For the past two years, I have worked in an alternative to incarceration program for people on probation and parole. And, for the past two years, I have been contemplating how to even begin sharing the many experiences I’ve learned about as a social worker to ex-offenders.
I finally decided that the best place to start would be with the offenders themselves. So, for the past month, I took one quote from the dozens of conversations I have with clients daily, and I recorded it. The quotes I chose have no pattern and no motive. They are meant to be random.
Below are the words of our society’s felons – a group I have come to regard as misunderstood, under-appreciated and highly entertaining.
September 2, 2013
“An old man I know has lived in my neighborhood his whole life. He said he’s seen some things in his days. He remembers back to when Claiborne was full of trees. He said over time there have been lots of new groups doing business on one of them neighborhood corners. He tries to tell us young guys that the corner will always be there no matter who’s on it. I don’t want to be on that corner. I want to be far away from that corner.”
September 3, 2013
“There aren’t drug neighborhoods in New Orleans. This is a drug city.”
September 4, 2013
“When is it gonna happen for me? I keep applying to jobs, but no one wants to hire a felon. I’m not gonna lie to you, Ms. Sara, my mind keeps thinking about going back to selling drugs again. I don’t want to, but I don’t have any money for my kids. Plus, Christmas is coming up.”
September 5, 2013
“That’s right, I’m off papers [probation] ya’ll! I’m free! I can vote again.”
September 6, 2013
“I know how people look at me – face tattoos, criminal record, no high school diploma… People are judging me. I would judge me. Even other black people living on the streets judge me. But, if people took a minute to know me, they’d realize I’m a nice guy.”
September 9, 2013
Me: “Do you think you wouldn’t have a good birthday if you didn’t smoke marijuana?”
Client: “I don’t know, I didn’t try.”
Me: “Did you take anything that would put cocaine in your system?”
Client: “I took some performance enhancers that I bought from a little dude I know.”
Me: “Ok, whatever you took, stop buying shit off the streets.”
September 11, 2013
“I hate when y’all leave me. You’re all I got right now” (client to me and another staff member before leaving a jail visit).
“If they would put half the money into building new schools as they are into building new jails…could you imagine how different things would look?”
September 13, 2013
“I’m gonna dance at your wedding” (this client was shot and killed three days later).
“I got a job. They want me to start tomorrow.”
“One of your clients was killed yesterday afternoon. He was shot.”
“What’s been wrong Ms. Sara? You guys [staff] are the only support I have, so when you’re sad it makes me sad and I need to say something to cheer you up.”
“It really sucks ya know? Thinking about how much we’re trying to change and seeing this – dudes like him getting killed. Makes me wonder what all this trying is for.”
“I’m just really proud of myself, Ms. Sara. Like, really proud. And, my mom said she’s proud of me, too.”
“How was the funeral, Ms. Sara? You look like you’ve been crying. Was it your first black funeral?”
“My uncle died at my age – I’m almost 19, and he was killed at age 20. I’m trying to do everything I can to not repeat the cycle.”
“Katrina really fucked me up, ya know? Excuse my language…but I was in that Super Dome. People raping each other and all that…then armed guards making us line up and walk around like slaves. Singing freedom music and shit. There was some real serious shit happening down here, Ms. Sara.”
September 26, 2013
“Say Ms. Sara, I think I get it now. The agencies we’re trying to work for…they lookin’ at our background checks. But, they actually want us to sell the drugs. That way they don’t have to hire us, and the cops can have more people to fill the jails. Then, you know – big business. They get more money in the end.”
September 27, 2013
“I can’t even talk to my mom like I talk to you. It’s like…you’re my big sister or something.”
“I started to wonder, is these streets all I got? What the streets ever give back to me?”