Look around a crowded bus, a Walmart parking lot or a ballgame with 60,000 fans. Everyone you meet in life has made mistakes they regret. Missteps can be big or small, but generally most people get a chance to fix their mistakes and move on, without having to relive the error repeatedly.
The criminal legal system, on the contrary, is unforgiving, and much of society is not yet willing to pardon incarcerated people for their mistakes, even when they have put significant effort into rehabilitation, education, accountability, victim awareness and apologies. Sometimes, it feels you are scarred for life if you went to prison — a pariah who lives under the weight of past decisions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. April’s Second Chance Month is an opportunity to recognize that more than 90% of incarcerated people eventually reenter local communities. It is vital to support people as they transition back to the outside — like I recently did after being released from a Florida prison and moving back to my home state of Pennsylvania.
When this happens, we should be viewed as returning citizens, not a stigmatized class.
In honor of Second Chance Month, PJP has curated a collection of stories centered around getting another shot. These stories represent the anxiety of returning to an unwelcoming society, the fear of never getting a second chance, and the great steps taken by incarcerated people to correct past wrongs.
“I’m Finally Coming Home. Will I Get a Second Chance?” by Paul Grossman: Grossman knows that his debt to society and his loved ones were not paid back simply because of the years he did in prison, but were instead paid back “through perpetual acts of human decency, love and compassion.”
“For Us,” by William Angelo “Tonylive” Latten Jr.: Latten describes the feelings of failure we all have had inside prison and looks to move beyond it.
“Behind the Wall: Education in Prison,” by Eric: In this essay, Eric writes about his experiences earning an associate degree from Bakersfield College while serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He shows that reentering society successfully is as much about what you do for yourself inside prison as what you do when you get out.
“We Need More Help For Reentry Support,” by JoyBelle Phelan: PJP staffer JoyBelle Phelan knows what it is like to get out of prison and need assistance. In this piece, she explains the culture shock of leaving prison. That shock is so common and overwhelming that half of people released from Colorado prisons are back behind bars within three years.
“I’ve Changed Behind Bars, But I’m Not Promised a Second Chance,” by Asherdon “The Artist Ra” Holloway: Holloway makes the case that restorative justice could help people heal and grow from the harm they caused. Studies have shown that a meeting between the person who committed the harm and the person who was harmed can reduce the rate of re-offending, increase a victim’s satisfaction with the criminal legal system and make them feel safer.
“My Return to the World,” by K. Hunter: “I was going back as an ex-con to a world I had not been a part of for 33 years. I had never seen or used a cellphone, a laptop, or an ATM. I was afraid everyone would know I just got out.”
“Adults Given a Life Sentence as Teens Get Chance at Freedom,” by Caddell Kivett: Thousands of teenagers across the U.S. are serving life without parole sentences. Kivett’s article details legal changes that now allow those teenagers a chance at freedom, and documents how their new lives on the outside look.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.