As someone who gave 17 years of my life to the State of New York for a nonviolent drug crime (12 years in prison and five more years on parole) I have a lot to say about what ticks in the mind of an incarcerated person and what happens to them when he or she is released back into the real world.
In my new memoir, "This Side of Freedom: Life after Clemency," I talk about this issue and many other issues formerly incarcerated individuals go through when making their transition from prison to the real world. In order to be effective in helping a large population of people, I am donating and distributing my book to all prison libraries in America. More than 700,000 individuals are released every year. If I get the needed funding I want to extend this to donating the book to organizations such as the Fortune Society and Osborn Association, who deal with ex-offenders and their re-entry into society.
My idea is to reduce mass incarceration by reducing recidivism through educating those who are in prison and those who are transitioning into society. I hope to do this by making my memoir available to them. It's a powerful story about my 19 years of freedom and the trials and tribulations I have faced as a former first time non-violent drug offender who was hit with a 15 to Life sentence under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Accompanying my new memoir is its FREE STUDY GUIDE written by Dr. J. Juechter, a scholar at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a former professor of mine who taught a course in business at Sing Sing Prison when I attended a two year associate degree para-legal program given by Bronx Community College at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1990. Believe me it was no easy task attending college in a maximum security prison. It was there I experienced the harsh living conditions which enforced strict rules and regulations that dampened the spirits of students attending classes. For example I remember the guards confiscating my spiral bound note books I used for classes because they thought I would use the wire that held the paper together to strangle someone. For many it was almost too much to handle. But despite the downside, I was encouraged and helped by compassionate instructors who risked their lives to teach those who had fallen from grace and entered into the world of incarceration.
One of those instructors was Dr. J. Juechter, who taught a business class, but more importantly who taught us all how to maintain our humanity while dealing with imprisonment. While most of her students were serving extremely long sentences and would not see their freedom for many years, she instilled in us the reality that one day we would be free and become tax paying and law abiding individuals. So learning the skills she taught would come in handy when we would be making our transition to society.
Her partner in crime was another professor named Dr. Sam Schwartz. Sam was truly a real character. He was a hip middle age yippee type of guy who wore a ponytail and taught a health course. In the classroom, he taught like no other type of teacher. The first two classes with Sam were cool. But by the third class, everything had changed for the worst. When entering the classroom, we noticed his happy demeanor was gone. He waited for the class of about 35 students to sit in their seats. Everyone was carrying on and having a good time. Ok he said, "Settle down, everyone take out a blank sheet of paper and put the rest of your belongings in front of your seats". He went on and said that we were having a test which will be worth one third of our final grade.
The entire class freaked out and the atmosphere in the classroom turned into a pure state of tension. Prisoners started to look nervously at each other. One big guy named Carl who was convicted of a double homicide spoke out and said in a loud mean voice "Sam you didn't tell us last week we were having a test today, this shit isn't fair." Sam stared the convict down and yelled at the guy. He responded "This is my class and I run the show. If you don't like this, you can leave the class now". Sam even pointed at the door showing Carl the way out. Carl's eyes rolled back and his face turned red as he bit his bottom lip. Carl did not say a word. But everyone knew that Carl was a cold killer and the last thing they wanted to see was for him to go off on Sam.
Sam ignored Carl and calmly addressed the class and told them that he wanted a 300-word essay on what the first two classes were about. The room suddenly became silent and you could hear a pin drop. "You have 30 minutes," he said. As the student prisoners wrote, the temperature of the room elevated, and you could feel the heat in the room. Sweat poured from some of the student's foreheads as they quietly wrote their essays. After a few minutes passed, Sam who was sitting at his desk looked up and suddenly yelled "OK stop! Put your pens down and pay good attention to what I am going to tell you. The entire class stared Sam down with looks that could kill. I was afraid that something bad was going to happen.
Many of the students looked like they wanted to do bodily harm to their teacher. Sam simply ignored this and put on the biggest grin I ever saw, raised his arms and in a roaring voice told the class YOU ALL HAVE NOW EXPERIENCED A NATURAL VERSION OF A COCAINE HIGH! He then smiled widely and went on to tell us about alternatives to using drugs through music, meditation and other means. Everyone suddenly changed and calmed down. The students started to laugh and a slow applause broke out into a big roar. Carl could not believe what had happened and told Sam he was out of his fucking mind. It was a sight to see and that no one in the class would ever forget.
It is my hope that my experiences told through my story telling will help both those in prison and those who are making the transition into the real world. The book will also be valuable for the general population of Americans to understand what it's like for ex-offenders to reenter society. To see what I mean please take a look at This Side of Freedom's study guide.