Prisonology interviews Michael, a former inmate, on his experience of staying in a halfway house in New York.
After leaving prison, most inmates do not go directly home but instead go to a transitional facility known as a halfway house. As the name implies, it is not prison and it most certainly in not home, but it is closer to home. These are all operated by private companies under the supervision of the BOP. You dress, work and move throughout the community but those movements are closely monitored. This section gives you an overview of what to expect and how to best deal with the challenges of the halfway house.
Be aware that the conditions in the halfway house are much different than prison. You will be with higher security inmates but everyone operates under the same rules.
You may not want to initially tell staff you have a job awaiting you upon release from prison. “Looking” for a job is one of the reasons that you will need a longer stay at the Halfway House.
If you have medical issues, it is good to obtain insurance coverage and provide a copy of the card to the Unit Team approximately one year prior to release or as soon as possible after that.
Remember that it is “Need”, not hardship, that the BOP considers when determining the placement duration a halfway house). Need is primarily based on seeking employment, training and housing.
The Unit Team has the discretion to recommend direct home confinement for older inmates not wanting to reside in the halfway house.
If you did not participate in the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), try to get into the Non-RDAP (a shorter program with no time off of sentence). It is offered at every facility and your participation in the program may lead to a longer halfway house (lesser time in prison away from home).
Prior to your arrival at the halfway house, secure a job from a friend or associate that will be minimum wage and temporary in nature. Again, be discreet about telling staff you have a job.
When you are not on home confinement during your initial days at the halfway house, minimize your time at the halfway house by working 10 hour days, 6 days a week (even more if your halfway house allows).
Do not try to find your “forever” job at the halfway house. Staff at halfway houses tend to be unpredictable and can demand you miss work or be late for even trivial violations. It is best to have a job that can meet the irrational demands of a halfway house staff.
In advance of leaving prison, have your family send in your Social Security card, Driver's License and clothes to wear on the ride to the halfway house.
J.B. (Former Inmate) Halfway House
"After spending three years at Fort Dix, I was transferred to Lewisburg to enter the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). After spending my first eight months at Lewisburg on the wait list, I entered the program in January, 2012. It is a nine month program, and in the very first week I was given a firm date that I would graduate and be transferred to a halfway house. I received a nine month sentence reduction in total and had waited four years to qualify for that early release date to be determined. The countdown was on at last.
I graduated from RDAP on October 23, 2012, and prepared to leave Lewisburg the next morning along with all of my classmates. Unlike the usual routine where inmates periodically depart one at a time, my entire RDAP class gathered in a room as we were all leaving that same morning and going our separate ways. It was a festive atmosphere with everyone saying goodbye and congratulating each other. Guys were dressing in street clothes they hadn’t seen in years that family members shipped in for them to wear that day. When I was advised that my daughter had arrived to pick me up, I could not believe it was really happening. I bid the remaining fellows one final goodbye and I ran to the car to be greeted by my overjoyed and highly emotional 22 year old baby. My 53 month ordeal was over.
Although it felt like I was finally being released, the fact is that my next stop was a halfway house. I had heard it said that the halfway houses were worse than prison and, in fact, I observed on several occasions where an inmate refused to go to a halfway house, opting instead to stay in prison. After spending several months in one of Philadelphia’s glorious halfway houses, I can somewhat understand the sentiment. It was the most inefficiently run, wasteful, and completely ridiculous institution anyone could possibly imagine.
The one glaring difference from a prison, of course, was that I could get passes to leave during the day to seek a job, purchase necessities, go to a religious establishment, or a doctor, and sometimes even visit my family. It was an amazing feeling to walk down a street, get on a bus or train, order a pizza, and so on. Since limited freedom is far better than no freedom, that made the halfway house far better than prison, even though the facility itself was completely dysfunctional.
In order to get out of the halfway house and transferred to home confinement, I had to find a job. I had spent months trying, long before I left Lewisburg, but to no avail. I tried hundreds of offices, asking to be a clerk or administrative assistant. Nothing! I tried many of the big stores preparing for the Christmas season since all were actively seeking extra workers for the holidays. Nothing! I tried everything I could think of. Nothing! Despite claims to the contrary, no one was interested in hiring a 60 year old felon. Finally, a lifelong friend got me a job offer as a truck driver for car parts. Based on my experience [lawyer] as well as that of many others, it seems that in most cases the best way to get a job, or perhaps the only way, is by knowing someone. No matter the job, just get something.
I started my job as a delivery driver and since that fulfilled the final requirement to be eligible for home confinement, the hallway house quickly processed me out of there, taking only six weeks to prepare about two forms. They only let me work four days per week and they regularly called or showed up unannounced at my place of work to make sure I was working. This happened to everyone and it is just a terrible way to treat employers willing to hire inmates and really discourages them from doing so. Also, I had to pay the halfway house 25% of my gross pay for four weeks before they would let me go to home confinement, and then I had to continue payng throughout my three months of home confinement. If anyone is wondering why inmates don’t bother looking for work or can’t get hired when they do look, wonder no more.
The lesson I learned and the one to be passed along to others is that as thrilling as it is to leave prison, it must be always remembered that a halfway is also still a prison, just a different more lenient form. I was officially released from custody of the BOP on April 19, 2013, six months after I arrived at the halfway house. Other than having to spend five more years on probation, this time I truly was free."