The United States has the highest prison incarceration rate in the world. If you live in this country it is likely that at some time in your life either yourself, or someone you know, will spend time locked behind metal doors. There are certain communities in this country that see much higher imprisonment rates than others. Migrant communities, Indigenous communities, African Americans and lower socio-economic communities, for example, all experience much higher rates of imprisonment than most white people. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Such communities disproportionately feel the detrimental effects of the prison system, through the incarceration process itself, as well as the stress, trauma and discrimination that continues after release.
Activist communities in the United States have gone through a number of cycles of heavy repression by the State, leading to many political organizers being imprisoned for substantial amounts of time. Over the past decade activists have seen the Green Scare play out, in which environmental and animal defense activists have been targeted for long prison sentences for taking action. Activists have also been targeted by grand juries, as well as experiencing high levels of infiltration, informing and entrapment. It has been a rollercoaster of a decade to see fellow activists being sentenced to many years in prison, at the same time as celebrating others being released.
While there is no doubt a lot of joy around welcoming people back to our communities who have spent time in prison, the process of integrating back into the outside world can be a stressful process for some. As is true of many difficult experiences in life, it is hard to truly know what someone is going through unless you have been there yourself. For many activists coming out of prison there are parole conditions that inhibit them from communicating with others who have been through the same thing. Out of this dilemma came the idea for this zine. Through these writings and interviews, former prisoners are sharing their experiences of life after prison with supporters and other former and current prisoners. These voices are not meant to speak for all, but show some of the diversity of experiences and feelings about life after prison.
There are some experiences of life after prison that are very consistent amongst most former prisoners though. Massive levels of discrimination in housing, difficulties in finding workplaces that hire felons, and lack of access to certain resources, are just some of those common post-prison experiences. While all of the former prisoners who contributed to this zine have different stories, and come from different backgrounds, you will notice certain congruent themes in their experiences.
Image by Josh MacPhee