This is the second part of our two part coverage of this hearing. You can find part 1 here.
Stanley Bailey served 36 years in the California state prison system on a three-strikes violation life sentence. An addict dating back to his teenage years, Bailey’s third strike was non-violent, triggered by the discovery of a single hypodermic needle in his prison cell.
BAILEY: TWO MONTHS BEFORE MY 19TH BIRTHDAY, I ENTERED THE PRISON SYSTEM. A MONTH BEFORE MY 54TH BIRTHDAY, I WAS RELEASED.
After decades behind bars, Bailey emerged into a world he neither recognized nor knew how to navigate.
BAILEY: AND THE FIRST 24 HOURS OF RELEASE WAS A REAL CRUCIAL TIME FOR ME… AND IF YOU SERVE A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME, HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT IS THE ISSUE. MOST YOUNG MEN, THEY’D GO IN… AND WOMEN… AND DO 18 MONTHS. THEY STILL HAVE FAMILY. THEY STILL HAVE GIRLFRIENDS, BOYFRIENDS, PEOPLE TO LOOK OUT FOR THEM WHEN THEY GET OUT. IF YOU SERVE TEN, TWENTY, THIRTY, FORTY YEARS, WHEN YOU BECOME THAT AGE, THE GENERATION BEFORE YOU HAS MOST LIKELY PASSED. MYSELF… MOTHER, FATHER, GRANDMOTHER, GRANDFATHER, AUNTS, UNCLES, BROTHERS, SISTERS… EVERYBODY PASSED BEFORE MY RELEASE…. SO TO COME OUT TO THAT WAS A SCARY THOUGHT.
On July 13, 2019, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) chaired a Congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform at a Los Angeles community center located in Bass’ 37th District. Congresspersons Bass, Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Steven Horsford (D-NV) heard testimony from two panels of expert witnesses. The first panel (featuring Michael Romano, Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Three Strikes and Justice Advocacy Projects; Taina Vargas-Edmond of Initiate Justice; and Charis E. Kubrin, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC, Irvine) addressed the institutional and demographic consequences of California’s recent criminal justice reform ballot initiatives Propositions 36, 47 and 57. Crime Story profiled their testimony in the Podcast Special: A Congressional Crime Hearing in the City of Angels – Part 1.
In today’s Podcast Special, we examine the testimony of the day’s second panel of witnesses: Susan Burton, founder and Executive Director of A New Way of Life Reentry Project; “Big” John Harriel, Executive Board Member for Local 11 IBEW, Project Superintendent for Morrow Meadows Corporation and instructor at the community-based 2nd CALL organization; and Stanley Bailey, a volunteer in The Ride Home Program, part of the Stanford Law School Justice Advocacy Project. These three former inmates detailed the incredible difficulties faced by the recently excarcerated as well as their experiences with re-entry and transition programs. Theirs were tales of post-release challenges and of personal redemption – made possible by vital institutional scaffolding that ultimately helped them to succeed.
Encouraged by Georgia’s Hank Johnson to describe the experience of being released from detention, Stanley Bailey drew a grim picture of isolation, confusion and abandonment.
BAILEY: YOU LEAVE YOUR CELL, USUALLY YOU GIVE AWAY ALL YOUR STUFF TO PEOPLE THAT YOU KNOW AND PEOPLE THAT ARE IN NEED. YOU GO TO A RECEIVING AND RELEASE AREA. YOU’RE FINGERPRINTED. YOUR PROPERTY’S SEARCHED ON YOUR WAY OUT. YOU’RE GIVEN $200 AT THE GATE AND THEN YOU’RE ESCORTED TO THE PARKING LOT. UH, EXCUSE ME, LET ME BACK UP. IF YOU DON’T HAVE CLOTHES TO PAROLE IN THEN, UH, ABOUT THIRTY TO FORTY DOLLARS OF THAT 200 IS TAKEN FROM YOU TO SUPPLY YOU WITH DRESS-OUT CLOTHES. IF YOU’RE IN A RURAL AREA THAT DOESN’T REALLY WANT CONVICTED FELONS RELEASED IN THEIR BACKYARD, THEN THERE’S A SHUTTLE SERVICE THAT TAKES ANOTHER $80 FROM YOU TO GET YOU TO A LARGER METROPOLITAN AREA TO PUT YOU ON A BUS BACK TO, TO HOME. SO, YOU KNOW, NOW YOU’RE DOWN TO ABOUT $90 WHEN YOU HIT THE STREETS. AND YOU’RE TOLD THAT WITHIN 24 HOURS, YOU NEED TO REPORT TO YOUR PAROLE AGENT OR IT’S A VIOLATION OF THE CONDITIONS OF YOUR PAROLE. WITHOUT TRANSITIONAL HOUSING, IT’S A REALLY SCARY EXPERIENCE AND THERE’S VERY LITTLE SUPPORT. THE GUARDS IN RECEIVING AND RELEASE SAY, ‘HEY, WE’LL SEE YOU IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS!’ YOU KNOW? AND THAT’S USUALLY THE WAY IT WORKS, TOO.
The veteran of six stints in prison, Susan Burton confirmed Bailey’s account. In unforgettable cadences, she described the emotional rollercoaster the newly-released ride, as they whipsaw between excitement and dread.
BURTON: I CAN REMEMBER A PAPER BEING DROPPED THROUGH THE WICKET AND THEY CALL IT S TIME DOCKET. 10 DAYS BEFORE YOU’RE RELEASED. THE ANXIETY SETS IN. BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOU ARE UNPREPARED AND YOU KNOW YOU HAVE NOWHERE TO GO. THE MORNING OF YOUR RELEASE, YOU WRAP UP ALL YOUR BEDDING, YOUR CLOTHING, YOU TAKE IT TO THE GATE, YOU YELL UP TO THE GUN TOWER, “I’M BEING RELEASED.” YOU WALK OVER TO R AND R, YOU’RE STRIPPED OUT, JUST LIKE YOU’RE STRIPPED IN, AND YOU’RE FINGERPRINTED OUT. YOU ARE GIVEN AN ENVELOPE WHEN YOU’RE READY TO WALK THROUGH THE GATES, AFTER THREE OR FOUR HOURS OF SITTING THERE, SWEATING, FULL OF ANXIETY… THEY GIVE YOU AN ENVELOPE. THEY PUT YOU IN A VAN, THEY DRIVE YOU TO THE BUS STATION WHERE YOU BUY A TICKET, YOU RIDE FROM WHICHEVER PRISON IN CALIFORNIA YOU’RE BEING RELEASED TO AND YOU GET OFF THE BUS DOWNTOWN SKID ROW. WHEN YOU’RE DOWN THERE, JUST THINK ABOUT HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE BEING PAROLED BACK THERE AND HAVE TO LEAVE THROUGH THAT MUCK AND MIRE, THROUGH THE DEVASTATION, THROUGH THE CONDITIONS TO FIND THEIR WAY. YOU’RE HOPING AND YOU’RE PRAYING FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT. YOU KNOW THAT SOMETHING DIFFERENT IS IN YOU, BUT YOU JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO ACCESS IT. AND ALL OF THESE EMOTIONS AND YOUR FREEDOM AND THE ABILITY TO MAKE A DECISION IS ALL COMING BACK TO YOU. AND SIX TIMES I DID THAT. SIX TIMES, I FAILED. IT WASN’T UNTIL I FOUND ACCESS SUPPORT THAT I WAS ABLE TO GET MY LIFE BACK TOGETHER. SO NO ONE SHOULD BE RELEASED TO THOSE TYPES OF CONDITIONS AND HAVE TO NAVIGATE THAT.
“All of these emotions and your freedom and the ability to make a decision…” For individuals who have spent crucial years walled off from society, being ousted from the rhythms and rituals of prison into the chaos of the streets without a job or a place to live can be extremely challenging. Newly released prisoners are prone to recidivism, and their mortality rate spikes upward during that first week of freedom. It’s a fraught experience, one that “Big” John Harriel observed was like “taking a shower, getting really clean, and then putting dirty clothes back on.”
All three witnesses agreed that it’s at this critical juncture that reentry and transitional services are vitally important. Stanley Bailey praised the work of Stanford Law School’s The Ride Home Program, in which formerly incarcerated counselors and drivers provide transportation and practical advice to newly released prisoners. The Program’s mission, according to their website, is “to counsel returning citizens on how to approach and overcome obstacles ahead, share a first meal, buy fresh clothing and toiletries together, bring them to a safe home, and introduce them to a changed world.”
BAILEY: THE INFORMATION THAT I RECEIVED FROM THE GENTLEMAN THAT PICKED ME UP AT THE GATE, NAMED CARLOS CERVANTES, WAS REALLY VITAL. HE TOLD ME WHAT I COULD EXPECT, GOOD AND BAD, OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, FEW MONTHS. AND THEY DON’T JUST HAND YOU A BUS TICKET AND PUT YOU ON A PLANE. I MEAN, I SPENT 16 HOURS GOING FROM PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS TO EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, DRIVING WITH SOMEONE JUST RELEASED FROM PRISON. AND THE BUS TICKET OR THE PLANE RIDE WOULD BE A LOT EASIER, BUT IT DOESN’T GIVE YOU TIME WITH SOMEONE THAT’S ACTUALLY DONE IT. AND TO GIVE YOU A LITTLE ENCOURAGEMENT AND TO GIVE YOU THE COURAGE TO GO OUT THERE AND DO IT. AND I SAY IT IN A JOKING WAY, BUT YOU KNOW, I WAS A HEROIN ADDICT FOR 35 YEARS, AND I TELL PEOPLE, HEY, IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE. IF I CAN DO THIS, ANYBODY CAN DO IT. I WENT TO PRISON WITH A SIXTH GRADE EDUCATION. NO EMPLOYABLE SKILLS. WAS RELEASED WITHOUT A FAMILY MEMBER IN SIGHT STRAIGHT INTO A TRANSITIONAL HOUSING. AND THAT’S WHAT THE RIDE HOME PROVIDES. IT PROVIDES A FEW HINTS AND A LITTLE BIT OF DIRECTION AND THE POWER OF A CHEERLEADER IN YOUR CORNER. THAT CAN’T BE OVERSTATED. SOMEONE TO TELL YOU, YOU CAN DO THIS, THIS CAN BE DONE. YOU JUST GOTTA WANT IT.
“Big” John Harriel spoke to the importance of “life skills” and jobs to successful reentry. Harriel teaches a Thursday night “Employment Life Skills” class for 2nd Call, a community-based organization that assists “formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into society post-release by providing opportunities for their advancement through employment” as well as life skills workshops that “address issues related to anger management, financial responsibility, and behavioral skills.” 2nd Call participants call themselves “the wolfpack” and credit the organization for helping them develop self-confidence, commitment and responsibility through securing vocational careers.
HARRIEL: I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE AT-RISK, I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT LOW-LEVEL CRIMES. I’M TALKING ABOUT ABSOLUTE TOP, APEX VICIOUS INDIVIDUALS, THE ONES WHO ARE THE PROVEN. THOSE INDIVIDUALS NOW ARE WORKING ON PROJECTS BECAUSE OF THE BUILDING TRADES AND COMING DOWN WITH THE LIFE SKILLS. I HAVE BLACKS, LATINOS, WHITES, ASIANS WHO WANT TO CHANGE THIS AND WE HELP THEM AND THEY GET OUT THERE IN THE FIELD AND THEY ARE THRIVING. THEY’RE BUILDING THE RAM STADIUMS, THE HOSPITALS, THE STAPLES CENTERS. WE ARE DOING THAT WORK. THE INDIVIDUALS WHO USED TO USE THESE HANDS FOR WRONG ARE NOW DOING IT FOR RIGHT. WE ARE NOW PICKING UP TAPE MEASURES INSTEAD OF GUNS, PURCHASING HOMES INSTEAD OF DOING HOME INVASIONS… SO WE TALK ABOUT THE ANGER MANAGEMENT, THE LOW SELF-ESTEEM. HOW DID IT FEEL FOR ME NOT TO HAVE MY FATHER AND MY MOTHER EVEN HUG ME AND TELL ME SHE LOVED ME? HOW DID THAT MAKE ME FEEL? WE GET TO TALK ABOUT THAT ONCE A WEEK DOWN THERE ON THURSDAY — IT MAKES ME A BETTER PERSON IN MY COMMUNITY. AND IT MAKES ME A BETTER EMPLOYEE, A BETTER FRIEND, A BETTER FATHER, A BETTER GRANDFATHER, AND AN INDIVIDUAL WHO CAN CHANGE AND SAVE LIVES BECAUSE OF THE SIMPLE FACT OF WHAT WE PREACH AND TEACH IS: I WANT YOU TO BE A BETTER PERSON.
How do we become better people, whether incarcerated, newly excarcerated or living free? The day’s second panel circled the topic, honing in on the need for community, for therapy, for peer support and for sharing. What is not required, Susan Burton made clear, was profit-driven corporations elbowing their way into this community-based initiative, mimicking the language of transitional assistance while keeping an eye on their bottom line.
BURTON: MONEY COMES FROM THE STATE… A LOT OF TIMES IT COMES DOWN THROUGH LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THEN LAW ENFORCEMENT WANTS YOU TO CONTRACT WITH THEM, BUT THEY ALSO WANT TO IMPLEMENT STIPULATIONS OR REQUIREMENTS WITHIN THOSE CONTRACTS. THAT’S NOT GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE THAT YOU’RE SERVING. SO ME, AS A NEW WAY OF LIFE, THE DIRECTOR, I HAD TO TERMINATE SOME OF THAT. BECAUSE WE WERE NOT GOING TO TREAT PEOPLE THE WAY IN WHICH IS NOT THE BEST FOR THEM. THE OTHER THING IS THAT PRIVATE PRISONS CAN’T COME INTO OUR COMMUNITIES AND BEGIN DOING REENTRY. AND THAT’S WHAT WE SEE SOME OF THOSE RESOURCES, A LOT OF THOSE RESOURCES GOING TO. SO WHEN WE SAY “COMMUNITY-BASED,” WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY. WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT, ALL OF A SUDDEN, LAW ENFORCEMENT DOING REENTRY. YOU CAN’T BE ON THE FRONT END AND THE BACK END.
Programs like A New Way of Life Reentry Project, 2nd Call, and Stanford’s The Ride Home Program succeed because they are designed to meet the specific emotional and social needs of the people they serve. Ideally, these reentry, transitional programs would be all-inclusive, “one-stops” for the excarcerated and those struggling to survive. Susan Burton’s defense of this idea made for one of the more raucous exchanges of the day. When asked by Representative Bass about the requirements for a “one stop,” Burton was adamant.
BURTON: IT’S JUST LIKE, KIND OF LIKE COMMON SENSE FOR US TO BE ABLE TO GO ONE PLACE, GET YOUR ID, APPLY FOR BENEFITS, GET CONNECTED TO MEDICAL SERVICES, GO TO HAVE A GED CLASS, GO TO HAVE FAMILY REUNIFICATION. WE ARE LOCATED IN THE ONE-STOP. SO A NEW WAY OF LIFE IS A PART OF THAT. WE’RE DOING FAMILY REUNIFICATION, TO HAVE CHILD SERVICES IN THAT ONE STOP… BUT TO HAVE AN ARRAY OF SERVICES ALLOWS PEOPLE TO BEGIN TO GET THEIR LIVES ON TRACK, BUT QUICKER, FASTER. I SAID TO ONE OF THE RESIDENTS A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, I SAID, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY?” AND SHE SAYS, “WELL, I’M GOING TO APPLY FOR THE REHABILITATION SERVICES.” AND I SAID, “WHAT ELSE?” AND SHE SAID, “THAT’S ALL I CAN DO WITH THE TRANSPORTATION.” BUT HAVING A ONE-STOP ALLOWS PEOPLE TO ACCESS ALL THE DIFFERENT SERVICES IN ONE PLACE AT ONE TIME BACK THAT CAN BRING THEIR LIVES BACK TOGETHER THAT THEY CAN MOVE FORWARD.
BASS: DO YOU THINK PEOPLE WHO ARE FORMERLY INCARCERATED COULD RUN A PROGRAM LIKE THAT?
BURTON: OF COURSE…. HEY, I’M DOING NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL RE-ENTRY, YOU KNOW. A NEW WAY OF LIFE HAS BUILT A PLACE IN UGANDA. OKAY? WE’RE ABOUT TO DO ONE IN KENYA. WE HAVE A SHOP GOING UP IN CHICAGO NEXT MONTH, ONE IN NEW ORLEANS LATER THIS YEAR. CAN WE? ALL WE NEED IS OPPORTUNITY. ALL WE NEED IS OPPORTUNITY.
The hearing concluded with a recognition of the unique personalities, organizations and thoughtful solutions represented on this day. Nevada’s Tom Horsford praised the power and initiative of the expert witnesses and their work.
HORSFORD: FIRST, THANK YOU EACH FOR SPEAKING YOUR TRUTH AND FOR SHARING WITH US HOW YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACED AND HOW YOU ARE NOW GIVING BACK TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE. THIS IS A VERY VALUABLE PANEL. I LIKE TO FOLLOW THE MONEY, AS MY COLLEAGUE, MR. EVANS SAID. AGAIN, GOING BACK TO WHERE I STARTED… THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS’ LAST YEAR’S BUDGET WAS $12 BILLION.
BURTON: OOH, WE CAN DO A LOT WITH THAT!
HORSFORD: IT’S 9% OF YOUR STATE BUDGET, WHICH IS ABOUT $132 BILLION. IF MY MATH IS RIGHT, AND I KNOW IT’S ON AVERAGE AND THE RATE’S GONE UP OVER THE YEARS, BUT BETWEEN THE AMOUNT OF YEARS EACH ONE OF YOU HAVE SERVED AND HOW MUCH THE TAXPAYERS SPENT… THIS IS A $3 MILLION PANEL. WHAT COULD WE HAVE DONE WITH THAT $3 MILLION FOR THESE THREE INDIVIDUALS RATHER THAN INCARCERATING THEM? WHAT COULD WE BE DOING WITH THE $12 BILLION? AND NOT TO SUGGEST THAT ALL OF THAT WOULD GO AWAY, BUT A LOT OF IT COULD…
We’ll leave it to Chairwoman Karen Bass to summarize the day’s proceedings.
BASS: BECAUSE WE HAVE SO MANY BARRIERS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE FORMERLY INCARCERATED, THAT’S WHY I BELIEVE WE NEED PROGRAMS THAT ARE LED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE FORMERLY INCARCERATED BECAUSE IT SERVES AS A SOURCE OF SUPPORT BUT ALSO AS A SOURCE OF EMPLOYMENT. THE YOUNG WOMAN THAT MENTIONED WORKING WITH PEOPLE WITH LIVED EXPERIENCE, A BASIC PRINCIPLE THAT I HAVE AND MANY OF MY OTHER COLLEAGUES HAVE IS THAT THE BEST WAY TO DO LEGISLATION IS NOT TO GO OFF IN SOME IVORY TOWER, BUT TO TALK TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED IT AND TO HAVE THEM PARTICIPATE WITH YOU WHILE YOU ARE DEVELOPING THE LEGISLATION…. I HAVE CONFIDENCE THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO CONTINUE TO PASS LEGISLATION ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM. WE HAVE ONE OF THESE LITTLE OPENINGS WHERE THERE IS INTEREST IN THE SENATE AND THERE IS INTEREST IN THE ADMINISTRATION. SO WE’RE GOING TO GET IT DONE. AND I JUST WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DEVOTING YOUR SATURDAY MORNING TO ADDRESS SUCH A CRITICAL ISSUE IN OUR COUNTRY. THANK YOU. AND WE ARE ADJOURNED.