In July, 2013 Eddie Ellis gave a lengthy interview to Katti Gray for The Sun Magazine entitled, “The Run-On Sentence: Eddie Ellis on Life after Prison.” We have a brief excerpt below, or you can read the full interview on the Sun website or you can download the article below.
Gray: How can we help people who are leaving prison re-enter society?
Ellis: We hesitate to refer to the process of returning home from prison as “reentry.” Reenter means “to enter again,” and a majority of the people we work with were never a part of mainstream institutions, functional families, the legal job market, or a supportive faith community in the first place. So for them it’s not a case of reentry but of coming into an entirely new situation.
We need more programs to help with that transition, and the overwhelming majority of the ones we have are run by people with no firsthand knowledge of what the incarcerated have endured and how they’ve been affected by it. The Center for NuLeadership is one of the very few organizations run entirely by the formerly incarcerated. Other groups and programs might do good work, but unless they involve people who have been in prison in their planning, they are unable to address the root of the problem adequately and offer a meaningful fix.
For example, a formerly incarcerated man came into our office the other day complaining that he’d just gotten fired.
“My boss don’t like me,” he said. I asked him why. “Because he’s white and I’m black,” he replied.
It turned out his boss had given him an hour for lunch. The man had left the office at noon to walk to the deli and buy a sandwich. That took him fifteen minutes. Then he went to the park, took a seat on a bench, and stayed there for a full hour, reading the newspaper and eating. In his mind, lunch started the moment he took his first bite of that sandwich. When you’ve never been schooled in the ways of the workplace, you may not know the finer points of its rules and etiquette. And that man had had no work experience other than selling drugs. He’d been busted and sent to prison at the age of nineteen. So it’s not enough for people like him to learn how to fill out a job application and dress for an interview. They need to be educated about real-world decorum.
What compounds the problem for formerly incarcerated black males is that black men in this culture have a harder time finding work, period. One of my collaborators, Bruce Western, a sociologist at Harvard University, has documented that a white job candidate with a GED stands a better chance of getting a job than a black candidate with a bachelor’s degree. He has also documented the wage inequality between workers who have and have not been locked up in the past.
Read the full interview on the Sun website or download and print the article from below.