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Life after lockup: The emotional transition from prisoner to community member

WSBT 22 photo

More than two million adults in the United States are living in prison.

Some stay for life, but many take that experience with them back to our communities.

We report on arrests and sentences every day at WSBT 22, but we rarely show what happens next.

What happens when you have multiple felonies on your record and you're now free?

Before the sun rises, Leonard Talton is preparing his moped for a ride.

It doesn't matter that it's 40 degrees -- it's his only transportation to work. It's one of the obstacles he faces as a convicted felon.

"No license, child support continuing to be ongoing even though I’m incarcerated, license being taken because of child support, not being able to drive to get to the really good jobs, the more felon-friendly,” said Talton.

He's restarting his life again. He first spent time in prison as a teenager in the 90s.

“When I was incarcerated, I was so mad and bitter," said Talton. "I said 'You know what, when I get out, I’m going to start me a gang.' I’m just going to do everything I want to do."

That's what he did, but then he turned his life around after having sons of his own.

The South Bend Tribune featured him in an article titled "A life transformed" in 2012.

"I had my own consulting company," said Talton. "I had my own nonprofit organization IMU Incorporated. I was the coordinator for a robotics program that was doing great."

That success didn't last.

Talton was arrested on April 9, 2014. He pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine, resisting law enforcement and possession of marijuana.

"I was humbled because here I thought I had it all -- I thought I made it,” said Talton.

Talton spent three years and 11 months behind bars.

He tried appealing his sentencing, but the judge refused, saying, "He has had multiple opportunities to reform his behavior, but has been either unwilling or unable to do so."

"It isn’t always because they as individuals aren’t doing all that they might be able to,” said De Bryant, IUSB director of social action project. “They didn’t really change while they were away.”

Bryant is a community psychologist at IU South Bend.

As the director of the Social Action Project, she's spent the last decade studying the barriers people face when leaving prison. She says being re-arrested isn't always an individual failure.

“If all that I’ve come across is resistance, and anything I’ve attempted to do is neutralized or attacked or torn down in some way, then where else do I go?" ” said Bryant. "I go back to the path of least resistance and to that place that’s become most familiar to me."

What's most familiar is often the same friends and environment that led them to prison in the first place.

The Indiana Department of Correction did a study following offenders released during 2014. By 2017, almost 34 percent had been arrested again.

Talton is determined to not be a part of that number. He was released this past March. Part of his parole is dealing with his alcohol addiction.

He also goes to therapy and a weekly support group for people recently released from jail.

"That’s a day-to-day work,” said Talton. “That’s a day-to-day process, you know what I mean? I have gotten frustrated and wanted to use. I have wanted to give up and quit, but there’s just something that won’t allow me to risk being back incarcerated.”

Bryant says people with no criminal history can help lower the re-arrest rate, too.

"It begins with a willingness to accept information that doesn’t jive with what I expect,” said Bryant. “To be open to learning something new about a person or a situation, but it doesn’t stop there.”

Talton says working to get people to trust him again can be frustrating, but the work is for his family.

“I want to be a successful grandpa and a successful father,” said Talton. “I never can replace those years, but I want to be loved and appreciated not for what I can do for somebody, but just for who I am.”

Talton says he wants others in a similar situation to know there are resources in our community to help with the transition.

Imani Unidad has ex-offender referral services.

FANS (Fresh Attitudes for new success) can help felons find jobs. For more information about FANS, you can email alicia.fans17@gmail.com.

Gateway to Greatness is a similar organization in Niles. For more information, you can email rpawloski@gatewayvro.com

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