Ex-cons learn life is tough on outside
Web Posted: 07/31/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Tracy Idell Hamilton
Express-News Staff Writer
Charles Mouton is bucking the odds.
(Photos by William Luther/Express-News)
Charles Mouton, a former prisoner, works at Jim's
Restaurant at Hildebrand and San Pedro Avenue.
He's been working for 21/2 years. That's been the
easiest part of readjusting to life on the outside,
after 13 years in prison.
It took him almost that long, and $700 in application
fees, $25 to $50 at a time, to find an apartment.
"They're ready to take your check, but as soon as they
see you've been in prison, everything changes," Mouton
said, sitting at Jim's Restaurant at Hildebrand and
San Pedro Avenue where he works. "They say everything
looks good to your face, but then they call and say
Mouton was lucky. Because he had a job, he had the
money to continue to apply for an apartment. Others
get out of prison penniless, with no skills and no
"A lot of them, they're 30 minutes away from
committing a crime just to eat lunch," Mouton said.
"They got no money, they're knocking on doors and
getting nothing. Then they get angry and say '(Forget)
it! I can do better than this!' And when you don't
have any skills, you revert to what you know."
The release of prisoners back into communities across
the country has long been a source of crime, both
violent and petty, experts say.
This year, an estimated 640,000 men, women and
juveniles will be released from correctional
facilities, a four-fold increase over the past 20
Many will have difficulty managing the transition —
finding affordable housing, jobs they can do with few
skills, accessing health care and substance abuse
treatment, and creating the stable relationships most
people take for granted.
Because of these barriers, from 40 to 70 percent of
offenders will be back in prison within three years —
many committing violent crimes to get there.
That's why the public needs to start thinking about
this population, said Michael J. Gilbert, the head of
the Department of Criminal Justice at the University
of Texas at San Antonio. They cost society twice —
when they victimize innocent people, and when they are
The mounting negative effects of these unsuccessful
re-entries have started to get some attention. In July
2002, Congress appropriated $100 million to assist
states with returning prisoners.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received $1.9
million of that, which it's spending on a three-year
program aimed at offenders in administrative
segregation — those who are confined to their cells 23
hours a day.
The program, which is supposed to reach about 100
inmates a year, will offer six months of in-cell
instruction in areas such as anger management,
literacy and substance abuse. For a year after
release, they will be offered services based on their
The rest of the approximately 9,000 Texas prisoners in
administrative segregation get what they've always
gotten — nothing.
Gilbert and his colleagues are working to change that,
doing research into the most successful approaches to
re-entry. They hope to release a series of policy
recommendations aimed at lawmakers by 2006.
"It's pretty clear that traditional approaches just
aren't working. Anyone who has worked with offenders
knows there's a huge failure rate," said Gilbert. "We
need a more systematic approach to reintegration."
What programs do exist, he says, are scattershot and
serve just a fraction of those in need. Public
assistance is essentially nonexistent.
Anyone convicted of a drug felony, for example, is
ineligible for the rest of his life for food stamps,
housing or educational assistance.
"We ask them to rebuild their lives, then we
marginalize them, essentially shoving them back in the
direction of re-offending," Gilbert said.
Once people begin thinking about it, he said, they
understand that it is to a community's advantage that
a former prisoner has an education, a good job and
To get people thinking about it, his department teamed
up with public television station KLRN to host a local
version of the Reentry National Media Outreach
Campaign, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation
and incorporating a series of documentaries about the
issues surrounding prisoner re-entry.
Together, KLRN and UTSA have hosted a series of panel
discussions and documentary screenings to educate
leaders, lawmakers and the public about ways to
integrate offenders back into society more
The most recent panel focused on youthful offenders.
Previous panels have tackled housing, employment and
health care and family, faith and social networks. The
next, on Sept. 29, will focus on women, and the final
discussion, on Dec. 1, will look at best practices for
Until things change, "the public should be fearful" of
the people who are getting out, says Mouton. "People
have created this myth of the prisoner, and if you
have no other life skills, you become that myth. Then
it becomes harder to expose yourself, to say you're
scared or lonely."
"But that's what they need to become human again."
email@example.com For more information about
the Reentry series, visit reentrymediaoutreach.org.
For more information about the KLRN series, visit
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