Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Former Prison Inmate Robs WY Bank, Throws the Money in the Air, & Waits for Police

California Also Has Former Prisoners Unable to Survive on the Outside

A major shortcoming in typical US prison programs was highlighted by the seemingly bizarre behavior of 59-year-old Linda Patricia Thompson this week.

Thompson walked into a US Bank in Cheyenne and handed the teller a cardboard note that said "I have a gun. Give me all your money." The teller turned over thousands of dollars.

Back outside, Thompson threw some of the money into the air and offered the rest to passers-by, then she sat down and waited for the police.

When Cheyenne police Lt. Nathan Busek arrived, he found Thompson still with a large sum of cash.

"I just robbed the bank," she said, "I want to go back to prison"

Thompson had been serving time at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, for a second-degree robbery conviction in Union County until her release in June.

Since then, Thompson has been homeless. Unable to find a space in a shelter, she suffered facial fractures after she was assaulted by strangers in a park.

She decided to rob the bank on Wednesday because she felt she could no longer stay on the streets, court records say.

Like many former inmates, Thompson left the Oregon prison with little more than the clothes on her back.

She had been homeless when arrested in 2010, and had nowhere to go and no one to turn to upon her release six years later. In fact, she told investigators that she had informed the Oregon parole office that she didn't want to be released because she didn't think she'd do well.

So-called "gate money" for indigent prisoners in Oregon is only $25, along with one outfit of clothing (if needed), and a bus voucher if no one is picking them up.

Obviously, a person can't survive for long with $25, but that is not an unusually low figure for release funds anywhere in the country.

California provides $200 (minus the cost of clothing), along with transportation to a shelter or a bus station, for someone who has been incarcerated for more than six months, and it is one of the more generous states.

Given the impossibility of this financial situation, it is no surprise that many recent parolees are in such a desperate state that they return to crime. In one follow-up study, 75% of the released inmates became homeless within 30 days. Once homeless they are much more likely to stop reporting to their parole officer.

A prisoner who doesn't already have an outside support system in place is more likely than not to fail.

Even inmates who have built up a cash account at the prison by either working or receiving gifts from the outside may struggle to access that money. Typically, they are given a small amount from their account in actual cash, as little as $10, and the rest in the form of a check. If they do not have a current ID or someone to help them, they may not be able to cash that check.

Possessions acquired within the prison system, such as televisions, are generally of low quality, and left behind to other prisoners. In fact, an inmate may not even take possessions with him or her if transferred from one facility to another. Some states will allow 30 days to pick up items left behind, but realistically those things are not available to pawn or sell.

While a certain draconian segment of the population may think that parolees should continue to suffer in this way, common sense says that releasing people into poverty is going to lead to increased criminal activity. Most people would rather steal than starve.

Programs that help inmates re-enter society are critical, but this need is only randomly met by a hodge-podge of government or private programs.

Being specifically assigned to a half-way house reduces recidivism, as does job training or earning a college degree, but these can all be expensive projects. Many states feel they can't afford it.

On a more basic level, help is needed just to navigate the complexities of a modern world on a few dollars a day.

Here in California, the "Ride Home Program" from the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in California employs former inmates to pick up ex-inmates on the day they are released to guide them through their first day in a changed world.

The drivers spend all day with the released prisoners, helping them to buy them buy food, get a haircut, or find shelter. They offer advice on finding work, show them how to use a smart phone, and may even help them locate family members with Facebook or other social media. In other words, they reintroduce them to the culture.

Former prisoners themselves, the drivers understand the shock that these newly freed men and women might feel.

As for Linda Patricia Thompson, she didn't have the support she needed to escape from a desperate situation that included actual physical injury, so she had to find her own way out.

Her detention hearing will be on Tuesday on a bank robbery charge, and she does not yet have an attorney.


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