Back to Nothing: Prisoner Reentry and the ‘Virtual City’ of the Disenfranchised

On an common working day in an common year, all around 1,700 individuals are unveiled from federal penitentiaries and state prisons, back into the inadequate and segregated neighborhoods from which they were being forcefully eliminated months, decades, or many years before.

They be a part of what quantities to a mid-sized city, with a inhabitants that grew by 626,000 just in 2016, that does not show up on any map of the United States. The residents of this “virtual city” are scattered throughout the state, but they share some significant traits.

Lots of are Black or Latino/a, and the vast majority are inadequate, unemployed, modestly educated, insecurely housed, politically disenfranchised, impacted by some physical or mental illness, and exposed to heavy surveillance by a selection of legislation enforcement organizations.

All have felony records—a state-sanctioned stigma that normalizes their status as 2nd-class citizens and de facto legitimizes their discrimination by employers, welfare officers, loan companies, landlords, and neighbors, among other individuals.

This is the ongoing reality of prisoner reentry in the U.S., a social emergency mostly overlooked by mainstream society and its media.

In an attempt to doc the multiple kinds of social suffering endured by these returning citizens, I performed ethnographic investigation into one inhabitants team of that “city” between 2011 and 2014: a team of previously incarcerated men who had been lately unveiled from jail and were being facing the problem of reintegrating into a racially segregated neighborhood in West Oakland, CA.

The entry stage into the industry was provided by a group clinic positioned in the heart of West Oakland, which provided cost-free simple healthcare services to inadequate residents of the spot. In addition, the non-financial gain firm that ran the clinic presented some volunteer and employment opportunities as personnel users to a compact range of lately unveiled prisoners.

Through the decades of fieldwork, I created shut interactions with 15-20 individuals. All of them were being possibly African-American or Latino men, typically in their 40s, with prolonged histories of confinement in juvenile services, jails, prisons, and federal penitentiaries. Their most frequent convictions were being for drug-related crimes.

For 3 decades I shadowed these men although they appeared for work, used for social services, hunted for reasonably priced housing, battled their addictions, turned homeless, slept in their cars and trucks, attempted to get hold of a driver’s license, missing their work, were being rearrested, and unveiled all over again.

Through these months I gave them rides to the welfare business, waited in line with them at the DMV, picked them (and at times their partners) up from jail, sat following to them although they were being panhandling in the parking tons of neighborhood supermarkets, gave them cash when they were being penniless and purchased them groceries when their fridges were being vacant.

Lots of of the people unveiled from incarceration are not lucky enough to be picked up at the jail gates by some close friend or relative. So when they are discharged—often in the center of the night—at the closest bus station, with a bag of apparel and a couple of pounds of “gate money” as their only possessions, they are on their possess.

derelict building

West Oakland, CA. Image by De Giorgi

Back on the avenue, sheltered in some midway home when not homeless, they need to struggle to endure, possibly in the secondary labor market place as low-wage, portion-time, disposable personnel, or a lot more often in the underground financial system as chronically unemployed hustlers, recyclers, and panhandlers.

A large range of them deal with this lonely struggle for day-to-day subsistence at the similar time as they cope with serious psychological traumas, prolonged-expression addictions, and of class the looming danger of reincarceration if they violate any situation of their parole.

The preliminary aim of my investigation was to study prisoner reentry. I predicted to return from my fieldwork documenting an considerable network of (write-up) carceral manage, ongoing surveillance, aggressive policing, unrealistic parole and probation ailments, and that these intrusive penal technologies would arise as the key road blocks to the prosperous reintegration of former prisoners.

Such a network has been effectively-described in recent criminological literature, notably by Alice Goffman in “On the Operate: Fugitive Lifetime in an American Town,” and by Victor Rios in “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys.” These publications, and other individuals, doc the struggles faced by hyper-criminalized populations as they attempt to disentangle on their own from the tenacious grip of the state’s penal powers.

Rather, through my 3 decades in the industry I finished up documenting popular community neglect, institutional indifference, and programmatic abandonment of these marginalized populations by both the social and penal arms of the state.

Darryl, one of the men I interviewed through my investigation, presented a potent evaluation of the popular economic abandonment individuals deal with when coming out of jail:

One particular detail that we deal with as staying African-People and dwelling in an inner-city neighborhood is coming back to this neighborhood staying rehabilitated, shifting our existence and doing stuff diverse, and at the similar time have to deal with the similar style of economic problems that we dealt with prior to we left […]. We have no prospect the place we lay our heads. […]. So this is one of the challenges that we deal with: we appear back to almost nothing. We left from almost nothing and we’re back to it.

Darryl’s scenario was not isolated.

Aside from lacking access to any employment opportunities, most individuals were being not able to receive any type of welfare assistance—either since none was accessible or since they were being “ineligible” as a consequence of the numerous welfare bans attached to their convictions. A life time ban on foodstuff stamps eligibility for felony drug offenders was launched as portion of the 1996 welfare reform.

Since 2015 the ban on foodstuff stamps and some other rewards has been lifted in California. However, numerous individuals with felony records do not apply, often since they are simply unaware of their entitlement to these confined rewards, and in some situations since they have pending problems with the felony justice system (this kind of as unpaid boy or girl help) that make them cautious of offering identification to any community formal.

West Oakland

West Oakland, CA. Image by De Giorgi

As for subsidized housing, at the time of the study the Housing Authority of the County of Alameda was not accepting programs for Area 8. The only way to get into the hold out listing for community housing was via a lottery system that has been shut given that 2015. In any scenario, applicants can nonetheless be discretionally screened out thanks to prior felony convictions, particularly if drug related.

Of class, besides housing, the most urgent need individuals deal with upon release is access to dollars for the simple necessities of existence but the only dollars allowance accessible to one men is Common Guidance: a county-degree emergency application that offers a greatest of 336 pounds per thirty day period, for a greatest of 3 months per year.

Even so, it would be misleading to even take into account this as welfare guidance, given that GA is viewed as a personal loan, and its prospective recipients need to indicator a reimbursement settlement as a situation of eligibility.

This is not to suggest, of class, that the incapacitating and disempowering effects of mass incarceration were being absent from the experiences of the individuals I followed, but somewhat that these effects were being magnified by the state’s retraction from (as significantly as presence in) the life of returning prisoners.

Certainly, I noticed the emergence in the postindustrial ghetto of a low-intensity design of city containment of surplus populations mostly devolved to what Jennifer Wolch has described as the “shadow state”: a hardly coordinated network of actors which include nonprofit organizations, religion-dependent corporations, rehabilitation centers, transitional housing applications, etcetera.

These non-public or semi-non-public entities are billed with the low-cost administration not only of former prisoners, but also of the variously disenfranchised populations inhabiting the city margins—mentally sick people, homeless individuals, drug addicts, chronically unemployed men and women, etcetera.

They function beneath a neoliberal design of social governance, in which market place-pleasant methods are systematically devised as the only reaction to a wide selection of structural problems faced by former prisoners and other marginalized populations. Thus, so called reentry services generally offer plenty of resume-planning classes, position job interview workshops, anger administration courses, computer literacy courses, rehab and team counseling programs—but significantly a lot less in terms of reasonably priced housing, cost-free overall health treatment, obtainable instruction, or a simple cash flow.

This design of assistance provision is beautifully consistent with the neoliberal ideology of free decision, unique responsibility, and particular alter that is inculcated into criminalized populations at each move of their journey via the US carceral state, from arrest to release.

In other terms, irrespective of whether they rest in a mattress or in a car, have a position or press a cart, have access to drugs or go untreated, their reentry course of action is viewed as prosperous as prolonged as they do not commit any crimes.

A superior scenario in stage below is Ray, a 49-year-aged African American who was unveiled from jail in 2010, after serving 11 decades for a violent crime.

Although on parole, Ray retained struggling with liquor dependence and utilised crystal meth and other medications on a typical basis. Since he was homeless, for practically one year he slept with his girlfriend in a car that was parked in the rear of the fast foodstuff restaurant the place Ray labored through the working day.

Through my time in the industry, Ray’s addictions were being primarily overlooked by his parole officer as prolonged as Ray preserved a crime-cost-free life-style. As for his homeless status, the officer reassured Ray that dwelling in the car was Ok, as prolonged as he notified the parole officer any time he made a decision to go the car to some other site (some thing Ray had to do regularly in buy to stay away from parking tickets).

It should as a result not be shocking that—despite the dreadful ailments of neglect and abuse endemic to the US jail system—penal establishments now represent one of the couple of remaining resources of community relief to the inadequate in the postindustrial ghetto. Just after all, even as dwelling ailments in prisons retain spiraling down thanks to long-term overcrowding, ongoing state violence, and punitive deprivations, prisoners need to nevertheless be granted access to foodstuff, shelter, and sporadic overall health treatment.

Previously incarcerated individuals are conscious of this, and it was not unheard of for me to hear the individuals I followed say that their product expectations of dwelling had deteriorated given that their return to “freedom.”

Alessandro De Giorgi

Alessandro De Giorgi

In light-weight of this, the recent mainstream strategies for penal reform, some of which are influenced by budget worries somewhat than by any community reckoning with the social suffering imposed upon criminalized populations, sign the intention of the nation’s electric power elites to defund even prisons, given that these have become the residual providers of (carceral) welfare services to America’s racialized inadequate.

As prolonged as dwelling ailments at the base of the US racial and class hierarchy will be characterised by popular economic destitution, institutional abandonment, and community neglect, “prisoner reentry” will be very little a lot more than a self-absolutory figure of speech, and previously incarcerated individuals will retain coming back to almost nothing.

Alessandro De Giorgi, Ph.D., is Affiliate Professor in the Office of Justice Scientific studies, San Jose State University. He is the writer of “Rethinking the Political Economic system of Punishment: Views on Publish-Fordism and Penal Politics” (Ashgate, 2006). An overview of the findings from this investigation can be discovered in the report “Back to Nothing: Prisoner Reentry and Neoliberal Neglect” revealed in Social Justice 44(1): 83–120. For some ethnographic snapshots from the industry, see the website collection “Reentry to Nothing: Urban Survival Just after Mass Incarceration,” revealed online in the Social Justice website. He welcomes reviews from visitors.

Shares 0

Post Author: gupta

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *