The New York Times
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- On a rare visit to his childhood home, Eddie Williams is 16 again, peering down a shotgun barrel as he crouches in the kitchen doorway. The intruder then swivels and shoots, and Williams sees his mother, a pastor's widow, tumble face down on the yellow linoleum floor.
''I was never scared, just shocked,'' he recalls in a voice husky with emotion. ''I distinctly remember the blood coming from under her.''
Twenty-five years have passed and the careworn house on Tremont Street is hardly changed. Williams points out the two-story rear extension his father built to accommodate 11 children, and it triggers a tide of happy memories. ''I can never say I didn't feel love as a child,'' he says.
At 41, having spent more than half his adult years behind bars for a string of drug-fueled burglaries and thefts, Williams is back chasing ghosts. Released from prison in January for a fourth time, he has signed up with a re-entry program designed to help even high-risk convicts adjust better outside.
By late summer, he hasn't found a job, has broken up with a longtime girlfriend and is looking the worse for wear. So the old questions loom once more: Can Eddie Williams put his life of drug addiction and crime behind him, soothe family betrayals, find a redemptive place in a society that has passed him by?
Ann Graham, who oversees therapy, job training and other re-entry services at Catholic Family Center, gives newly released inmates plain advice: ''You're not good at this, so stop doing it.'' Williams would agree: During one drug-addled break-in, he sat down to eat a sandwich, dozed off and was awakened by a cop.
An internal change is invariably the key, re-entry advocates say. The 380 men in this year's Rochester-area program, a model tried across New York since 2006 after finding success in Georgia, Michigan and other states, range from 16 years on up. It's the older ones who seem to hear Graham's message best.
''The hardest thing for many guys, especially as they get old, is to have anything to live for when they get out,'' she says. ''They've burned a lot of bridges, and the connections they make get broken over and over again.
''In the end, most want what everybody else wants, to earn a decent living, have a family who will love them and who they can love. Unfortunately, a lot take this very circuitous route'' before realizing that what ''really makes them happy in life, they're X-ing themselves out of by their actions.''
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The New York Times