“2027” is written boldly on the back of Ernest Boykin’s phone as a reminder of the year he would have been released, had he not been granted compassionate release.
“Every day not behind the fence, every day that I’m free, is a win for me,” Ernest says. “Even if it’s not a good day. Even if it’s raining. Even if it’s a hard day, it’s a great day.”
That sense of optimism was hard-won. Ernest began his fifteen-year sentence for drug offenses in denial. It wasn’t until loved ones stopped answering his phone calls and letters that he understood the reality of his incarceration. He turned his attention to self-reflection, writing novels based on his new reality, and taking classes.
Acceptance turned to fear when COVID spread through the prison in 2020. Ernest applied for compassionate release through FAMM’s Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, explaining that his personal health history put him at grave risk amidst the global pandemic. His application was granted, and Ernest was released to the care of his family. He got right to work repairing the relationships that suffered while he was away.
Ernest points to the impact on the community and family as an overlooked consequence of incarceration. He believes the incarcerated person is not alone in paying the price for a crime. “The person who is now behind bars could be the same person who helped the elderly lady across the street bringing groceries in the house. Or this could be the same person who was the babysitter for two people on their street. Or this could be the same person who helped cut the grass for somebody who doesn’t have a lawnmower on their street. So, when you lock a person up, you’re not just locking that person up, you’re locking up a piece of the community and you’re locking up pretty much their entire family.”
Home now, Ernest believes his family is better able to appreciate their second chance at making memories together. He spends special time with his aging parents and can attend his children’s graduation ceremonies and sports games. In April of 2022, Ernest became a father again and welcomed baby Ari to the world.
Ernest continues to serve his community outside the home as well. He won enrollment in the Georgetown University Pivot Program, which aims to provide formerly incarcerated individuals leadership and professional development opportunities. Through Pivot, Ernest found a role for himself with Link Strategic Partners, a company he continues to work for today. “Entrepreneurship is very important for me because it gives me an opportunity to work for myself and also work for the community and help employ others,” Ernest explains.
When asked what a second chance means to him personally, Ernest reflected, “That the grass is a lot greener. The flowers are a lot more vivid. Everything is a lot more special. A second chance gives me an opportunity to appreciate the life that I may have taken for granted at one point.”
Listen to FAMM’s Alexia Pitter, whose own father is incarcerated, talk with Ernest about his second chance: