Behind Bars No More: 900 Released in Florida: How Will 6,000 Drug Convicts Return to Society without Life Skills?
More than 6,000 drug convicts will be released as the result of social reform activists, senators and the sanction of President Obama. But how long will they remain free? Earlier this year President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders, to which he asserted their punishment did not equal the measure of their blunders- this initiative set blaze, and validated, thousands of activists for the incarcerated. Since then the stigma surrounding convicted convicts has been floored into disavowal, demanding progressive attitudes and opinions of those who have served their time.
The correlation between drug abuse and mental health disorders left untreated have attributed to thousands ending up on the wrong side of the law, committing crimes which may have ultimately been avoided if rehabilitation, for both social skills and substance use disorders, were more commonplace.
This shift in American perspective may come with resistance, but the tides of change set forth by President Obama are gaining traction and support from millions in America. In President’s Obama’s address to shifting drug policy, he asserts many substances currently classified as Schedule I may beg reconsideration. Namely, marijuana. Obama muses,
“Substance abuse generally, legal and illegal substances, is a problem. Locking somebody up for 20 years is probably not the best strategy, and that is something we have to rethink as a society as a whole.”
Ergo, the release of thousands of prisoners with drug charges against them. But how will they reacclimate into society with a deficit of social skills, absent means of coping techniques, and years of prison conduct as their guide post?
The Guardian quotes Michael Santos, who was a former federal prisoner facing the challenges outlined above,
“People face enormous challenges just acclimating to society. These people have never seen a smartphone, won’t have an email address, they’re learned never to smile. I’m telling you this as somebody who was in prison 26 years, this will be extraordinary difficult if they don’t have a plan.”
So, what is the plan?
Several halfway houses are opening, and those already in existence may slant tehir services to those who are newly released. Similar to a halfway house for people with substance use disorders, these facilities would serve to fill in the gaps of expected social behaviors, and basic job skills.
But will it be enough? I’m not entirely convinced.
We, as Americans, have been raised to be intolerant of those who break the law- and certainly of those with convictions against them. This is neither good or bad, it simply is. However, our prejudice against those with convictions against them (many of which are for nonviolent drug offences) are ostracized from normal living, in terms of job placement, perceived social status, and housing.
The Guardian quotes Joe Calderon, who served 20 years in prison:
“You don’t always necessarily see the face of the beast, you only see the actions of it So you don’t get the job, you don’t get the apartment, you don’t get the credit or healthcare. And it affects you economically, your health, your mental health.”
For prisoners to blossom in their new-found lives (and isn’t that what we want? For ex-cons to becoming meaningful contributors to our society, who can guide those traversing paths they once did back from their paths of destruction, to themselves and others?) we must learn how to accept and forgive as a nation.
Similarly to attitudes about mental health and substance use disorders, exposing yourself to the problems and arguments in support of acceptance will help to paint a fuller picture, of what may be limited knowledge and exposure to the social conflicts at hand.
Florida will be directly impacted with the release of 900 prisoners. How will you respond? How should we respond for the gainful continuum of our society and peace of mind?
You tell us.
About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.