Why I care about the formerly incarcerated

An artist who served as a defense counsel for over 25 years, I am concerned with the moment convicts experience freedom.  They go to prison, serve their time there, and then ninety-five percent of them are released back to their neighborhoods.  Only the most dangerous of inmates stay incarcerated in prison indefinitely. 

But instead of being thought of as having paid for their crimes, the formerly incarcerated continue to be punished by society and the criminal justice system.  I’m not talking about the negative residual residue they carry for having been incarcerated and separated from their families, but rather, I am speaking to the restrictions and impediments to successful reentry that they face.  Unsanctionable shackles of dehumanization.  Monetary fines and fees with no nexus to justice.

The mechanisms vary, but in over forty states the newly released are billed for a public defender; charged room and board for incarceration; and, must pay for electronic monitoring that they are ordered to use.  Many employers ban them from employment; others make them reveal their felon status in job applications.  They often cannot be teachers, acquire professional licenses, serve in the armed forces, or work for government agencies. They cannot be policemen or hold office. I hope that we can treat those who reenter more fairly in the future.

The boys stood aghast watching him shimmy up the pole

Josh Cavaretta and I met in Northwest Reno last fall for his session to model for my series, Prisoners to Paper dolls. Josh was a 29-year-old stick of a man with a large blue tattoo of his girlfriend’s name, Katrina, resting on his supraorbital ridge.  

We walked together over to an elementary school and sat on a bench in a covered patio area right outside the school.  Two boys played basketball nearby. 

Josh answered questions about his past and talked for a bit.  He first wanted me to know he was lucky to have his beautiful girlfriend, Katrina, who had gone to school in France and how they had been together since they were 16.  He then explained his criminal history saying many things but it all culminated in his being charged with theft -- taking a purse out of the car where the door was unlocked, for which the court sentenced him to 12-30 months.  High Desert State Prison, a high security facility, in Indian Springs, NV released him in 2015.

A basketball flew over our heads and landed on the flat, corrugated metal roof above us.  The boys groaned, resigned to its fate of obscurity on the roof.  Josh stood up and shimmied up one of the 8-foot poles supporting the structure.  He walked out on the roof, grabbed the basketball, and threw it to the young boys who stood there with their mouths open. They smiled and looked at each other bemused and relieved.  When Josh came back down I asked him, “What is your sport?”  He replied, “Skateboarding.”  But then he added, “However, I come from a family of trapeze artists.  My mother and aunt were part of the first all-women’s flying act called the Flying Cavarettas.  My aunt was the first person known to do a triple somersault on the ground.” 

When I got home:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XekUC_AfD7U.  What a pleasure it was to meet him.  I am now painting his paper doll portrait.  For updates on the painting see https://www.instagram.com/glynn_cartledge_art/.

Still a felon, still an outlaw

Infected corpuscles in worn-out body trudging up rusted iron steps to an old halfway house. Paid for my crime.  I was cast out of my house because of it and so that’s who I am, I guess.  I did it, no denying that and now gotta get on with my life.

Still a felon, an outlaw. The fucked-up system and my neighbors continue to be my wardens.  I got no employment worth going to. Yes, it’s a job and I’m thankful to God for it but they watch me and they don’t pay enough to keep my family fed.  I might have to do something else to survive.


My son was my prison guard

In late May, I began looking for ex-offenders in Corpus Christi, Texas to pose as models for the series, P2P, Prisoners to Paper dolls, and to record their stories, and to have them share some personal criminal archives.  One such ex-prisoner was Billy.  A 6’4”, blue-eyed, sinewy muscled man of forty-eight met me with his twenty-three year old son Shawn, and his lifelong friend and now girlfriend, forty-seven year old, Valerie.  Each posed for pictures.  Billy wept as he recorded the story he had written about his incarceration and his being on the lam for most of his adult life.  Afterwards, we sat at a table and talked, and he laughed heartily, saying, “You know, when I went through diagnostics in the Texas system I was in the same prison where Shawn was a prison guard.”  “Yea,” Shawn said, “There he was.  In my prison.  I knew he was coming into prison but it was something else seeing him there.”



People are always wondering

Joe let out a big sigh, "I know I have limited my choices by serving time in prison.  I have prison tattoos.  People look at me and I know they are asking themselves whether I am an ex-prisoner.  My apprehension.  Every time I meet someone.  I know they are thinking that I am a criminal and that they are afraid or don’t want to be around me.  You looked at me that way.  I know you didn't mean anything by it but I saw that you were wondering."

We already have that one thing that we need to know that we know that we do not wish to associate with this individual any more than necessary. 


George goes to prison for the first time

My name is George _______.

I got locked up Jan 14, 2014 for a domestic violence situt situation involving my girlfriend of about a year.  Jail time is nothing I would wish on my worst enemy. 

I stayed I the chatham county jail for a little over two-year awaiting trial and the remainer of the timewas spent in a prison in chester Georgia.

My exiperence during the first two-years was rough.  I went threw a spell of depression.  And was really thinking about taking anti-depression medications.  But instead I just prayed and coped by talking with my Grandmother like 3x’s a week.  I  even eventually joined the chapling program.  It was not easy at all.  My grandmother would send me fifty dollars a week and I eventually picked up a lot of weight.  Then like maybe 6 or seven months into my sentence time in jail the public defenders started coming with ple-deals.  Offering me ten years   I quickly declined.  then about 2 years in my sentence they offered 5 year credit for time served and quickly accept.

Not to much longer after I accepted that plea offer was I shipped off to Jackson State prison for diagnostics in diagnostic that’s when reality clicked in and I said to myself this is real.  There I witnessed people on death row, anytime we were in line going to chow and there was a deathrow inmate coming we were ordered to face the wall until the deathrow inmate would pass.  Other things I experience was people’s Commissary getting taken by gangs or muslims.  Rape and pervesion were also thing I’ve witnessed.  Twenty-three hour lock downs were mandatory was routine for us also.  I stayed there for about six weeks before I was finally told to pack it up because I was being shipped to my permanent prison. 

Once I packed my belongings I was told what State prison we I would go to a lot of inmates when they heard what prison they would have to go to started holding there heads down.

When we arrived at the prison it looked like a whole nother world the grass realty trimmed the floors were shining all the inmate had clean white and blue strips. 

Then we were taken to our dorms where it was clean also I was assigned my cell, my first cell-mate was an older white guy he was cool though.  The first night there was a bit of a blur.  But I remember I started smelling clouds of mari weed smoke while I was in the T.V. room, then I remember C.O’s coming in rushing to this particular room and bringing three members of the gangs out in hand cuff we were locked down for the rest of that night.

I was eventually moved to a different housing were the inmate were using more harder drugs and fighting over commissary I managed to stay clear off of all of that and earned my G.E.D.  My roommate whom I had been getting along with was moved and a gang member was placed in my cell so I spoke with an lutinent and was moved.  It really wasn’t much better because my new cell-mate always had to much company in our cell and alltimes of th day and night.  I knew I was going to be released on parole so I really stayed clear of fighting. 

Then something happened a real good friend of mine cell-mate had been beatin until he was bleeding out the ears by gang members the victim was a Mexican and they robbed him off of his celluar phone something we’re not to pos have.  My good friend left that dorm after that because he did not no what kind of cell mate ho would get. 

After that I just started to read more until I was finially released in  September on the the 14 of 2017.  I’m now on parole until Jan 14, 2019. And working at a warehouse here in Savannah and hoping never to return.