Getting out and going straight is difficult for any offenders, and for those who come from the “lower levels” of our society without much education, or with mental health issues, it is a difficult task at best, even with good supportive families with enough resources to help the offender reenter society, even if the offender truly does want to “go straight.”
A young man in this community that I am acquainted with got a 20 year sentence and did four years of hard time, witnessing a murder the first week he was incarcerated in what is probably the worst prison in Arkansas, and none of them are plush places for rehabilitation.
This young man is on parole for twelve more years, has over $5,000 in fines and restitution that he is required to pay, has no education, and is also diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and is unable to afford the medications he needs, and has no transportation to get to a mental health clinic.
He lives with his parents who are in dire straights themselves and even as we speak, their utilities, water and electric, are cut off for non payment, and they too have fines for driving without insurance which they couldn’t afford, or facing jail if they don’t keep up with the payments on their fines. They have no telephone except a pay as you go cell phone and they can’t afford the “minutes” to have it functional.
Their car is currently inoperable and they have no money for gas, and can’t get to the food pantry to pick up food because their car is broken.
The three of them have been working recycling metal and picking up work where they can at the junk yard cleaning metal screws out of aluminum lawn chairs, but make so little on piece work it doesn’t always pay the gas to go to the scrap yard when their vehicle is running.
The young man has been applying for the scarce jobs in the rural community but they don’t want to hire him because he has seizures and is on parole, even for the most menial jobs.
I think this young man has every intention of going straight, but his only friends are ex-inmates themselves, and his parents are concerned about one of them getting this young man back into trouble.
All three of them are depressed just from the social situation and utter poverty and wondering where their next meal is coming from, and dealing with a southern summer heat index of 107 degrees without even a fan or water to take a shower.
None of these people are evil, they are just the totally disadvantaged element of society. They grew up in homes where violence was the norm, and mental health issues were unaddressed. They have little education, and though they have tried to live law abiding lives and raise their sons to know right from wrong, one son is a career criminal, and this young man has spent time in prison and is on parole for a long time. Due to how they grew up, lack of education, etc., they have made choices that have turned out to be poor ones, and now the consequences of those decisions are “ganging up” on them to keep them pushed to the bottom of the social barrel where they have little hope of escaping without some help, and the help that is available, they are unable to access.
I have counseled with these people and made them aware of some of the social safety nets available and tried to help them, but I can’t “take them to raise” and I can’t afford to hire them to work for me, though I have plenty of things they could and would do here on the farm, I can’t afford three hired hands. I have great empathy for these people and wish I could do more for them than I am able, but unfortunately, their “name is legion.”
I will continue to look for work for them, and make sure that they at least have enough water to wash with and flush toilets. I will continue to encourage them as much as I can, but I am very frustrated at the situation in which they find themselves and I know that they are too. There but for the grace of God go I.