A Ride Home from Prison

NYT Op-Doc

When California voters amended the state’s harsh three-strikes law in 2012, they ensured that nonviolent third offenses would no longer lead to life sentences. Significantly, they made about 3,000 people serving those life sentences suddenly eligible for release. Since then, more than 2,000 have emerged after years in prison into worlds dramatically transformed from those they left behind.

This Op-Doc video profiles one of them. Stanley Bailey was a lifer until he was released earlier this year. Carlos Cervantes, a former prisoner himself and part of a “ride home” program founded by the Stanford Three Strikes Project and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, picks him up and guides him through his vulnerable first hours of freedom.

Having followed those at the core of three-strikes reform for three years, we’ve been struck by the encouraging results: hundreds of families reunited, millions of dollars saved, and recidivism rates remarkably low.

But re-entry is much more complicated than simply leaving prison. More than half a million people are released each year in the United States, most with a meager $200 of gate money coupled with an abundance of barriers to re-entering society. Many are banned from housing, jobs, student loans and voting. And many have been profoundly affected by institutionalization, making the transition even more difficult.

Ride-home programs like the one that employs Mr. Cervantes are a small but crucial piece of the reform puzzle our nation is tasked with solving. They are essential for helping people like Mr. Bailey deal with the emotional scars of prison and the inevitable disorientation of re-entering a changed world.