Jail or Drug Rehab

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In the second part of a week-long series, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Dan Gorenstein picks up the story of former inmate James Gilbert's incarceration and release into society. Gilbert talks about being given a chance to avoid more jail time by entering a drug rehabilitation center.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In the Beyond Prison series this week, we're following the story of a former inmate named James Gilbert. He's in his 20s, free now, but in and out of jails and detention centers and group homes from the time he was 11. At 19, James went to prison for selling cocaine and was then shipped to a drug and rehabilitation facility in Laconia, New Hampshire. New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein picks up there.


James hated the drug rehabilitation program. He blew his chance to get out of prison before his 21st birthday. It's because he had always resisted authority; he just couldn't take orders.

Mr. JAMES GILBERT (Former Inmate): I fought it tooth and nail, but in my head I was--it was hard for me to sit there and have some (censored) hole in my face telling me how I'm doing this, telling me that my girl's screwing this guy or doing that guy. I mean, those were--these were things that they would say to you. They made me start to lose my mind is what it did. I mean, it wasn't like it broke me to the point where it was helping me. It broke me to the point where it as making me not care anymore, and it broke me to the point where I started to lose hope, you know, to the point where I was like, I don't care what happens anymore.

GORENSTEIN: James was about to become one of 1,400 other people who didn't care. He was going back to prison to live on a unit nicknamed Gladiator School. James had gotten into a couple of fights during rehab, but he knew he'd be tested at the Concord Men's Prison.

Mr. GILBERT: The unit that I was on, and when I first got there in H building, was just eight-man cells. So you have, like, four bunk beds all tightly put together in this small cell and you all share, like, a common space. It's packed. The places are always, like, dim and dark. It wasn't--I used to call that Gladiator School. I mean, you end up usually getting a lot of the young kids over there. You get a lot of the really rambunctious people. Like, I remember a few times, you know, just people just going wacko and throwing stuff around, and it was to the point where they were locking the entire pod down. I mean, it was just kind of like a free-for-all on that unit.

GORENSTEIN: James was no exception. He got into fights; he taunted the guards.

Mr. GILBERT: You know, you're angry after 11 months or 12 months. Your friends stop coming. You know, the only people that may straggle along for that period of time is some family members, but at that point, you become--you know, you're by yourself, and I don't know. Just the world seems crazy around you and it don't really seem like there's a lot of hope. You get into the situation where it's hard to see a future, and you're surrounded by depression, you're surrounded by filth.

GORENSTEIN: In his words, he was living with the reckless and unresolved. After eight months, James wanted out. The prison granted his request. He was put on a new unit known as A pod, and that change helped take James in a new direction.

Mr. GILBERT: A pod was kind of a little more laid back and more like population, and I was able to focus a little bit more, and I signed up for some classes while I was there. My first semester I was there, I took statistics and Intro to Psych. That psych class actually kind of helped make things--it changed my perspective on the way that I viewed people. It started to make me understand--I think it definitely made me start to look back on my--where I came from with my parents, and I did get a lot resolve from that one college class and understanding human behavior and understanding people's emotional pasts and why they do the things they do. And it really made me, for the first time, take a look at maybe why my parents did the things they did instead of blaming them, trying to understand them, and instead of blaming myself, trying to understand why I was acting the way I was acting and just being like--trying to make sense of the whole situation, because it never made sense.

GORENSTEIN: The prison moved him again, and on this new unit, he was about to meet a prisoner who would change his life.

Mr. GILBERT: You know, you see this guy coming with--covered in tattoos, and he never wears his shirt, carrying a bunch of books, five-foot-whatever, swaggering back and forth like he's untouchable. And I was just, like, `Huh. You know, who's this guy?'

GORENSTEIN: For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein.

CHADWICK: And the Beyond Prison series continues tomorrow.

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