About a year ago I attended a symposium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JJC) here in New York City. The topic was housing for those released from prison.

Well, first, they can’t get a job because they have a criminal record, so no one will hire them. So they don’t have the money to rent an apartment. This means that they will have to live with family. Ha! In New York City, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will not allow anyone who has less than a perfect record to live in their housing. This is called Permanent Exclusion. This means, in short, that the family must break up because if anyone in the housing even so much as breathes in the direction of a jail, he will be thrown out. So, the parent cannot see his children. He has no base from which to start his life over. His predicament is usually so dire that he must turn to crime to support himself – and he is back in prison. This also applies to someone whose arrest never led to a conviction.

Fortunately, someone from NYCHA also attended that symposium last year, and the person said, “We have seen the light.” The Prisoner Re-entry Institute (PRI) (a research organization) at JJC “is working with a diverse group of organizations and tenant-stakeholders to overturn the NYCHA… policy.” (From the PRI web site.)

In my case (not with NYCHA), my first discharge from the hospital allowed me to go in steps, but I could not live with my parents because my young son was living with them, and the Court would not allow it. But I thought that particular process made some sense. I was directed to get a job and transportation (a car) – which I did – while I continued to live at the hospital. Family and staff helped. At the end of the probationary period I was given permission to live in a place of my own, and I had the wherewithal to do that.

My second discharge was not as easy. The Court would no longer allow a smooth transition from the hospital. I must have a job, transportation, and a place to live all at once. As we are talking about housing, I was not allowed to live in Section 8 housing because of my Court involvement though I was never convicted of a crime nor involved with parole. Technically I was never on probation although that is how the Court monitored the case.

It was a hard go for the Social Worker. Nobody wanted me, and I had no support. So, what was I to do? Fortunately for me, my son had grown and moved out of my parents’ house, giving me the opportunity to live with my parents while getting back on my feet. If they had not taken me in, I could still very well be in the hospital now 14 years later.