Note: To protect the confidentiality of the men listed here I have
used fictitious names and omitted information that could lead to the
actual identity of the inmate. This story is about my experience, my
perspective, so the real identity of the men with whom I served my
sentence is not relevant. Any similarities of other, actual persons are
Sometime in early February, I was notified that
my remaining 30 days of incarceration would be at a Community Placement
Facility (Halfway House) in Philadelphia.
Inmates with sentences greater than a year are generally required to serve out
the remaining 10% of their sentences as part of the preparation for release
back into society.
While most inmates at the camp were thrilled at the prospect of going to a
halfway house, I was not. I preferred to remain at the camp until my May
7, 2010 release date where I could fly home. It didn’t seem worth the
aggravation of undergoing a nine hour bus ride with three transfers for a
30 day period in a drug rehabilitation facility.
Inmates are assigned to facilities near their release address. In many
cases, the guys from New England went to nice
suburban style facilities.
In my case, I was assigned to the Luzerne
Center, 600 East Luzerne Street, Philadelphia.
Luzerne was primarily a drug treatment and rehabilitative facility, in an undesirable
part of the city. Luzerne had two buildings – one for federal offenders
and the other for state and local offenders. According to the resident
handbook, I would be subjected to a more restrictive environment than at the
The purpose of a halfway house is to assist inmates in the transition from
prison life to civilian life. On paper, it is designed to provide greater
opportunities for success upon release by assisting residents in obtaining
employment and counseling them to reduce the recidivism rate.
However, I found the whole process to be a joke. Of course, my point of
perspective is from a facility located in the 6th largest city in America.
Halfway houses are privately owned and operated under contract by the Bureau of
Prisons, so they function under the oversight of the federal bureaucracy.
The Longest 30 Days
During my time at Devens, I heard many
complaints about the operation of the prison from inmates and some of them were
justified. But no matter how bad it was at Devens, it was far superior then
I would have been willing to serve out my last 30 days in the hole, if
necessary. In my view, Luzerne was poorly managed and staffed by a mostly
unskilled crew who acted as adult babysitters.
The case manager to whom I was assigned performed the minimum functions and
access to her was difficult, even though my bunk was located directly
across from the offices. There was also an employment counselor who
functioned more as a secretary then as a professional staff member. He
should have been providing genuine, practical employment training; rather, he
spent the day printing out job leads from Craigslist for residents.
The whole experience was bad enough without the added pressure of knowing that
officials at Luzerne could send you back to prison anytime a resident violated
The first two weeks after arrival, residents were restricted to the facility
for orientation. There was a small gym area and several times a day we
were allowed to stand in the parking lot and breathe in the stale,
smoked-filled city air!
In my case, I wasn’t concerned at how ridiculous the rules were or how badly a
resident was being treated. I personally could handle anything for 30
days; but, many residents were serving 4-6 months at Luzerne.
Until a resident secured employment, they were restricted to the facility all
day, except for 2 hours of recreation time in the parking lot and a few smoke
breaks. Despite the unhealthy city air and trying to find an area without
smokers, I tried not to miss those breaks, just to get out of the
Smoking was prohibited inside the building, but that rule was routinely
violated by residents and not enforced by staff. I breathed in more
second-hand smoke in a month then I have in many years!
Residents were permitted to leave the facility with an approved pass for a
specific reason, such as job interview, library, and worship services.
All residents were subjected to frequent and routine drug screenings and
breathalyzer tests. Proof of arriving at your approved destination was
required to be presented upon return. This was truly adult kindergarten
- lacking the show and tell!
During my time at Luzerne, I became
friendly with two guys from New
Joe was finishing a 20-year sentence for a drug offense. When I met him
he was working full time at a clothing store waiting for approval to finish
his sentence on home confinement. At the time of his offense, his
two kids were in the tween years and now are grown and have their own families.
He was the most optimistic and positive guy I have ever met. He not
only successfully re-established relationships with his children and their
families. But, the most wonderful story was that his wife waited for him
all those years. What a testimony to a marriage commitment!
Jake was a financial investor with ties to the Democratic National Party.
During the Bush Administration years, he was charged with fraud and sentenced
to five years in prison. He maintains his innocence and believes he was
targeted as a member of the wrong political party. Who knows? But I
found him to be an intriguing and thoughtful person who helped to make my time
go by faster.
By the way, I have no doubt about people being targeted by others as a form of
blackmail. There are many corrupt people, not only in prisons, but in the
offices at all levels of government and corporate board rooms. “For
out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality,
theft, false witness, slander. Matthew 15:19; and, “The heart is
deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
A Wonderful Outlet
The one highlight of my month in Philadelphia was my
ability to attend Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship services at Christ Independent Baptist Church, 1618 Womrath Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This church preached the Gospel of Christ without reservation and is a
lighthouse in this city. I was warmly welcomed and had the privilege of
meeting many wonderful people in the church.
On one Sunday morning, another resident at Luzerne declared his faith in Jesus
Christ publicly by being baptized.
On the morning of Friday May 7th, my release from prison was
official. I was up early, showered, packed and ready to go. Melinda
was scheduled to pick me up at 6:00 a.m., the earliest time I could
leave. So, at exactly 6:00 a.m., I grabbed all my gear and walked
out the door and stood on the curb waiting for my ride - never to look back.
At 6:10 a.m., after being apart for 318 days, I was reunited with my wife of
almost 20 years. What a wonderful moment!
What does a guy do with his wife after being in prison for almost a
You guessed it!
We drove to a local Perkins restaurant for some ‘real’ food. Then, we
spent the day visiting two college campuses for our daughter who is graduating
high school in June 2011.
Then we were off to Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, one of our favorite
spots. Late the next day, we met my brother, John and his wife, Lori ,
for another wonderful meal at the Outback Steakhouse, my first real steak in a
Then finally home to see my kids and extended family.