Getting Out: Life after Prison

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Life after prison for many former inmates is anything but a cake walk. Sure, they have their freedom back; but they also face a host of challenges as they assimilate back into society. The most widely known obstacles to re-entry are employment and housing discrimination; but, according to the Legal Action Center, former prisoners can also face roadblocks in the areas of public assistance and food stamps, voting, adoptive and foster parenting, and drivers' licenses. On top of which, there's often a feeling of frustration associated with small, everyday tasks, like using a computer or riding public transportation — things that weren't an issue while in jail. Prisoner advocacy groups, such as The Women's Prison Association and Fortune Society in New York, help make the transition easier. Today we will talk with three ex-prisoners about their experiences with life after prison. If you were formerly incarcerated, or if you work with former prisoners, what is the most difficult part about life after prison? And what do you think is needed to make re-entry smoother?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Most folks released that I know have no life experience for re-entry. Out of poverty and learning problems as children they weren't trained to een show up for school, getting to & from class on time, how to even do daily personal when they get out, they're asked to be essentially 10 year olds that have to get a job, buy food,cook, pay bills & fend for's too much for them & they revert to crime & drug to get out from under responsibility they coldn't cope with in school!

Sent by Kathleen Nightengale | 3:21 PM | 2-26-2008

My kids have stayed out of trouble, made their lives. 1 went to college and paid her own way. Another is completing an AA program at his own expense. 2 decided not to go to college. Why do former inmates feel that the taxpaying public pay for Formal Education while in prison?

Sent by Jim Rankin | 3:25 PM | 2-26-2008

I'm a convicted felon and only pulled 3yrs, on a 6 yr sentence, but I learned real quick that when you take away a prisoners ability to go to school and learn the things he needs to make it in society, i.e. job skills, you set him up for failure and a trip back into prison. Almost guaranteed to happen.

Barry Oxentine, (sounds like valentine).

Sent by Barry Oxentine | 3:26 PM | 2-26-2008

I'm an old western movie fan. Harry Carey (the old cowby star, not Harry Caray the baseball announcer) was in a movie with Hoot Gibson called the Last Outlaw. An pretty good movie as far as old westerns go. The best parts of it, though, are the changes he encounters after over twenty years spent in prison. Of course technology has increased so much faster over the last couple of decades that if the movie was to be re-made there is no end to material available.

Sent by Trent Chockley | 3:32 PM | 2-26-2008

My thirty year old son who had a meth addiction has been clean for a year.He has a felony for possession/transport of meth. He has applied to about 30 jobs, often gets the closing interview, but then is rejected, not because of lack of skills, but due to his record.He is frequently told to come back and apply in 7 years. I see very little help given to those in the "county jail" system to help transition those who are willing to accept help. I feel that more help is provided for those in the prison, and cetainly I agree that they need help. Most people understand why there is such a recidivism rate. We live in Placer County, CA.

Sent by Maxine Pohan | 3:35 PM | 2-26-2008

I would like to respond to Jim Rankin. I understand how you feel as you have been a responsible parent and raised responsible children. My husband and I, both educators, good parents, never imagined our son getting involved in an addiction.It was not that he wasn't read to, loved, encouraged, lived in poverty etc. This addiction problem is not always with those children who have not had opportunities, a good family etc. What we need in this country is a better handle on the drugs that are coming into our country, continued detoxing of those on drugs, not just turning them out into the streets after jail/prison time. And the reason we are all responsible for this is that these are all people. If you want to cut down on crime, make your streets safer, as well as yourself, programs must be put into place that assist the former addict into society. When you are in this situation, as our family has been, you would see it differently. Good programs, of which we have paid for, are expensive. Good programs should be available to all.

Sent by Maxine Pohan | 3:52 PM | 2-26-2008

I spent 15 and 1/2 years in federal prison, and have been out for four months. I am fortunate in having a wife and family that stood by me the whole time I was inside. Still, it is the official side of freedom that gives me the most problems. The intrusions into the personal lives of your family, and the constant misunderstanding by credit reporting agencies, employers, schools, etc., of "where have you been," that causes the most stress. Applying for anything is problematic, and all the social assistance sectors want to saddle you with your spouses income,ignoring the fact that you haven't made a dime in fifteen years! I am medically unable to work. I have severe Post-Herpetic Neuralgia from shingles, and take methadone for the pain. I have two college degrees, am a skilled fine and graphic artist(see www.RastaRazz Still, I can't find a place for my skills that will give me a chance, and take consideration of my disabilities. The social security admin. won't give me disability benefits because of my wife's yearly income. I have been out four months, and with all those skills and education, I have not produced a single penny's worth of income. We must change the way we treat ex-felons. The disability should not be counted once you've done the sentence. It should truly be a debt paid, and then striken from the records, or sealed. Then, and only then will that question of: "Have you ever been convicted," cease to have any force and effect.

Sent by Rob Walton | 4:07 PM | 2-26-2008

This is for Mr. Rankin:
I went to college while in federal prison, and the guard's union lobbied to take away Pell grants, etc., from federal prisoners in the late 80's and early 90's, too. I served two enlistments in the U.S. Army during the VietNam Conflict, and feel I earned what I got, and then some. It matters that everyone in America, who is able, get a college education, sir. The lack of college educated citizenry is the root and cause of the exportation of high paying tech jobs; and, the reason we have ceased to be a manufacturing nation. It is also the reason that people who get into serious social, emotional, or economic trouble can't figure a safe and non-criminal solution to their dilema. Look at the majority of kids these days. Don't you think they need that opportunity? Well, prisoners are citizens, and are somebodys kids too!

Sent by Rob Walton | 4:18 PM | 2-26-2008

I wanted to recommend a book of fiction that deals with issues of incarceration and life after prison. The book is a collection of stories, Teach the Free Man, by Peter Nathaniel Malae, published in 2007. I work for the publisher, Swallow Press, so I hope this isn't seen as too self-serving. Malae writes with authority about a variety of experiences, one of which is the long-term consequences that linger once inmates are outside of prison. Here's a link:

Sent by Jeff Kallet | 5:16 PM | 2-26-2008

Back to you, Maxine... I neglected to mention that I worked in the local state prison when I got out of 20 years in the military. I am a retired EMT and have 30 years of medical experience including several terms of service working in detox units. I have done foster care with teens that have turned time and again to drugs. Yes, educate the children like Wyoming is doing and with Idaho jumping on the bandwagon. Bless them. No....don't blame the parents. I know a lot of people that have turned out to be great people inspite of their parents. Maxine, it comes to CHOICE. Help these people correct their behavior by placing them in prison. (Tell me how you can change a Drug Dealer)? I say close the borders, also. Offer inmates the opportunity to get their GED. Some states tried offering them a chance to learn a trade by in prison factories until all the public screamed, "Stop, you are interfering with our right to make a living by competing in the market place". We gave the inmate law books because they asked and they started suiing the people they committed crimes against and plugging up the court systems. Again, I ask, WHY do I need to pay for an inmates college education? I do agree with you that we need to better prepare people to be prepared to go on the "outs". But, I propose to you that the person has to want to change. IF they get their GED in prison, attend their classes and show the desire to enter into the society as a lawful citizen, then let's put them in a half way house with support groups (like in Portland, Oregon. And most importantly, educate potential employees while at the same time help the inmate understand that he/she may be stuck doing the menial work for minimum wages and that he/she should work her/his way into a college education. No one handed you a diploma on a platter, did they. It took me almost 20 years to get my BA degree.

Sent by Jim | 5:54 PM | 2-26-2008

Back in May 07 I was released from a California State Prison. Your show today was right on. I am doing well now but it has been a struggle. A struggle that makes me stronger and stronger everyday. I actually write a blog it's at Http:// In it I discuss the many obstacles I come across on a daily basis and the gratitude of being free. It might help other's out who are in the same situation as I am in.


Sent by Francis Bernstein | 11:49 PM | 2-26-2008

I teach financial literacy to many re-entry programs and a common question that comes up is, how will my credit be affected by a prison term. I'm guessing that it is the same as everybody elses. Unpaids and judgments remain. Are there any tips in helping released prisoners with getting their finances back in order?

Sent by Tiffany Kirk | 2:37 PM | 2-28-2008

After 4 1/2 years in a state Fl prison for a financial crime and loosing everything yes I had my freedom and 10 years of probation along with to face thankfully while in prison and my last 10 months of "work release" I found a company which offer me an opportunity to not only show them that I am still human and a lot to offer but that I can also be respected as human being. After two years of being released I often deal w/ the fact that even do that I had hold a management position when it comes to my social, financial aspects of my life my past often gets in the way and sometimes there is no solution other than accept that I am ex convicted felon and perhaps will be a while. As one I have to say there is not system to either help or get those of us through the transaction of getting out and getting re established.

Sent by Enrico J | 8:46 PM | 4-30-2008

Let's change the law.
Who would be willing to start a Petition with me and my husband (who served 4 years in Prison)?

Sent by cathyie | 2:46 PM | 7-5-2008

Hi, My name is Brandy Melican I have a wonderful family and currently attend college. My Biggest fear is not being able to find a job after I have earned my degree. You see, I too have been in trouble for Meth when I was younger. I have no problem in admitting to my mistake. Sometimes it seems like a horrible dream that it ever happened! Reality hits me when I go to apply for a job though. I currently am a student worker at the college I am attending and sometimes they will hire their students for a part-time position. I can't help but wonder if they would be able to hire me. They do know about my felony, but in the town i live, I could not even work in housekeeping at a hospital. Is there life after Prison? Am I just gonna be stuck waitressing and bartending all my life? Will I ever get a "break". Why should we have to pay for something we did for the rest of our lives. Better yet are my children going to pay for their mothers mistakes? Can some one give me some advice?

Sent by Brandy Melican RedBud,Illinois | 9:38 AM | 7-11-2008

I am thinking of Brandy's posting: yes, if you find yourself in the interview, I have found midway that if you are honest with them, and with confidence, present your history, the good employers will respect you for your honesty. There are really horrible employers that will tarnish people, and there are good employers out there and, when persistent, there will shake your hand and give you a chance. My opinion? Those who walk-out addictions should be doubly worthy of a job, and then some. This is one "social sin" that is a visible one; there are many others that go unseen and unpunished. Some that are socially acceptable perhaps? Just think we live in America, If you ever open your own company, you will be on the other side of the table, giving others another opportunity to turn things around! Keep on trucking!

Sent by Dia Nagele | 9:39 AM | 8-28-2008

Hi , my husband spent 20 years in federal prison and I spent 16 years of that time with him. We've been married for 3 years. Last Dec, 4 2007 he came home. The first 6 months was a walk in the park. Right after his 6 months in the halfway house everything went down hill from there. In July of 2008 he said he needed his space. Just the words a lone made my stomach sick. He told me he was looking for apartment and that some days he was staying at his sister house and sometimes he slept in the truck. He continued to used excuse to stay away from me. Like, I told you to loss weight 4 years ago and you could do that and you having been honors about the bills. Little things that didn't make no sense. Me being with my husband for all this years I known that it was more to the show. I found out that he was living with someone else. He would come back home in the morning to sleep why I was at work. To make a long story short he left me and we have been verbally fight since he left. The words that he says out of his mouth kills my heart. Come to find out the women that his with put wickcraft on him. I told my in-laws that the person standing in front of me wasn't my husband. Many my call me crazy be. I truly love my husband and I not given up on or marriage. I'm on a 30 day fast and prayer for my husband to return him to me and the crazy. The devil is a lair. I just felt that I had to get this out there. Lady talk to you man, if his coming home after doing a long time in jail. Please talk and give them some space. Do not ask to many question where you going, where you been. do not call them all day long let them be. Ask them to take respectable space. And pray hard daily. I believe I made all the wrong mistake with adding to him wanting his space and other women will throw themselves on them. I'll be back in 30 days to give you my praise report on my husband return home!

Sent by T parks-Bryant Bx, NY | 1:32 PM | 9-3-2008

My childrens Father, which I had lived with for 18 years is serving a 20 years setence(he will only do at the most 10 years of). The great state of Texas will not only pay for his Health needs they are also paying for his education. I have been a single mom for a long time (my children are owed around $50,000.00 in back child support). Both my daughters had to work along with me to pay for thier college classes. with them working (we) made too much money for grants, ect. I have not figured that one out. I was a waitress for many years, I now bring home $400.00 a week. None of us have health insurance, people cooking for us, the choice to stay in bed (not go to work) on days that we don't feel good, or any extras that we might need. I have a real hard time feeling sorry for the cost that you are now paying for the sin that you had in your life. God promises us forgiveness. Nowhere does He say that you will not have to pay the cost, that your sin has caused. I been forgiven because I have forgave. I Pray God that all of you find God's Glory in everything and know that he is not done with you. Walk by His words and you to will be Blessed. For I am Blessed this I know.

Sent by LaWanda-Texas | 2:32 PM | 9-9-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from