At this moment, thousands of people safely completing their sentences at home are living in fear that they’ll be sent back to federal prison through no fault of their own. A memo issued in the final days of the Trump administration threatens to send around 4,500 people on home confinement back to federal prison after the pandemic ends. This memo, from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is incorrect. Moreover, none of these people were told that they might be sent back and most made plans for a future with their families at home. If the Biden administration doesn’t act to fix this, these families will be torn apart. Here are some of their stories.
“My kids say I’m too emotional, that all I want to do is hug them,” says Antwan Jones, talking about his three children, Ashton and Ashlee, both 17, and Antwan, Jr., 11. “They say, ‘Be cool.’ So, that’s what I’m trying to do, just connect with them where they are. Maybe that’s just sitting with them while they watch TikTok – at least I’m with them.”
In prison since 2012 on drug charges under an 18-year sentence, Antwan contracted COVID twice in prison before he was released under the CARES Act in May 2020. Since then, he’s tried hard to get his life back on track and not violate the rules of his halfway house supervision, which seems scarily easy to do. “I try to stay at home as much as possible, just keep my head down and stay focused,” he says. In the spring, he got a job through the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Second Chance training program, and he’s doing well. The Second Chance program is sponsored by CTA and local nonprofits like the Salvation Army who vet returning citizens for employment with the CTA.
“Being able to participate in the CTA’s Second Chance program gave me a sense of purpose and belonging without resentencing me for my former shortcomings,” Antwan says. “Being an employee of one of the country’s largest public transportation systems gives me a sense of pride, knowing that I can now provide for my children and demonstrate to them that their father can be as normal as the next dad.”
But since Antwan heard about the OLC memo, he’s been on edge. He has six more years on his sentence, and the threat of going back inside after all the hard work he’s done is hard to take. Most of all, Antwan worries about the impact it would have on his fragile but improving relationship with his kids. “They were 8 and 2 when I went in. Losing them a second time would seal the deal on any hopes of my fatherhood being a positive experience for them. I got a lot of knowledge about what street not to go down, what path not to take. It’s driving me crazy that my going back would make them resent me so much that they would shut me out completely, and not benefit from my life experiences. I am their father, I’m finally able to financially provide again, and I need to be there for them.”
Jeanne Rae Green
“My grandchildren call me MayMay,” says Jeanne Rae Green. “They smile when they get out of the car and see me.” Jeanne Rae, now 48, worked hard to be that kind of woman, which is far from where she was in 2013, when was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison on drugs charges.
In May of 2020, Jeanne Rae was released on the Cares Act after 78 months behind bars. In all that time, she worked extremely hard on herself, “not just physically,” she says, “but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. While I was incarcerated, I rebuilt my relationships with my three adult children, my siblings, and other family.”
When she got out, she relied on family support and eventually found her footing. “During the first few months I was home I acquired my birth certificate, social security card, and my driver’s license. I felt amazing and ready to keep moving forward. Five months ago, I started working for Landmark Industries, also known as Time Wise Food Mart. They gave me an opportunity to prove that I can and am a productive member of society.”
But then she heard about the OLC memo. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was setting in my sister’s living room trying to figure out my new cell phone. I came across the Forbes magazine article about it. I had to read the article a couple times. I didn’t want to believe what I was reading. I still can’t make sense of why. It’s devastating, and the more time that passes without any solutions the harder it is to keep the hope. I remember when my case manager at Bryan FPC told me I qualified under the CARES Act to go home, I couldn’t believe it. I asked her, ‘Am I going to have to come back? Are y’all going to call me one day to tell me to come back?’ She said, ‘NO, you are going home and will finish your time on home confinement.’ There was a few of my fellow inmates by the pay phones and I fell to my knees thanking Jesus.
“Now I am still thankful for everyday but I pray for strength, peace, and help to make sense of all this. It has been a struggle this last year trying to get acclimated and now that I am instead of moving forward and making progress, I will have to go back and then do it all over again in 2024 when I am rereleased. It’s cruel to all of us on home confinement, our families, our employers and everyone involved. Why put me back in prison to cost taxpayers money when I am already out here being a productive member of society and paying taxes?”
For Lisa, getting sent back to prison would mean the difference between life and death. While incarcerated for a 180-month sentence for a white-collar offense, she became very ill and it turned into a fatal condition. Her medical care in prison was abysmal. When she was released to home confinement under the CARES Act, she spent the first nine months of her freedom seeing doctors and stabilizing her condition. Even so, she sees specialists every week and lives with permanent pain. In addition to using a walker, she has a caretaker to help her with basic functions.
“If I return,” Lisa says, “I will never survive the conditions of incarceration. They do not provide the knowledgeable medical staff and they do not provide the proper food and nutrients I need to maintain my body to at least function. I have rejoined my family after 7+ years, established a relationship with my son whom I missed out on in his school years. I would love to work but I cannot. I receive disability, which I pay toward my restitution, and if I return I would not be able to continue paying. I live with my elderly mom and my only child. I’m regaining my family trust and establishing great relationships with them.
“The day I left for home confinement was the day I realized, I can survive now. (It was either stay incarcerated to fight for compassionate release and eventually die, or accept the home confinement to get immediate attention.) Returning NOW while continually needing medical care and attention is a death sentence to me. Please give us clemency.”
Please join us in urging the Biden administration to take action and #KeepThemHome! Add your name to FAMM’s Keep Them Home campaign to help families.