My younger brother Spanky served 12 years in prison. He is now in the thick of the reentry process. I often wonder how it must feel for him to be sleeping on the couch in his older sister’s apartment. He has never held down a steady, living wage job due to his low educational and skill level, yet he is a hard worker.
When Spanky became incarcerated he was 21 years old. He is now 37 now. He spent the intervening 12 years in several maximum-security penitentiaries. Although he was a young man, he was convicted of Assault with Intent to Kill, a very serious crime, and his life took a very dramatic turn.
According to my brother, prison and reentry have been disturbing and stressful, yet he is pressing forward. He recently enrolled in Project Empowerment, a job development program. To my surprise he is actually enjoying learning the necessary self-development skills to propel himself toward success.
Yesterday we were talking about his history, and he asked me, “Can you imagine what it was like to go 12 years without seeing a single family member? It was like being trapped in a basement for 12 years. It was very traumatic.”
According to Spanky, when he committed his crime, the police accosted him. He fired several warning shots to back the police up so that he could run away because of his fear that he would be beaten. Consequently, he ended up in prison with 7-21 years and he found himself serving time alongside hardened criminals.
Spanky was “behind the wall” in the Maximum Security Prison, Lorton Annex in Virginia. Men are sent there if they have been convicted of crimes like murder, or assaulting correctional officers. “These guys were the worst of the worst,” Spanky said. “I had no contact with people except during recreation when I was shackled and handcuffed for the allotted 20 minutes in an outdoor cage. We were treated like animals.”
After Lorton closed Spanky was sent to Sussex II, and from there, to USP Atlanta and to USP Pollock in Louisiana, one of the worst penitentiaries in the Bureau of Prisons. “I saw more men stabbed there than I ever saw assaulted in society. There were gang wars, race riots and just all out combat taking place in that prison. It was horrific.”
My brother’s mood was somber when he said, “That was when family members starting passing away and the years started fading. Now I’m home and my nieces and nephews that were kids when I left all have kids of their own. It’s crazy.” As if on cue, he shook off his dejected mood and said, “But Yeah Project Empowerment is cool though. It’s amazing to see our instructor who was once incarcerated himself stand up there and be inspiring and informative. That gives me hope.”
Project Empowerment is a multifaceted program for District of Columbia residents who face multiple barriers to employment. The success of Project Empowerment depends upon a broad network of partners, including government agencies, community organizations, and area employers.
The District has established four fundamental goals:
- Reduce recidivism among previously incarcerated participants
- Enhance public safety
- Develop job-ready individuals who will serve as assets to the District’s workforce
- Ensure program sustainability through periodic enhancements and special initiatives