10 Hours On A Bus With Newly Released Prisoners
This article has been re-published here with permission from the author. You can find the originally version on Gothamist.com here.
A few months ago I found myself in a shabby bus depot in Saranac Lake, New York. I had just visited a friend, and was pondering my 10-hour bus ride back to Brooklyn. The depot doubles as the anteroom of the Saranac Hotel, and its dilapidated decor from the early 1970s enhanced my dread. As I waited, eight men arrived to catch the bus dressed in the same ensemble: khaki pants and a white t-shirt. They all clutched small red mesh bags. Men’s croquet league? I wondered. Missionaries? My speculation was cut short by an exchange between two of the men: “You just get out of correctional?”
“How long you been in?”
“Nine years. You?”
“Five. Ray Brook.”
I wondered what someone might do to be imprisoned for nine years. Two elderly women showed up to catch the bus. After hearing some of the conversation that was unfolding, they scuttled away, averting their eyes. I considered that option, but I was also curious. I figured that no one wants to go back to prison having just exited.
“Wow!” I interjected, too enthusiastically. “Nine years! That’s huge. Congratulations! This is cause for celebration, no?” They all laughed and seemed to enjoy my approach. Or at least they didn’t mind. “Thanks! Yeah, nine years. Got out today.”
“My name is Amy. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m Didd. Thanks, you too.”
When the bus arrived the few non-uniformed passengers hid in the back. Five of the parolees, Didd, Drew, Donnie, Elvi and Horse, had all piled in the middle, and Drew immediately asked me to join them. I was flattered, and now unexpectedly enthusiastic about the lengthy drive ahead.
I discovered that Didd, 33, was in federal lockup for carrying 7.6 grams of crack cocaine and a gun in Washington, D.C. He’d originally received a 30-year sentence, and was thrilled when his lawyer was able to get 21 of them thrown out.
Drew, 34, was once caught in the Bronx with 27 grams of crack, and received a 10 month sentence at a State facility. This time he was given two years for selling methadone to an undercover cop. “For the record, I gave a bottle to a female I know, and I didn’t throw her under the bus,” Drew explained. “I didn’t rat on her.”
Donnie, a 25 year-old from New Hampshire, was caught with various drugs, along with a stolen .9mm Smith & Wesson (not “jacked” by him, he assured me), and he got four years in federal.
The others were caught in New York with heroin (one had “90 bundles”), and received sentences of 18 months and three years, respectively. All of the men were jailed for non-violent offenses, though one had served time at San Quentin years ago for murder. He said the killing was self-defense. Each of them had been incarcerated before, at least twice. Two said they’d been in various county jails 20 to 30 times. On the bus, all of the men vowed never to go back.
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