Wait, so they don't forge lifelong bonds with every prisoner?
It's almost like TV can't always be trusted after all.
When opportunities do present themselves, they often backfired.
"Only one of our inmates was ever enrolled in college courses," Carla says. "He was a con man and had scammed dozens of old people out of millions of dollars since he was in high school. He was polite, well-spoken, and well-mannered, and gave us zero trouble. When the school called to tell us he'd been caught in the computer lab communicating with unauthorized people online, we assumed he had a girlfriend (they ALL had girlfriends or boyfriends), but we looked into it. He was scamming old ladies out of their retirement money, telling them sob stories and having them 'help' him with college after his family had passed away. They'd wire him money to the Western Union on campus, he'd pick it up, I'm sure it all seemed legit. But he was going to school for free as part of an educational program to help convicted felons, so he had no school expenses and never did account for the money. The school later determined that he was also running a successful side business selling papers and test answers. [He] was definitely a business-minded man."
Today, he has a cabinet position in Washington.
If you're sensing a pattern here, you're not alone.
Most Inmates Come Right Back To Prison -- Sometimes On Purpose
"Less than 11 percent of our residents made it through the two-and-a-half-year program, not counting those that killed their final numbers [finished their sentence]," Carla says. The biggest problem was that people underestimated how hard it was "to get these inmates out of their roles as inmates and back into a role of being a community member."
Inmates often got out, only to realize they still didn't know how to live outside prison without committing crimes, so they turned back to crime, and -- sometimes intentionally -- back to prison.
"Ah ... Home sweet home."
"That axe murderer who made it out was picked up on a DUI," Carla says. "He was one of those guys our program was developed for, and one it was woefully unprepared to help. He was the textbook definition of institutionalized. When it came to operating in the world at large, he only had the experience of a 19-year-old before he was incarcerated. I wasn't capable of making solid life decisions at that age, it was only through experience and trial and error that I figured out how to pay my bills and not to eat spoiled food and how to use a cell phone; experiences he never had the chance to learn from once he was inside. I can't imagine how overwhelming the outside world was to him."
In the end, "when they found him, he was at the same bar he used to hang out in in his tiny hometown. He didn't know anyone and he had nowhere else to go. He didn't have any idea how to live a life outside so he just waited for them to take him back."
And even for a model inmate, old habits can die hard: "One man who had worked in the prison kitchen before coming to our program [also] worked in the restaurant at Red Lobster, and was accepted as an apprentice under a chef at a local convention center," Carla says. "He really loved his work and was actually a very good chef. He went on to run the kitchen at a historic hotel -- until he was caught with heroin in a flophouse."
It was cooked perfectly though.
"I heard they sent him back to prison for it, but that was after I quit."
We know this all sounds intensely disheartening. But there's good news: These programs can work! Just not without proper funding and implementation. Which is the bad news, since literally everything we just talked about here implies we have neither.
For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Brutal Things You Experience As An Ex-Convict and 6 Ugly Things I Learned About American Prisons (As A Guard).
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