April served 28 years in prison before being released on parole a year ago. She now lives in one of the more independent homes at A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL). Since returning to society, April, now 53 years old, has faced both tangible and intangible barriers to re-entry.
Her journey started off a little rocky when she realized that she did not have any legally acceptable means of identifying herself. While she was in prison, she lost track of her birth certificate, social security card, and identification card – all her government-issued identification was gone.
“I broke down in the DMV because I didn’t have anything to show who I was. I snuck my prison I.D. out to try and show who I was, but that wasn’t good enough, so I had to connect back with my parole officer.”
Her parole officer was able to produce documents and a photographic image that confirmed April’s existence. However, the data the parole officer provided only included April’s first and last names. April could no longer prove what her middle name was.
“I went into prison a whole person, and I came out half a person. I don’t even have the names that my parents gave me. I feel like when you leave the prison, it’s their responsibility to let the world know… They’ll tell the world you’ve committed a crime, but they don’t give you anything to prove who you are when you are released. That’s crazy.”
When the time came to look for employment, April discovered that she was at a technological disadvantage and experienced difficulties applying for jobs.
“There wasn’t anyone inside teaching us computer skills or showing us how to fill out applications. So you assume that when you come home and get on the computer, that it will be easy to apply for all of the jobs you see listed, but that is not the case.”
The job application process was initially discouraging for April, who felt as if she was putting in all of her information and not hearing back about any promising leads on jobs.
“The work ethic of lifers coming out of prison is very high. We push and we push to get a job where we’re not making anything because when you’re in prison, and you’re working for 6, 7, 8, 12, or 15 cents an hour, $9 per hour sounds good. We jump on those opportunities because we have a lot to prove.”
April eventually found work as a cashier and takes great initiative in her position there. Although initially excited, once reality of bills and rent hit home, April soon realized that minimal wages weren’t enough. Since she does not make enough money to support herself, she has started delivering groceries after work.
In addition to employment issues, her incarceration history has created difficulties with her family due to the growth she experienced inside prison.
“When I came home, I had to realize that even though I changed, some people didn’t. Nobody sees me as a grown woman. It’s like in their minds I came back into my circle of family the same person I was when I left.”
April hasn’t let these challenges discourage her; she continues to push each day to meet her goals. Her ultimate goal is to become a successful writer in the entertainment industry. She has a great interest in writing plays, movies, and television shows; she is currently participating in University of Southern California theater group’s production of two plays.
“Reentry is still a struggle and an obstacle, but I’m just going to keep pushing. I am having faith that something is going to come out of this. I might take off with this writing, and I am trying to push myself out there. Somebody is going to see something in me.”