It is hard for many of us to imagine what it would be like to be released from prison after many years and then try to reintegrate back into society. Instead of the process becoming easier, the challenges of reentry are only exacerbated by bureaucracy and a general lack of concern for those behind bars. When you are released from prison in Tennessee, you are given a one way Greyhound bus pass, a $30 dollar check you cannot cash, a set of prison clothes, whatever personal items you possessed in prison, and a ride to the nearest Greyhound bus stop.
Many of us may not realize that Greyhound is not what it used to be and that is saying something because it was never a great option for transportation. Greyhound sold their bus line in 2021 but their bus stations all over the nation were sold separately to developers. Now, a bus station is nothing more than a convenience store out on the edge of town, often in a remote location. Once the store closes at night and the bus does not stop because it is full or it breaks down, you have to sleep on the bench out front with others who have also been dropped off from area prisons. Yes, women released from prison have to spend the night in the cold of winter or the heat of summer in a very dangerous and isolated place, terrified of what might happen to them.
In some cases you have identification but this is not guaranteed despite a state requirement that this be provided. We still have people coming to us from prison with no state identification, no social security card or birth certificate which means they cannot be employed until they have two forms of ID, a cumbersome and time consuming task.
Those who come to TPOM are most fortunate. We will either go to the prison and provide transportation or we will drive to the bus stop to get them upon arrival in Nashville or Memphis. On numerous occasions, staff members have had to travel even late at night to rescue a new resident from sleeping on the outside bench because the bus didn’t stop because it was at capacity. Since programs like TPOM are few and far between, then many who are released just have to navigate the system on their own. It is not surprising that many returning citizens end up returning to prison.
Can we do better as a state? Absolutely we can but it requires true compassion and the willingness to invest our tax dollars, not just in building and staffing prisons, but in assisting men and women as they are released from incarceration so they can have the tools to live a productive life.