Gil Larrabee has been out of prison for 20 yeas and is just now feeling as if his life is together.
Another former inmate has only been out for a year and wishes to keep his identity hidden, fearing it will hurt his chances at getting his life back on track. He says, “I broke down when I got out. I was suicidal, didn’t think I was going to make it and it was a real struggle. I even thought just going back to prison would be a better solution than to try to make it on the street.”
For many inmates the transition from a cell to the outside world is difficult.
The anonymous former inmate says, “I’d been locked up in a cell for 14 years and it was a shock to come out of a cell and into the world again. I thought it was going to be an easy transition but it was a major struggle.”
Larrabee says, “It was well over 20 years ago when I got out. The one thing that was a problem for me was the changes that took place in that 10 year span. When I went into prison I didn’t know what a cell phone was, when I got out of prison you couldn’t get away without cell phones.”
Prisoners are released into many different situations. Some have family, others don’t. The anonymous former inmate says, “I was displaced…I didn’t know anyone. I came up to Bangor with a backpack and a small box and that was all of my belongings. I had saved up a couple of thousand dollars from working at the prison and basically homeless, no job and just a few prison clothes.”
It’s difficult for them to find housing and employment. He says, “It’s been over a year. I’m still unemployed. I’m on social security disability insurance. I was fortunate enough to get that and I really don’t know what I would do without it. Nobody was hiring. They say it’s a small town and everybody knows everybody and chances are you’re not going to get hired in this town.”
But with programs like The Columbia Street Project, these former inmates can get some of the help they need to start piecing their lives back together.
The anonymous former inmate says, “That was what got me through the barrier working with the Columbia Street Project. Now I have a good support network here in Bangor with councilors, with church members, with Stan Moody. I was very fortunate that way.”
Larrabee says, “Columbia Street Project has helped me get back involved in helping others. I am more or less, I like to say I’m a consultant with the guys that come out because I have over 20 years experience in making the transition and also I’m aware of what they’ve been through inside.”
While these two former prisoners are slowly getting the help they need there are others who haven’t been as fortunate.
Reverend Stan Moody, Director of The Columbia Street Project says, “Nobody has the answer to this, nobody. What they do at the prison, when you’re done you’re outside the door of the prison with $50 and a bus ticket anywhere in the state of Maine and that’s how you get your start and if you haven’t made this connection and if you don’t have a place to go, you’re just going to drift back into what you were doing before you got there.”
The anonymous inmate says, “It’s tough. It is really, really tough because it’s so much easier just to go back and do nothing and sit in a cell. It’s a lot harder to actually work and try to become independent and stay off the drugs and the alcohol and to do what we’re supposed to be doing.”