice. Where else am I going to make that kind of money?
On top of that, I can’t go back home. I mean, I can go back home, don’t get me wrong. Going back to where I came from would be going right back to what I left and part of what probably got me incarcerated. Look, I know too many people, I know too much, and there are too many people that can’t tell me “no.” I grew up there. I know everybody’s business. It’s all related to the marijuana trade. Thirty years ago, it wasn’t legal. I went to prison over marijuana. I did thirty-two years in prison over marijuana, so I don’t want to go back there. I’d rather start out anew here in the city.
Right now, where I’m at in my life, I am going to be okay at least for the next six months to a year. Then, I gotta figure something out, find some roommates.
THERE SHOULD BE AN EMPLOYER BEGGING FOR A GUY LIKE ME
San Francisco seems to be a hub for change, for the reentry process and throughout the rest of the state, or maybe the rest of the country.
I see resources being handed out for developing new models or methods. But I think that there are certain things that need to be revamped. One major thing is actually the pipeline from the education office inside the prison. You learn all these various trades and we need to leverage that into a job.
Now there’s an organization in the prison system called the Prison Industry Authority. They have a program to put guys to work manufacturing various items that are used throughout the state by all state agencies. I didn’t work for them extensively because I didn’t like the way the organization functioned within the prison. I worked for them off and on for about five years. They pay good money for prison wages, anywhere from 35 cents to a dollar an hour.
The Prison Industry Authority manages over a hundred manufacturing, consumable, and service industries with programs in thirty-five California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions. But I just couldn’t take that after a while. It was pretty much slave labor. They couldn’t care less about you as an employee and individual. They just want you there to produce and make money for the state and the Prison Authority. And sometimes the people who manage those programs have no problem letting you know that. It was very impersonal and not very humane and I just didn’t care for it at all.
There’s a disconnect between the education department within the state prison system, where I gained all these skills and got all these certifications, and the actual job market out here in the real world. It seems like there should be an employer begging for a guy like me. I’m looking to be the most loyal employee that anybody’s ever had. I’m a hard-working guy. I’m just looking for a break and if I catch one, they’re going to love me to death. But I had a tough time making that happen and I’ve realized that I’m going to have to do the leg work myself. None of these job developers or career coaches did much. Really, it seems to me that they’re making money for just being there. And then there’s money being handed out through the mayor’s office, so if these job counselors can document that they got you any kind of job, they’re going to get paid. And it doesn’t matter if you’re hired for the whole year or for thirty days in a quarter, they get to claim the whole quarter on your wages.
So if the state is going to invest in educational opportunities for us while we’re incarcerated, let’s make them count on the outside. I come out here and nobody knows anything about what I learned in prison and they don’t recognize it. So what good did that do me? I’ve been exposed to it, but now I got to do the schooling all over again.
I’M NOT MY GREATEST MISTAKE
Overall, I have been fortunate, I have experienced a lot of growth and made a lot of progress during my time out, even during this coronavirus pandemic crisis. I took on a third part-time job, found a full-time job. I’m still working on the weekends at Amazon, so I have a full-time and a part-time job. And now that I’ve got a steady income, I’m getting ready to get a credit card, so I can start working on my credit.
When this pandemic kicked in, it was going good for me. I was getting my hustle on. In terms of the health crisis, I’ve changed my habits, I wash my hands a lot. I do not like that I have to walk around the city with a face mask on. But I’ve started being more cautious.
At GEO, we do the best we can. This is still a pretty crowded environment, and they’ve distributed masks. And they insist that we wear them when we are walking around outside our rooms. They go through the entire building about three times a day and completely spray everything down with disinfectant, including the doorknobs. They’re taking a lot of precautions here and nobody’s come up sick. We’ve had new people coming out of prison and they quarantine them in a room for fourteen days when they get here.
One tough thing right now is that I can’t see my family. They won’t come to see me because they’re taking precautions about the virus. Under normal circumstances, I could go and see them, but I still have a travel restriction due to parole because I haven’t been out for six months. I can’t get a travel pass to go over a fifty-mile radius because of parole, not because of COVID.
I was very fortunate that through my incarceration I stayed connected to my family. And so for me, it’s all gone well in general. Everybody’s happy to see me home. I’m happy to be here and to be a bigger part of their lives than I’ve ever been able to be in the past.
I’m not my greatest mistake I’ve ever made in my life, right? Nobody is.
*Narrative developed in conjunction with Voice of Witness.
About the authors: Reggie Daniels is an adjunct professor at The University of San Francisco. He is the founder and director of the non-profit Transformational Miracles. His work with the organization involves offering assistance to formerly-incarcerated people and their families.
Ion Vlad, a native of Romania, is director of The Miner Anderson Family Foundation and a writing consultant and guest lecturer at The University of San Francisco’s School of Education. His research background is in human rights and peace education.