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Leaving Prison: A WNPR Series

By Jeff Cohen

October 26, 2011

The state's prison population is on the decline for various reasons -- including the fact that crime is down, and the state is releasing more non-violent offenders. So we're taking a step back to look at what it means to get out prison, and what's waiting for you when you do.

In the first in a three part series, WNPR's Jeff Cohen speaks with people who help female inmates transition from prison back into society.

Getting into prison isn't the hardest thing to do, but getting out can be. Exiting inmates often have no medications, no identification, and no place to go.

That's where the resettlement program at Community Partners In Action comes in. Deborah Rogala runs the program that serves women coming out of York Correctional Facility in Niantic and coming back to the Hartford area. Her case managers work with inmates for three to six months before their release. They talk about the pasts they regret, the futures they look forward to, and a plan for the day they leave free.

ROGALA: You know, typically, there isn’t really a plan, and that is the case manager’s responsibility - to build a concrete plan, so on that day of release the individual knows exactly where they’re going, they know where their head is going to rest the night of release, and they can then begin to establish what’s going to happen in their future.

COHEN: Because the alternative is what?

ROGALA: The alternative is to drop them off in downtown Hartford without any plan at all.

It’s a hot day in July. Denise Holloman and two other case managers are in a van on the way to York. Holloman is going to visit one of her inmates who's due to get out in two months.

HOLLOMAN: April Harrison is a 46 year old woman, she’s biracial, and she’s a mother of five grown children and she’s a grandmother and great grandmother.

HOLLOMAN: She’s incarcerated for a VOP, which is a violation of probation, for a prior charge which was assault in the third degree.

HOLLOMAN: She’s really a sweet woman, very sweet. It's just that she says her issues are men. You know, she’s, it’s that people pleasing, that want to please, that want to -- she just has issues with men. And that's one of the things that she wants to work on. A number of things, she wants to get her life right, she says she’s tired of the revolving door, and she just wants to make a change.

The exit for York is the same as the exit for Rocky Neck State Park. Eventually, the soccer fields and summer shacks give way to the prison -- where state policies don't permit audio recording

As we make our way to the visiting room, April Harrison is sitting on the right. She’s been at York nine months – long enough for her hair dye to grow out and her roots to go gray.

The first time she was in prison was back in the 80s. For 20 years, she stayed away. Most recently, she got herself back into York because she stabbed her boyfriend -- she says she was aiming for his femoral artery but missed and slashed him in the groin. Over time, she's struggled with substance abuse -- she says it was heroine and cocaine.

Harrison isn't the only one with visitors. A little boy comes in to see his proud mom. Nearby, another young woman sits and laughs with a white-haired man. She calls after him as he leaves: “Bye, Daddy. I love you.”

Harrison doesn’t like getting visitors. They remind her of what she can't do. But this time, she says, is different. It will be the last time she'll be in prison. Because she can't do this anymore. She's too old to keep thinking about finding the right man. It's time to think about April.

When it’s time for her to meet with Holloman, it’s like friends getting together. They’ve met nearly every week since February. Harrison is hoping to get out a few weeks before her formal release date on a special transitional program approved by the state. Meanwhile, Holloman, the case manager, is trying to find more permanent housing.

The two women talk about medications. They talk about getting new teeth. They talk about a plan for the day of release.

After a half an hour or so, they say their goodbyes. For Harrison, who is sick of sweating the summer away in prison, her release can't come soon enough.

Reprinted with permission of Jeff Cohen, author of the blog Capital Region Report. To view other stories on this topic, search Capital Region Report at http://capitalregionreport.wordpress.com/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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