the lucky ones.
He knows that his conviction on drug and gun charges has already
denied him any hope of becoming a cop, his childhood dream, and it will likely
jeopardize the 21-year-old inmate's chances for a normal life or self-
sufficiency "on the outside."
But Banks can read. He's well-spoken, he has his GED and a slot
in a post- prison detox program, luxuries not afforded most of the state's
prisoners, who often walk out with nothing more than the clothes they walked in
with and $3 from the state.
Many more inmates are like Terrell Peacock. Although he is in
the prime of his life, he has only a middle school education and knows he will
carry the stigma of his prison record when he tries to adjust to life outside
The spry, smiling man -- just "Peacock" to his fellow
inmates -- knows the odds are stacked against him when he returns to the
"As ex-offenders coming out of prison, ain't nobody going
to give us nothing," he said.
Peacock is right. A variety of social services that are
available to other needy residents are off-limits to ex-convicts.
The Baltimore City Public Housing Authority bans those who have
been convicted of drug-related or violent crimes.
Drug offenders who get temporary cash assistance or food stamps
must submit to two years of drug testing -- an unmanageable task for the large
number of inmates who are thrown back into the community without an initial stay
at an expensive detox center.
And since Sept. 11, many employers have instituted mandatory
criminal background checks and will exclude ex-offenders from consideration.
The effect of those regulations on an already unprepared and
marginalized population is disastrous, advocates say.
"Cumulatively, with all the other things happening, it's
devastating," said Phil Holmes, spokesman for Goodwill Industries of the
Chesapeake, which provides pre- and post-release transitional services to
offenders in Maryland.
A prison record gives the public "this idea that you've
(the inmate) done something horrible" even if their only offense was being
a drug addict, Holmes said.
"And then when you come out you're really up against
it," he said.
But the majority of state inmates leave prison with very little
practical preparation for their release. Sixty percent of the state's inmates do
not have a high-school diploma when they enter the prison system, but only 17
percent participate in educational or vocational training while inside.
In 2001, the Division of Corrections reported that nearly one
third of Maryland's inmates spent their entire sentence "idle,"
meaning they did not participate in any type of programming while inside the
Mary Ann Saar, the state's new corrections secretary, said she
plans to improve the re-integration process for the state's inmates.
"They are going to be living on the margins. They need a
hand," Saar said.
She said treatment and education programs for inmates will be a
"It is tough for these people coming out and we need to
connect them to services inside and outside of prison," Saar said. "We
can't keep pushing them off of a cliff. That doesn't serve our bottom line of
public safety because then they cycle back to us in the long run."
Sometimes, not even the long run: Recent state corrections data
shows that more than half the prisoners released in Maryland commit new crimes
and return to the system within three years of release. A recent Urban Institute
analysis of the state's prison population found that 70 percent of the 9,448
prisoners released in 2001 had been in prison at least once before, some of them
four or more times.
Saar sees education and treatment initiatives as "a
tremendous assistance to everyone" and said social programs, among other
things, will determine whether ex-offenders will "take up the mantle of
being a good citizen or become a problem" after release.
But for now, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional
Services is facing the same financial squeeze as the rest of state government,
and Saar said her stand-pat budget leaves her unable to effect any immediate
changes. In the meantime, she said, she plans to work with the State Department
of Education to "beat the bushes for alternative funding" for prison
Advocates say that without the helping hand that Saar talked
about, prisoners will continue to stream from Maryland's prisons unprepared for
life outside the fence. Many will return to the only life they have known, a
life of crime.
"They give up before they even get started. It's easier to
go back" to that lifestyle than it is for an uneducated and ill-prepared
inmate to face the challenges ahead, said Yusef El.
El, a former convict, tries to help current inmates with that
transition. He is an instructor for Supporting Ex-Offenders in Employment
Training and Transitional Services, a two-year-old program run by Goodwill
inside the Metropolitan Transitional Center walls.
For seven weeks this spring, a small group of inmates --
including Banks and Peacock -- met weekly in SEETTS classes to work on their
resumes, run through mock job interviews, talk about what to expect on the
outside, and criticize or support one another, as the situation demanded.
At just 22, Peacock knows he's up against a lot and worries
about his future.
SEETTS helps, and El is pushing Peacock to get his GED. But
without acceptance into a residential drug treatment program, Peacock, a former
addict, fears he may be homeless in October, when he is scheduled to be
"It do get hectic out there, being on parole. I don't know
what I'm going to do," Peacock said. "Unless you're a psychic, you
don't know what's going to happen."
Photographs and special
report banner and design by Adam Newman / Maryland Newsline. Print stories
edited by Steve Crane. Web package edited by Chris Harvey.