Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reentry, A Holistic Look

A wonderful series—one of the best in memory—published in the Salt Lake Tribune about the issues involved in reentry, written by reporter Melinda Rogers, drawn from the story of one released prisoner as a focal point, with a perspective from the victim of his crime, as well as an overview of rehabilitation.

A must read.

An excerpt from Part 1.

“The cell door opens. This time, he swears he’ll make it.

“But Julian Stevens is anxious as he walks down a long prison hallway, toting a cardboard box filled with letters from friends and family and books about substance abuse he has collected during the past 20 months.

“All I think about is the streets,” Julian says shortly before his release. “How difficult it will be earning an honest living.”

“Prison Lt. Russell Gordon watches Julian walk by and frowns at his oversized football jersey.

“The way he’s wearing his shoes and stuff … it’s gangish,” Gordon mutters.

“After getting a quick pep talk, $50 and a temporary ID, Julian tells his caseworker he won’t be seeing them again.

“The Utah State Prison staffers give Julian their usual goodbye for inmates: “We’ll keep the light on for you.”

“Julian takes a last look at the barbed wire fences and prisoners lingering in the yard, then tries to forget them.”

An excerpt from Part 2.

“When Julian Stevens tests dirty for marijuana, his parole agents aren’t buying his excuse.

“The 31-year-old claims he failed the drug test only because he watched his uncle get high and inhaled the smoke.

“Why would I lie to you? My drug of choice is cocaine. If I want to do drugs I’m going to do cocaine,” Julian argues in a downtown Salt Lake City parole office.

“Life on parole since Julian’s Aug. 4, 2009, release from the Draper prison has gone fairly smoothly. The former gang member has secured a job, reconnected with his son, Felix, and achieved his goal of returning to amateur boxing.

“But the November marijuana test is a red flag for parole agents and one of several missteps to come.”

An excerpt from the victim’s story.

“For Kevin King and his former girlfriend, Julian Stevens isn’t an inspiring youth boxing coach or a man trying to change.

“He’s the 18-year-old thug who threatened their babies with a gun. He’s the gangster who vowed to come back to kill them if they called police.

“King and his girlfriend encountered Julian one morning in November 1996 when King thought his 6-month-old daughter was raking her bottle against the blinds next to her crib around 7:30 a.m. The couple were making their way toward her room in their Salt Lake City duplex when the door swung open.

“Julian and two other gangsters pointed three 9 mm Glocks at them.

“Who’s Tim? Where’s the drugs, where’s the money?” the three shouted.

“One of the men grabbed their daughter from her crib.

“King said he didn’t know a Tim. A noise from another room caught the gunmen’s attention, and they sought out the source: the couple’s other daughter, then 2 years old.

“A gun went to King’s head; the children were given to his girlfriend. She sat huddled against the wall clutching her two girls, wondering if they would watch her die begging for their lives.

“For her, the memories remain vivid — and the facts of the robbery that netted a five-years-to-life prison term for Julian are still archived in 3rd District Court.

“King, now 39, said his family later learned from police the robbers were targeting a drug dealer and gang member who lived above them. They left after ransacking the home.”

An excerpt from the rehabilitation overview.

“Like other inmates, gang members in Utah prisons get a chance to learn how to cook, repair electronics, even knit. Classes can teach them how to set personal goals, control anger and change thought patterns.

“But the gang mind-set revolves around a group, setting gangsters apart from other criminals. Gang investigators point to another unique problem in Utah: the rise of multigenerational gangs in which children are raised into a criminal lifestyle embraced by their parents.

“The combination, experts say, is why gang members re-entering society after a prison stint often stick with their gangs — and why corrections systems such as Utah’s are exploring the creation of specialized programming to rehabilitate gangsters.

“You don’t see yourself as an individual anymore. You see yourself in a group, and a big part of that is a sense of belonging,” said University of Utah assistant professor Moises Prospero, whose specialties include gang issues. “Things happen in a group that may not happen when you’re by yourself. You’re more likely to follow what they told you to do: Let’s go fight. Let’s go sell drugs.”