#98 Preparing financially after prison

March 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Preparing Financially After Prison

I wanted to talk at length on this particular issue, because I had gotten a message on this, and in fact in the past few weeks I have had people tell me they have been looking for intel on what to do after you get out of prison. A lot of people reading my blogs run across a bunch of my posts, some talk about life in prison, some talk about life AFTER prison. As a guy that has been out a few years, I can certainly talk about the things I have experienced.

I wanted to key in and talk at length based on one message I got, and a second I got from a supporter a week ago that I wanted to add to this. To be sure there are many others who have questions, but most people are too scared to ask, or some think that as an ex felon I am looking to con you out of something…your loss if you don’t get the answers you need.

So lets talk about this, how DO you prepare financially after prison? Understand first, before we even get started, this is a very, VERY vague question. No two inmates have the exact same financial situations coming out of prison, even if both are flat broke. So it is hard to pin point exactly how to help one person out of one million. Having said that, remember that I cannot speak for every ex felon or inmate, but I am making an attempt to help. So let’s begin.

I am going to use information from a person that messaged me to answer her questions directly, without giving any specific info on her…as you guys know, I don’t give personal info on those who contact me because frankly, its none of your business. But if you follow along, we might be able to touch on a few points that might help you.

Question: How do you help an inmate who is in debt, having to deal with divorce and child support and he is on medical restriction?

See, this proves that every inmate or ex felon is different. When I got out, I was in debt too, with my college student loan, but I was not married nor do I have any children. But it was still very difficult. But I want to concentrate on this situation, to see where we can go with this.

Often times prison and society don’t take into account that when a person goes to prison, he cannot pay his debts…I mean, how do you expect to make a $350 payment from prison when washing pots pays 60 cents a day? And even though many guys in prison have a hustle (a blog I shared earlier), you can’t make that much money to pay the debts of the real world.

Right off the top of my head, the first thing I would try to suggest, if at all possible, was to try to get work-release. I am not sure if every state allows it, some do, including my home state of NC. In fact, if at all possible, if your loved one has not been sentenced yet, I would see if you could impress on his lawyer to ask the judge to recommend work-release, so when he begins to do his time, it can be in his inmate folder (or inmate jacket as some call it).

This does NOT guarantee that he will get work release, but it puts him on the list. The difference here is that he can then apply for a REAL job, rather than a prison job. Personally, I think prisons fail 99% of all inmates when they don’t give them a chance to get back into the true flow of society…which is working. If even a few percentages more of inmates had work release a few months before they got out, they might have some money in their pockets to start their life back…instead of coming out flat broke and 2 and a half strikes behind.

Some states give inmates what is called a “gate check” which I think is the most stupid form of rehabilitation there is. A man serves 10 years, 20 years or more, and when he gets released from prison, with NO resources at all (often times no home either), he is given a $45 gate check…as if that’s going to help him get back on track.

So if I might add anything to this question for the inmate, I would see IF he could get work-release recommendation from the judge so when he goes to prison, it would be in his folder and his case managers can know that if one comes up, he might be able to get such a job.

The hard part will be dealing with any outstanding debts while he is doing time. This can be very hard especially if you are already at your limit. What if your loved one has a credit card that you would like to keep active, but the minimum payments are stretching you out?

This is a hard call, but I think one major factor is the length of time he will be in. If you are already at your limit now, and say for example, he’s doing at least 1 year, that will be too tough to carry. If you can do it, fine, but this is a call I cannot say because every person’s financial issues is different. I don’t know what you can sacrifice to make the payments, I don’t know if you can get a loan, I don’t know if you can find a second job, all these things and more play into that decision.

But if it gets bad enough, you may have to make the decision to let the credit card go, or make BELOW minimum payments just to keep some hope of holding on to the card. What I mean by that is if your minimum payments is $50, then drop it to $25, or even $10. Yeah, I know this means the credit card company will cry foul, but most credit companies won’t deny that making any payment is better than none.

This might not sound very encouraging, but if your loved one is, for example, doing 2 years…that means you are going to be making minimum payments for 2 years of a card he can’t use. You’re throwing money away anyway, unless you are going to use that card. This could be one of those times where you have to cut your losses, just for a time, and recoup later when he gets out.

In the meanwhile, it is critical to continually look for a good job for him when he gets out. This is good on both ends because not only will it give you a sense of involvement in helping him, but it encourages him from the inside of the prison that there is hope, and he can get that second chance when he gets out.

Trust me folks, this is far more valuable to him than you know. To have a strong idea that he can hit the ground with a job when he gets out is a very strong motivator to an inmate. Most inmates come out with no idea what to do except go to the unemployment office and HOPE to get a job…along with the 500 billion other people in town, most of them with a clean record.

Another question asked is how will bad credit affect an ex con? This is an interesting question. It is kinda funny because years ago this was not so much an issue, now days we put more faith in three companies that create “credit score numbers” and it almost decides our fate. Even the idea of checking your credit score is a billion dollar business, because we put complete faith in numbers…rather than other more important things.

But the person has a very good point, we all know that with bad credit, it is hard to get things, in some cases even a job. I know this for a fact, because a year or so after I got out of prison, I went to apply for a job at a sports shoe place, and they asked for my credit history…what the heck is THAT about?

So I never finished applying for the job, because I didn’t want these people to make a credit check AND a background check on me…I would lose both.

My credit isn’t good, partly because of time in prison. Heck, I thought I was doing fair until I could not get a job the last year or two, and the money I had in my business bank account withered down to a negative $11. Anyone who knows my older blogs knows how I was the executive producer of our local high school sports, but the man I hired ended up taking my job from me, leaving me unemployed. And because my bank charged me $11 per month for having a business account, it was just a matter of time before it was all bled out. I tried to hard to find something, anything to keep that account open, which was why I talked so much about my prison books, cards and support. But in the end, I lost the account and had to close it. So my credit is about as bad as it can get.

But this does NOT mean that I am doomed…nor any ex felon or inmate.

Credit does not make up the entire judgment of a person’s financial character, though now days it seems to make a lot. There are many, many ways for an ex felon to create income, save it, create an account and build from there. For awhile I was well supported by numerous readers of my blogs on the Blogspot prison site I have, and it helped me hang in there and also to create a lot of prison cards, prison encouragement certificates and other things. It touches my heart when I know that there indeed are folks out there that understand what I am trying to do, and help.

But if you have a loved one in prison…don’t let a bad credit discourage you. Of the two, a bad credit score isn’t as bad as a record. Lots of people out there got bad credit, but have great jobs.

Another big question that the person asked was child support…how will that affect him while he is in prison, and after he gets out? This is a very interesting question, because any of you that read one of my earlier blogs this year know that I ran into a guy I did time with at the mall, and he had just got out of jail for child support. Now, the average Joe would think that every man like this is just plain lazy…that is not true. Lots of them are, I won’t argue with that, but some are really trying, but it is hard to get a job when everybody else is looking for one…and if you have a record, it makes it harder.

All this makes it even more imperative that you prepare for him before he gets out by securing a job or some form of income. Lots of people think that every judge is out to “set an example” with every “deadbeat dad”. I say to you, there are exceptions, but to be part of that exception, you have to have your homework. A fair judge will listen and be more compassionate if a man stands before him and tells him (in sincerity) his problems. I don’t say this will keep the judge from sending him to jail for 30 days, but even some judges know that times are kinda hard even for the average person…how much harder for an ex felon?

If there is a way to readjust the child support payments, look into that, and use the time while he is in prison to write to officials or departments to ask questions. Get your loved one in prison to do this while you check on venues to send letters to. If you lay the paperwork down now, you might get some favorable decisions by the time he gets out.

Another question, how can ex felons find a place to stay after prison?

This is another one of those questions that can be answered in time, while the person is doing time, and BEFORE he gets out. Most prisons have what they call a “home plan” which is pure garbage, there is no “planning” at all. Prisons don’t offer much help with a man who needs a place to stay, and they don’t help with employment. It is critical that your loved one can first get an idea of the city or town he will be staying, and to find a place where he can live while he establishes a job and in income.

Because every city is very different, this is very hard for me to answer in specifics. I had the fortune of being able to go back home, but many ex felons don’t have that luxury. If you have a loved one in prison, and looking for places for him to stay, at the very worst there may be shelters where he can stay, at the very least there is a roof over his head. If you have made headway in a decent job, it might be possible for him to stay with someone and pay a fair share for rent. This however involves a bit of trust, so make sure to establish that between you, him and wherever he may be staying.

I know the actual residence of ex felons also depends on the charge, but we are assuming this of a person that does not have living restrictions.

This brings in an interesting subject…job interviews. I could get into real deep details here, but I think the one thing that stands out is something one of our HRD (Human Resources Development) teacher told us while I was at Dan River Prison Work Farm. When it comes to employment, his motto was, at least for ex felons, “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

This means that if the employer does not ask for specifics, you are under no obligation to tell. If the resume does not ask about your past, don’t tell. To some this sounds dishonest, but to me to bare your soul to some people only leads to prejudiced judgment.

In retrospect, I should have done the same with the first job I got after I got out of prison. I went to work for a local Christian radio station and in the interview process, I felt I should tell them about my past. Mind you folks, I didn’t have to, and there was no question about it, but I just felt it was fair to tell them. I told the General Manager about it, and we talked about it. After we finished, I told him it would be fair if I told the owner, to which the GM said not to worry about it. In fact, he insisted that we keep it between us.

If you know my story about that place, you know it didn’t end well for me.

If I had never said anything, my situation would have been far more better for me, but I feared that if I didn’t, and by some reason they ran across or discovered my past, then I would be at fault for not telling them the truth…ironic…because by telling the the truth I was persecuted for it.

So this is a hard call, I do believe in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” but it depends on what the person chooses to tell. Whatever helps him sleep better at night is best for him.

The last couple of questions I want to put together, because I think it leads me to the same conclusion. There is the question of what to do if the ex felon is in poor health, and how to get proper medical aid if he should need it, and second, how to keep his spirits up.

The answers to those are something will be different for any ex felon. I am fortunate to have pretty good health, I walk a lot, (no car), and although I do get headaches a bit (had them since 4th grade) I am fine. But when it comes to health, it is hard to find answers especially in a country where health care is a multi billion dollar business, but the clients of that business are broke and still sick. Personally I think the health care system is full of rich jerks that like to jack up premiums to bleed you of every dollar, and then when you need it, they get stingy about helping you.

But that is neither here nor there…

Like the other post release issues, this is something you will need to do homework on while your loved one is in prison, so don’t feel that you have to have that answer in 24 hours…some people get stressed on a solution that you don’t need today. Relax, get your breath, and find venues to be positive.

And then pray.

Oh…now some of you are snickering…and sucking your teeth as if I said something useless.

Folks, let me say this…I have been writing on prison issues since about 2002, and through the over 5000 pages I have written, one of the most constant themes has been faith. Sometimes it is all you have to hold on to, when everything fails. Now I have been brutally honest on my feelings, often times I speak well on faith, sometimes I share my frustrations when things don’t go well. But I cannot deny that there is a place for faith and praying.

Modern science is excellent, better than it has ever been in our history of this planet…but there are still things called miracles, things doctors cannot explain. Sometimes folks, you have to put a little stock, a little faith, in the idea that things CAN get better for someone you care about. We put so much faith in man, and often times are discouraged when man makes prejudiced decisions based on a person’s background.

I am not saying for you to join a temple and turn into a monk, I am saying take a moment or two, and pray for that person’s health and well being. It only takes a half a minute to do, and by doing that you may be releasing some faith to make things happen.

That was the idea of my “prison encouragement certificates” and other things I was writing. The idea was to make things that loved ones could send to someone in prison. Every now and then, when I had some extra money, I would offer free encouragement certificates to anyone who wanted one. The idea was to encourage them to hang in there, and give them faith. I think I had 50-100 of those, as well as numerous prison cards that I made, and lots of other materials….

That was before my computer crashed about a month or two ago.

Now I am checking my old cds to see if I was wise enough to save some to it, otherwise I have to start all over. We’ll see. But my point is, there are numerous ways to encourage a loved one in prison. A couple of years ago I had people tell me by email that they used to copy my posts and blogs, and send them to a loved one in prison because much of what I talked about was based on being positive and constructive. Not that every post was about sunshine and rainbows, but that I tried to make sense of the situation.

So there you have it, an in depth discussion about financial concerns for ex felons, and what you might be able to do to help them. I really wished I had come out of prison with the winning lotto ticket of $200 million, but that wasn’t quite the case with me. But I honestly, HONESTLY thought I could get my life back together and prosper easily. I mean, I used to own a mail order business which was doing pretty good, I worked in local radio, I was doing a little acting on the side, and writing short stories and scripts. I really believed that once I got out, I could get back on track. But things didn’t work that way at all, and it was very frustrating.

As many of you know, I wrote prison books, prison cards, and other things to try to generate an income, sometimes it worked, sometimes it busted. I just have not turned that corner yet, but I know there are millions of people out there looking for somebody to help them get through this difficult time. Sadly it kinda seems that most are more likely to go to Amazon or Books A Million and buy a prison book from a guy that will never answer your emails or has never made a single comment on any prison site, than from a guy that does it daily. Ironic…

Anyway, we’d discussed much here, I do hope this helps. Until then….


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#93 Prison talking: The Web… #99 Guilty by association or ignorance

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