Returnees Who’ve Served Decades in Prison Need Help
A growing crisis sweeping the country involving men and women released from prison after serving three, four, or possibly five decades behind bars needs to be addressed. The unrelenting determination to be free can quickly become a nightmare of unexpected and deadly consequences when the prison doors close behind them.
Kevin Fythe, 52, was released from prison after serving 28 years last January. He had severe mental and physical disabilities that prevented him from speaking, and he was confined to a wheelchair. Despite his disabilities, Flythe reportedly was placed on a bus headed to D.C., where his family anxiously waited to reunite with him. In August, Fythe’s story was covered by The Washington Post, detailing his last known location and reporting that he had never been found seven months later.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case.
With virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs, many inmates are placed on a bus, given $50, known as ‘gate money,’ and if they’re lucky, they may be told to have a nice life.
For so many, getting home is only one of the many challenges these now older men and women must face. Moreover, they are returning to a world that’s changed technologically in every way, and some will begin to experience it fast.
Returning citizens don’t always know how to negotiate basic societal functions, such as putting on a seat belt. I recall picking up an older guy, and once in my car, I told him to put on his seatbelt. He asked, “What’s a seat belt?” I showed him how to put the seat belt on.
When I looked back at him, he had the strap wrapped around his neck. I told him, “You are going to kill yourself!” I asked another person why hadn’t he called me. He said, “Roach, I walked and walked and couldn’t find a phone booth.” One individual got on the bus and asked for a transfer. The bus driver laughed at him and said, “Where have you been, Mister? We haven’t given out transfers in decades.” And another person, after serving 50 years in prison, was asked, “What are your employment prospects?” He was 80 years old, never had a job, failing health, and had no family or income. He’s paid his debt to society, and now he has to fight his biggest fight, trying to survive and live out his remaining years in a modicum of dignity and peace.
The list is long of tools that nearly control every aspect of our daily living, things formerly incarcerated people have to relearn to participate fully in society. Adjusting to unknown situations creates frustrations, irritations, and feelings of isolation. Many feel ignorant, as they are being laughed at or stared at.