Life After Prison - The /r/ExCons Manual
Created by the users of /r/ExCons, this wiki is a resource for the millions of men and women who are living with the “life sentence” that comes from having a conviction on your criminal record.
Whether you’ve done time in the county lockup, state prison, or federal penitentiaries, you have a new set of challenges ahead of you. They are not impossible challenges - just different than what the rest of society will face. Many have made it out without anything other than the normal struggle everyone else faces. Others have fallen back into the lifestyle that led them to trouble to begin with. We want to make sure you are in the first group and not the second.
Are you expecting to be incarcerated and looking for advice? Check out our Going to Prison guide here.
It’s hard to arrange housing, transportation, etc. from prison. Take your concerns to a case manager, mental health specialist, teacher, lieutenant - whoever in your institution might be assigned (or inclined) to help you. They have access to resources you don’t - such as the Internet, phones, and lists of services for re-entry. You may not get any help if you ask, but you definitely won’t get any if you don’t ask.
The process for release usually involves signing paperwork, obtaining release of any personal items that may be in the DOC’s possession, and then being escorted off the premises down routes by the same guards who would have aimed rifles at you were this just a day earlier. If you have anyone picking you up, there will be a specified waiting area where they can meet you. If you don’t, then there is usually a pay phone that can be used to call a cab or DOC staff will drop you off at a bus stop. If you have no money, try to do what David Hugdens did, and start to rebuild your bridges.
Whether you have family or friends or you’re on your own, your Release To-Do List will be basically the same. The most important things to do, in our recommended order, are below. Detailed information on how to do each follows the list.
- Find a place to stay. Arrange for a room for at least the night. This can be with a friend, a family member, hostel, motel, or hotel. Anywhere that you can have your own bed, bathroom, and privacy.
- Celebrate. Once you know you have a safe place to sleep for the night, do something to celebrate. Even if it is just walking down the street, knowing that you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, savor this moment. Your mental health is going to be the most important thing to get over the initial hurdles you’ll face with re-entry.
- Get your personal info together. Get your birth certificate, your social security card, a state ID card, a driver’s license or learner’s permit, a background check, and a credit report. Make sure everything is in order, all of the information is accurate, and copies are made. If you were born overseas, message the mods and we’ll do our best to help you figure out how to obtain the necessary documents. Your best bet is to scan and email copies of everything to yourself. If you don’t have access to a scanner, ask a local copy shop (ie, FedEx Kinko’s) to scan and email you copies. That way, you’ll always be able to access this incredibly important information.
- Apply for social services. Things like welfare, food stamps, housing assistance, and the rest are what the government is supposed to do for its citizens. Take advantage of these services, just like everyone else does. Don’t ever be ashamed or embarrassed - these types of services are the safety net our tax dollars are collected to implement. Note that depending on your conviction, some of these items may be available to you while others may not. Be sure you understand the effect of your criminal record by asking any questions you have.
- Get yourself a phone. If money is an issue, get a Life Line phone or a pre-paid cell phone plan that will give you a smartphone. This is key, because it will be your way to connect to the world, find a job, find stable housing, email people, and everything else you’ll need to do to start living a normal life. The UN has found cell phones are key to getting out of poverty. Click here for various different phone plans.
- Prepare for work. If you do not have a permanent address, ask a friend or family member if you can use their address for employment purposes. Once you have your permanent address, ask for help on /r/ExCons - there are volunteers that will work with you or at least direct you to someone who will. Also, get yourself an I-9 form to verify your eligibility to work. If you are applying for jobs that require you to be “bonded”, contact the Federal Bonding Program first. Most private bonding agencies will refuse to provide services to people with criminal records that haven’t yet established a history of trustworthiness. Click here for links and additional information.
- See if you can clear your record. If you qualify, don’t forget to see if you can erase your criminal record. Expeal.com offers free qualification forms, official links, and step-by-step instructions on how to clear your record for every state plus Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands. Since /u/expeal is a mod, he can answer any of your questions.
- Get interview clothes. Go to the Salvation Army or find organizations in your community that help people donate suits to those in need. Going to job interviews in a suit will be key. If you can find someone to tailor your suit or you can do it yourself, make sure you do it. That can be a key difference in terms of appearance. Also, back to the mental health aspect, looking at yourself in a mirror with a suit on will be one step towards making yourself feel free again.
- Start applying for jobs. This is going to be hard. Very, very hard. Criminal records often disqualify you immediately. Even if you make it past round 1, it isn’t a secret that someone without a record will probably get a better shot than you, a higher salary than you, and even better opportunities to advance than you. You will have to work harder than everyone else to convince an employer you’re worth it. But if you do, and you get to work and show everyone at your new job how hard you work, you will have a chance to be promoted before everyone else. When all eyes are on you, take advantage. When you do something right, it will seem better than it actually is to people who have low expectations. Don’t get down on yourself about it - take advantage of it. For advice and tips on making a resume, try asking in r/resume.
- Open up a bank account. Make sure you do your research and open up an account without minimums or fees. Before going the route of a traditional bank, see if you can join a credit union. They are often friendlier to work with, but most importantly, provide better rates. There are over 7,000 credit unions in the US. The National Credit Union Administration is the government agency in charge of overseeing the nation’s credit unions. They have a great service to help you locate one in your area. They’ve also created a great website in myCreditUnion.org as a resource to learn more about credit unions in general. Most importantly, the NCUA has a tool to help you research your credit union. If you can’t find a credit union that works, Mint.com (a great site to help you manage your finances) has created a great page to help you compare checking and saving accounts offered by internet-based and brick-and-mortar banks.
- Get BOTH a debit card and credit card. Before even talking about credit and debit cards, make sure your personal finance knowledge is up to speed. Do NOT put yourself into a financial/debt spiral. The prison of debt has it’s own issues, and no reason to add more trouble to your plate. Take a look at /r/personalfinance, take a look at the resources provided by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, and (do all of these before getting cards!) take class from a federally approved Credit Counseling Agency. Make sure you use a government-approved company, because there are a lot of scam artists out there. Do your research before signing up with anyone.
- Your credit union or bank should provide you with a debit card. Make sure you ask for one if they haven’t. There are a few companies that will work with people that have bad credit. Many of them will have insane interest rates and charge you an annual fee. Make sure you pay your balance EVERY MONTH and cancel your card the second you can qualify for a no-fee card. Remember: every time you apply for something that requires your credit to be checked, your score takes a ding. Use sites like Bankrate.com to find out what is the best credit card for you. Remember the page to help you compare checking accounts? They also help you compare credit cards. If you don’t have good credit, then CreditKarma’s page on secured cards is a great tool to find the right card for you. You may have to put up the money up front or even pay a fee, but this is the first step in rebuilding your credit. Remember to always pay off your balance! Credit cards are not free money, you’re going to pay absurd amounts of interest if you’re not careful.
- Create a Daily Routine. Now that the administrative stuff is out of the way, you need to make sure you utilize your time effectively. The best way is to create a to-do list every day. List 3 big tasks and 5 small tasks you want to complete that day. For instance, 1 big task would be to apply to 5 jobs. Another would be to spend 1 hour reading something educational. A small task would be to exercise for 30 minutes. Another would be to clean your bedroom. Things like this will help create a routine and provide you with a small step forward every day, so when you put your head on your pillow at night, you’ll never feel you wasted your day. Every person has a different set of circumstances so no one set routine can be applied across the board. This will take motivation and thought on your part. What will make you successful? How can you make sure you don’t slip into old habits? What’s the first thing you can do to push your life forward? Read about the habits of successful people and try to apply what you learn to your daily life. Don’t be afraid to ask others to critique your routine. Sometimes, a trusted friend or family member will see something in you that you don’t see in yourself, and they may have a better idea than you would about how to maximize your efforts. The best advice possible, however, is to do. Simple as that: do something, anything, everything. Get up and act. Don’t sit at home, don’t mope, don’t doubt yourself.
You are free now. It is up to you to make the most of your freedom.
Probation is a sentence handed down after a conviction in lieu of jail time or it is given after serving jail time. Probation exists in order to keep track of one’s actions while the conditions of the probation are satisfied. During this time one is expected to complete all restitution owed, community services required, and any fines handed down. While it may seem hard, it is important to note that as of 2012, according to the BJS, only 5% of probationers were incarcerated - whether for a new crime or a violation of probation. Don’t be part of the small statistic. Follow the steps outlined below and rid yourself of state supervision once and for all.
- So-Called Friends. Stay away from the groups of people that you have associated with in the past. You are the one that is trying to turn your life around in a positive manner. Associating with the same groups of people as you did before you were put on probation will only hinder your progress. Putting yourself back into the same routines and environments can and will only lead back to old habits. Disassociating yourself from others will give you time to work on yourself and reflect on the things that brought you into your current situation.
- Stay Away From Alcohol. In most states, if not all, it is required of you to stay out of drinking establishments/bars/clubs. This is because you are still currently under the watchful eye of the Probation and Parole board. The probation officer you are assigned will go over such requirements with you upon receiving your probation. Life on probation can be a tricky subject, although, quite easy to get through if one is willing to make the necessary life changes.
- Keep Your Nose Clean. Literally. If you have been convicted of a crime involving drugs, you will be required to submit to random substance testing usually in the form of a urinalyses. Keeping yourself clean is of the utmost importance. Failing a drug test will only get you into deeper problems and could possibly result in your sentence being lengthened, probation revoked with jail time, or harsher probation.
- Satisfy The Conditions of Probation As Soon As Possible. Restitution, Community Service, and Fines are the most common requirements. The sooner you check them off your list, the sooner you’ll have a chance to obtain an early discharge.
It is in one’s best interest to complete the probation without infraction.
Your probation officer is there to help you, no matter how overworked and underpaid county employees are. Ask your P.O. if there are resources available for you, and if they can refer you to services and programs. There may not be any, depending on the county you live in, but it never hurts to ask - and you can use all the help you can get. If your county probation office lacks resources, try asking at your state’s parole authority’s office; state offices typically have better funding and more services available.
Parole is defined as the temporary or permanent release of a prisoner before the completion of a sentence under the promise of good behavior by the parolee.
Once you have served a portion of your sentence, without many minor or any major infractions, you may become eligible for an early release by the parole board. Parole is granted on good faith by the parole board that the parolee will behave and reintroduce themselves as a productive member of society.
In some federal institutions you are issued an early release date as long as there was no loss of ‘good time’ served. At that point you would be released and closely monitored.
In all other instances when you have served time and are eligible for parole, you would meet with a parole board. During this meeting you would meet with a judge, any other personnel required in their system, and your lawyer. Your case will be reviewed as well as your behavior record that has been kept by the prison and highly scrutinized. If the board is satisfied with your current status, you will be released on parole.
It is of the utmost importance to allow your attorney to do all of the talking/negotiating for you, only speak if you are spoken to. Always reply politely and remember ‘The Golden Rule’. If you are asked to speak, you are now representing yourself. This is the time to do your best in showing them that you have understood their terms, and convince them that you are going to become a productive citizen once you are released.
Living on Parole
Now that you are somewhat of a free person, you are going to be required to satisfy certain arrangements made upon your release by the parole board.
In some instances you may be required to spend the first part of your parole in a halfway house. A halfway house is a designated location made by the prison system in order for a parolee to readjust from prison life back into normal society. Please visit your state’s page to find social services in your area.
- Parole OfficersJust like active probation, you will be assigned a Parole Officer (P.O.) that will monitor you for the duration of your parole. Your P.O. will be required to assess your living and employment situations as well as screen you for any use of narcotics or alcohol. Your P.O. will perform a search upon first meeting you at your home to ensure that you are not in possession of any items or substances deemed ‘illegal’ while on parole. They will also require you to seek and maintain employment. If employment is not found, you are required to search for a job and provide proof that you are making an attempt to find employment. Usually that comes in the form of at least having several applications filled out and ready to be submitted.Your parole officer is there to help you. Ask your P.O. if there are resources available for you, and if they can refer you to services and programs. Your results may vary, but don’t treat them like the enemy; you can use all the help you can get.
- Day to Day LifeIn some cases you may be restricted to house arrest, curfews, and any other stipulations handed down upon your release. However, most of this time is spent just as any other free person spends their time. Besides the fact that you are still a liability to the state, you’re not in prison. Feel free to live your life within the regulations that have been assigned to you. Live life! Take up a hobby. Visit friends and relatives. Read books and expand your knowledge. Express yourself through art or music. As long as there are no slip-ups, you’ll be 100% free before you know it.
Re-offending is the last thing that anyone on parole should be concerned with doing. You have been given another chance at being a member of the community and it is expected of you to do so. If you fall back into the same habits as before you were incarcerated, there is a highly likely chance of committing an act that would put you back in prison. If you re-offend, you will go back into the system and whatever charges you are facing will be put on top of whatever charges you originally faced as well as a possible increase in sentencing. You will also possibly not be eligible for parole in the future if you re-offend. It is very important that you highly scrutinize the company you keep. As mentioned in the Probation section: You’re the one trying to get your life on track, not them.
Don’t let being on parole stifle your existence. Parole is a life preserver, not an anchor.