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Comprehensive Support Services Are Critical to Rehabilitation, Reentry

By Kerry Rudd | October 7, 2021
The Prison Journalism Project

This article was originally published by the Prison Journalism Project on October 7, 2021. Read story.

Exiting the razor wire perimeter of a prison on one’s release date is like walking through waves of pure exhilaration. It’s like electricity. The feeling is so strong, it allows the individual to forget the upcoming challenges of re-entering their community.

I understand this feeling all too well. I was ecstatic to leave the punitive confines of Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California in July. I hadn’t anticipated how heavily I’d be relying on my support network during those first weeks.

I took my first step to freedom towards a van operated by We All We Got JMW Foundation, a reintegration non-profit for returning citizens. John Windham, the chief executive who is himself formerly incarcerated, arranged to be there through people I knew from when I was at San Quentin State Prison.

John bought us breakfast at a quaint, little diner. Over a heaping plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, he spoke about his transition back to the community two years earlier. I listened to him while I enjoyed my plate of french toast, eggs, and a side order of linguića sausages. As a former lifer, he had a lot to say about the hardships he faced – and the battles he won to secure himself a path to success. Clearly defining for me the obstacles I would face when rebuilding my life. 

Noticing me hungrily eyeing the fresh strawberries on a plate of french toast belonging to some random patron, next thing you know he bellowed to the server, “Get him a side of those strawberries.” He understood how deprived I had been of this fruit in prison.    

As he dropped me off at Men on the Way, a residential program in Hayward, California, I wondered what the world would be like if the parole board hadn’t freed him, and he had been made to serve out his life term. Society definitely wouldn’t be as good of a place without him. 

Next, Mindy from the California Reentry Program delivered bags of new clothes, a cell phone, a digital resume she created for me, and other items necessary for a smooth transition. 

My first challenge was the residential treatment program I was placed in. Having been in recovery from a drug addiction for over five years, I found the restrictions to be frustrating.  I couldn’t get a job or leave the facility for personal business. That meant I couldn’t date. This was not my vision for a return to normalcy. 

I had hoped to enter a low-key transitional home where I could immediately begin working while living my life with little restriction. But, I decided to make the best of it and settle in for the moment, aiming for a move to somewhere more conducive to my goals.

My first encounter with my counselor Brett, who was formerly incarcerated himself, was amazing. He had a way of talking to people, making them feel at ease. I felt comfortable telling him I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying. He understood my desire to assemble the pieces of my life together after five-and-a-half years of incarceration. He assured me we would revisit this issue down the road, and asked that I stay for now.

I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to lift weights. I celebrated my freedom with huge mounds of chocolate chip, mint chip, and fudge swirl ice cream, covered with crushed candy bars, chocolate, whipped cream and cashews. I also went to the various rehabilitative groups the program offered and got to know some of the other participants.

Through the Oakland Parole Department, I was assigned to agent Ronald White as my parole officer. He seemed fair. He told me straight up that my continued recovery from all mood-altering substances was the key to my success. Agent White also said that we would be working together – and not against one another. We had a common goal: making sure I never went back. 

My friend Courtney gave me a used MacBook Air and the Ella Baker Center designed a GoFundMe page for me to raise funds for my re-entry. Donors have generously contributed $2,030 so far. 

There were also unforeseen challenges with my daughter being admitted to a hospital in Iowa, where she attends college. Unable to visit, I communicated with her through text and phone calls. I felt guilty for the years I was away, unable to be there for her. It strengthened my resolve to work quickly, so I could better respond to her needs.  

Later in the week I received an email from Brendon Woods, the head public defender in Alameda County. He helped get my in-custody achievements recognized and secured me an expedited release four years early. After congratulating me, he told me that he was still there for me. I owe him my freedom. 

Today, I am at the Bay Area Freedom Collective, a transitional home in Castro Valley, California. I was able to immediately get a job and am glad that I was honest with my employer about my criminal record because they have accepted me unconditionally. 

 Everyone inside dreams of their release date. Who wouldn’t want their freedom reinstated? Yet my experience showed me how hard those first weeks can be. It proved how necessary it is to have a community of people willing to support you.

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