I have to admit, I was tempted to write "THE END" as, well, when I started this blog I had something specific to talk about, namely my experience as a foster mom through my eyes as a clinical psychologist who works with many in the foster care system.
But all of a sudden I have stuff to say again. I want to tell you about what is going on with Lamar (who you can read about here, here, here and here - sorry I just linked them in reverse chronological order) since he came out of prison and about a young man aging out of the system and the challenges he is already facing. I also want to share with you more stuff about the effects of neglect in early life and attachment related issues as they relate to CD and share how we are continuing to help her make progress.
Since I can't do all of this at once, I want to tell you about Lamar first.
Lamar wrote me about two weeks ago telling me that he was getting out of prison on August 6. As he does in each letter, he wrote about how much he wants to find a job when he gets home and asked for contact information of a past colleague of mine with whom he also had a close relationship. He also wrote that he got his official high school diploma and was sorry he couldn't send me a copy as the education department wanted to hold on to it for safe keeping.
Lamar did get released on August 6. He also called me on August 6. I did not recognize his voice. A once melancholy kid sounded more excited and happy than I had ever heard him in the three or four years I knew him before his incarceration. I guess exuberance is how you feel when you get out of prison after 2.5 years.
When he asked if I had any ideas for job leads I told him, as I did in my letters to him, that I thought he should work with his city's Department of Reentry. They will help mentor him, prepare him and send him on interviews with companies who are willing to give people with felony charges a chance. I think he needs a support system and to talk to likeminded people who have been where he is. He has no parents. He is living with cousins, most of whom are into "bad stuff" as he told me the next day.
On August 7th I picked up Lamar and together we went to City Hall to sign up at the Office of Reentry. The intake worker was kind but having been around the block many times (and himself incarcerated more than once) warned Lamar that it is HARD out there for ex-cons. People will not give him a chance but he can't get discouraged no matter what. Lamar said, "well I don't have a choice because I am not going back to prison." The worker, a couple of times, told Lamar how "lucky" he was to have me in his corner. When he began to realize that Lamar was serious about wanting to stay out of the streets and prison he started to get a bit ahead of himself talking about Lamar one day mentoring other young people. . .
The worker will be setting up an orientation with the agency that works with the Program of Reentry. He "just" needs a valid DMV license. I wish getting the ID would be some small feat. His grandmother died a few months back and she was the carer of his personal documents. His cousins have lost his original birth certificate and his social security card. He has no proof of address and he just came home from prison. It is not like he has a utility bill. So today he is making the calls. He ordered a new social security card. The worker will send him mail at his new address. It will be accepted as proof of address since the mail will come from a government agency.
Lamar taught me a thing or two about opportunities that will forever be out of his reach. At first I didn't believe that an 18 year old sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for a non-violent felony could have his record held against him FOREVER but I googled all of it. He knows what he is talking about.
Lamar would still want to go to the army. Not going to happen. He would like to work at the post office. Nope. Not ever. He could be an upstanding citizen for the next 40 years but he still won't be able to sell us stamps. Or do ANY federal job. EVER. Not even work mopping the floors in a federal office. He would go to Jobs Corp but they won't accept him until he is out of prison for 1-3 years first, if at all. That last one is ok with me though. Give him a chance to let him prove himself. I just think the post office should do the same.
It isn't all that difficult to understand why the re-arrest rate for adult offenders is 55% and the re-incarceration rate is 31%. The research says it all. Ex-cons who go to work soon after release are much more likely to stay out of prison than those who could not find or didn't try to find work. And apparently it is REALLY hard to find work. These days it is hard for so many people. For ex-cons, it is infinitely more difficult.
Lamar doesn't have two dimes to rub together. He can't afford the $24 fee for the ID anyway. He told me that he needs to work a little first so he can afford to go to the DMV. It occurs to me that before being released from prison it might behoove the state to arrange for newly released prisoners to have a valid state ID. But what do I know. I told him that I will take him to the DMV when he has his paperwork. He agreed that it would be a good time to take the driver's permit test too. Especially because he kept ribbing me about my driving and told me that he should be driving because I have no sense of direction. I told him he won't be driving without a license unless he wants to risk going to prison. He also told me that I got shorter.
It was great to see him as a free man. I hope he keeps pushing forward. I spoke to him yesterday and he told me that he is "sick of it all" already. He was referring to being back in the same old neighborhood with the same old gang talk and the same old drug dealing. I am hoping he stays focused on his goals. The temptation to make a quick $1000 in a night of drug dealing will be there. I am not going to be his mother and track him down and nudge him, but if he reaches out for help with writing his resume, knowing where to go for assistance, a ride to the DMV or moral support and encouragement, I am here.