Client Success Stories
Leonard's Story in His Own Words
When I got out of prison in early 2010, I went straight from the courthouse to the condo where I was going to be living with my girlfriend. I went to prison at age 28 and did 37 years of a life sentence without possibility of parole.
I was 65 years old when I finally won my freedom on my fifth appeal. I wasn’t paroled, there were no conditions only release - no halfway house, no limits on where I could travel or who I could associate with, no mandatory programs, no parole officer to report to on a regular basis.
I was just suddenly, totally, free - which was my dream come true, but I wasn’t prepared for what a shock it was. My dream flipped to a nightmare and back a thousand times a day. No one who hasn’t lived it can know what it’s like.
I was lucky when I got out because I had a place to live. I even had job offers. And I didn’t really have to worry about how much the jobs paid because I knew I wasn’t going to wind up on the street.
A lot of guys I know go through hell when they get out on parole, just trying to get a roof over their heads, someplace other than a shelter or a rooming house, somewhere they can call home - their own “spot.” But in a way I still feel like those guys were luckier than me because they were paroled to programs that helped them ease into things slowly.
They got help every day with basic re-entry and coping skills, like how to manage money, how to interact with people, and what to do when you feel like you’re going to lose your mind from all the changes and stress. My girlfriend and some of my family and friends in Boston were committed to helping me but they had no idea what I was going through or what I needed.
That’s where Span came in. I knew Span’s founder, Lyn Levy, before she started Span, way back when she was a volunteer at Walpole and Norfolk in the 70s. After she started Span, it got a reputation inside for understanding what guys needed (material and emotional) when they got out and being serious about helping them get it.
The day after I got out of prison, I made sure I went to Span in downtown Boston. It was freezing cold and everything outside - the strange streets, the subways, the crowds of people - made me jumpy, but I knew I needed to get there.
Once I got to Span and talked with Lyn, I felt like I could relax and breathe for the first time in over 24 hours. Five years later, I can drop by Span any day, any time, and know I’ll have a conversation with someone who understands me - whether it’s other ex-cons trying to survive out here or one of the friendly, supportive staff.
I give Span a lot of credit for helping me cope and change and adjust to life out here. I’ve been going to a discussion group there on Monday nights pretty much since I got out. I look forward to it because the other people in the group are going through the same changes I’m going through. If they got out more recently, they remind me what it was like at the beginning and help keep me grounded - and I can help them calm down and focus so they don’t get overwhelmed and wind up doing something stupid that will land them right back where they just came from.
We talk to each other straight; we can say things to each other that even the counselor who runs the group can’t say. But we also need the counselor. He gives us perspective, tells us about resources and suggests ideas for coping that we don’t always think of when we’re so stressed out. Some of the survival skills we learned inside, like always acting tough and never trusting anyone, can backfire on us out here. Some of the habits that kept us from going out of our minds with boredom or frustration in prison, like gambling on cards or sports, might have seemed harmless inside, but if we keep them up out here we probably won’t be out long.
During my first year or two of freedom, I also saw an individual counselor at Span every week. He understood my issues and he spoke up and challenged me when he saw me dealing with situations in unhealthy ways. I counted on him to be sympathetic, but also to talk to me without sugarcoating. At one point, when my girlfriend and I were going through serious problems in our relationship, my counselor agreed to see us both together.
We met with him together a few times and he also met with us alone a few times to help us figure out what was going on. It was hard to hear what he had to say; it saved us, though. I have no idea how we would have survived as a couple if he hadn’t been willing to work with us so long and hard. Before that, we tried working with a couple’s counselor at another place - but it didn’t help much. That guy was great and he had experience dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, which anyone coming out of prison has. Still, he couldn’t zero in on what was going on with us like the Span counselor did. Coming out of prison is its own thing. It takes someone with a lot of talent and a lot of special training to understand it. We were very, very lucky to find that someone at Span.
I also took part in a re-entry skills class at Span, both as a student and as a co-facilitator. Plus a couple of times a year, I meet with a “community corrections” class from Boston University when they come to Span to learn about re-entry issues.
These are chances for me to give as well as get, and they always make me feel good. I realize that my experiences and outlook are valuable and can change others’ lives in a positive way.
At the nonprofit where I work, I deal on a daily basis with ex-offenders and with prisoners who are getting ready to wrap up their sentences or get out on parole. I always try to hook them up with Span if they fit the program’s criteria. Whether they need help with housing, job searches, food, or coping skills, or just need a place to feel comfortable like I do, Span can help them. When you leave prison after any length of time, as much as you value your freedom, you can feel like you were “somebody” in there and you’re “nobody” out here.
Span lets you know you’re worth investing in, because they invest in you on every level. They help you see that you’re still somebody - it’s just that you don’t always know how to translate the best parts of yourself so they make sense out here. It’s like you’re a refugee from another country. You need to learn freedom as a second language, and that’s what Span teaches. What if all the refugees who came to this state not knowing any English had only one school where they could learn the language? We need a lot more Spans out here.
RW had spent a year in prison for her first and only incarceration. When she was due to get out, her release plan fell through. She came to Span homeless and with no money. Staff members placed her in Span’s Reintegration Support Program, where she was provided with housing for one month and participated in a rigorous program of activities. Her counselor assisted her with a job search. RW was accepted into a program that paid for her housing while she was in training. RW has graduated from her training program and is now employed and able to take care of her own housing expenses. She is still a regular member of Span.
PR had served a total of twenty years in prison over a few different sentences. "Life on the installment plan," he calls it. The first few sentences were spent in lockup. While outside prison, he would return to drug use, get into fights, and didn't care about changing. He says he lost hope. Fed up during his final incarceration, he joined Span and began to prepare for his release. He built new relationships and participated actively in treatment. After his release, he was able to spend three months drug-free. Energized by his ability to make a positive change, he enrolled in an academic program and continued his counseling. Four years later, PR is employed as a carpenter, actively participates in his community, takes care of his two children, and provides encouragement to many clients at Span. He is still attends Span reintegration groups.
MB enrolled in Span in prison during his fourth incarceration, which was a long sentence. He had decided he was "done" while he was in prison, and decided to go to college. He joined the Higher Education in Prison Program at Bay State Correctional Center, taking classes throughout the remainder of his incarceration. After he was released, MB continued his education, selecting a degree program in biomedical technology. At what he calls "better than 50 years old," he has been able to start over. MB has been out of prison for 14 months now, and enjoying the longest clean time he has ever had in the street. He comes to Span, goes to school, works, and has rekindled his relationship with his daughter.
MW was serving a sentence for trafficking at MCI Plymouth when he became an inmate dog trainer. He worked with a lovely black Labrador retriever, and "finished" him for matching with an Iraq veteran. He participated in Span, worked on his substance abuse history, and decided to go into residential treatment as part of his parole plan. Span placed him at The Bridge House, which he completed successfully. MW is now working, using the local gym (something he'd promised himself he'd do when he was locked up), and is reunited with his family. He stays in contact with Span.