Prison Reentry: Helping Ex-Offenders Reintegrate

NEWBURGH – In October of 2018, Sam Spradley was dropped off at the curb outside the Department of Social Services office in Newburgh. After 13 years in 5 different prisons, the last being Wallkill Correctional Facility, this was his first day of freedom and it wasn’t bursting with the joy and excitement of a new beginning. After a long wait in the reception area Sam found out he wasn’t getting help because he had a warrant from 1993 in Brooklyn. He needed to fix the warrant before he could get help with housing.

“I didn’t know I had a warrant. I thought that was taken care of before I was released.

Anger set in and I felt hopeless. I thought ‘send me back to prison where I don’t have to worry about this.’ There was still time left in the day and they told me to go down the street to RECAP. It was getting late and I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night. I was walking down the street wearing my tans, my prison-issued outfit, and I felt like a target,” said Sam.

Sam walked down Broadway and in the door of Regional Economic Community Action Program’s Reentry Services office in Newburgh. RECAP’s Newburgh Services office houses the Parole Re-Entry Program (PREP) which helps ex-offenders reintegrate into the community with services including employment readiness, navigating assistance applications, and finding housing. This is just one of the services offered at RECAP’s Newburgh location.

“When I walked in the door they didn’t greet me with ‘what’s your DIN # or Social Security #. Kevin at the front desk made me feel at home. They had coffee and goodies and the counselors made me feel at ease and helped me start an application,” said Sam. “Kiamesha called a hotel and got me a room for the night. I could feel some of the pressure was coming off.”

The day Sam walked into RECAP’s Newburgh Services office in October of 2018 wasn’t his first interaction with the agency. He entered prison in 2006 and right away started planning life after his sentence, researching programs that help people upon release from prison. He wrote to RECAP’s Reentry Program every year and each time received a letter in response. “Even if the help wasn’t available to me yet, they let me know it’s there,” said Sam.

“The next day Kiamesha was on the phone to help eradicate my warrant. She could see the frustration in my face and knew I wanted to go back to prison. She said to me ‘I know that look’. I had that attitude for a few weeks. I didn’t know how I was going to get the money to travel to Brooklyn. A man walked in looking for construction help. Kiamesha got me work clothes and the man gave me a ride and lunch. I worked for a day and used that money to travel. I navigated the bus to Beacon, the train to Grand Central, and the subway to Brooklyn. I hadn’t been on any of those in over 20 years,” said Sam. He saw people walking down the street and thought they were talking to him, but realized they were talking on their phones. “I thought everyone was crazy,” Sam said with a laugh. “The judge heard my story and knew my situation. After lunch they appointed me a city lawyer and I presented the paperwork from RECAP showing that I was taking classes for anger management, job readiness training, and domestic violence. I brought a letter from RECAP staff showing the support I had in finding a job and a home,” said Sam. In five minutes the judge vacated Sam’s warrant and sealed his case.

“I’m not the kind of person who is afraid of everybody, but my shield was up. In prison everything was regimented. You knew where to go and at what time. Who to get help from and who to stay away from. Staff at RECAP got me an email address and taught me how to use a cell phone. Now I have email on my cell phone,” said Sam.

Navigating life outside of prison is hard for people, even those like Sam who took advantage of educational opportunities while incarcerated. “At Clinton Correctional I was one of the teachers in the computer classes and now I’m getting that real-world experience,” said Sam.

“One of the most important things I got through the program was a sense of direction and the security to move forward. In prison everything was handed to me, like a doctor appointment, food and clothing.”

Staff at RECAP’s Newburgh Services’ Reentry Office helped Sam make the mandatory reporting trip to Peekskill that parolees are required to make within 24 hours of their release.

Staff regularly conduct workshops, work on resumes and job searches, liaison with landlords, write letters of recommendation, and facilitate mock job interviews with a focus on how to explain a long gap in work history due to incarceration. Sam received an index card and help creating a short phrase to help him explain his transition. He keeps it for job interviews. The office’s convenient location on Broadway is at the center of the City and walking distance from Social Security, DMV, Orange Works and other resources for people living in poverty. Staff connected Sam, whose also goes by the name “Abdur Rashid,” with the local mosque on Washington Street, helping to help him continue his 30-year practice of Islam that he maintained through his time in prison.

Sam is currently searching for permanent housing. He lives in a shelter in Newburgh which has cubicle sleeping quarters and a shared kitchen. “It’s the cleanest shelter I’ve ever seen in my life. I put in an application to work there but I can’t work and stay at the same time so I’m looking for a new place.”

One of the biggest hurdles for people living in poverty, especially those recently released from incarceration, is finding permanent housing.

Sam sleeps at the shelter but must be out during the day. He starts his day at Orange Works career training center looking for work and finishes it at RECAP’s Newburgh Services office volunteering to wash tables, take out the trash, and fold clothes in the donation room.

“People come in and want to know about RECAP. I tell them and point them in the direction of brochures. I help people who are illiterate complete applications, and get people coats and toothpaste,” said Sam. “We don’t just help parolees.”

Sam is thankful for the compassionate, respectful, non-judgmental service RECAP staff give to people in his position. “They help even though we have that strike against us. They never said no. Even if we they can’t help they refer you to someone who can,” he said. “Without the help I would be back in prison. I can really see myself working for a place like this, maybe as a janitor or as a counselor.”

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