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$200 Get Out of Jail Free Cards Are Bittersweet

Mia Constantino Cachilli

A former prisoner himself, Carlos Cervantes drives newly released convicts from prison back to the free world.

Carlos took a 12 year plea bargain for attempted murder at the age of 16. He served 10 years, 8 months. He was released in 2002 when he was 27 years old.

A Ride Home From Prison by Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane De La Vega‘s video documentary published in the New York Times, explores the internal and external insights of both the driver and a newly freed inmate.

Since California’s 2012 legislation reforming it’s three strikes law approximately half a million prisoners are released annually, some having been sentenced to life in prison.

In this piece Carlos transports Stanley Bailey, a three striker who was serving a 25 year sentence.

What appears to be an welcome new beginning for released convicts is more difficult than most people imagine.  Their families and friends are no longer available to many, for one reason or another. They don’t know anyone on the outside anymore.

Carlos relates to Stanley’s fears of the unknown, of failing, and of living up to the personal responsibilities that lay ahead.

There’s a fear of re-incarceration that both men share. Stanley says he doesn’t want to waste anymore time in the prison system.

Carlos tells of self-isolation and crying in the shower, feeling as if he’s still institutionalized.

Of all the things he could do with his freedom, the first thing Stanley asks is to sit in the grass underneath a tree. He hasn’t been under one in 25 years.

Once in the city, Stanley comes to terms with the world he’s been missing, even having cars drive passed is foreign to him after such a long time away.

Carlos describes sharing these first moments with the free men as therapeutic, sharing the lessons that he’s learned about how to adjust on the outside.

He mentors the men about their new realities and invites introspection from each about how they see the future and the life choices they’ll be making going forward.  Group therapy is beneficial.

The first 24 hours for a newly released convict are crucial. Confidence plays a role in transitioning successfully. Without it, increasing struggles will ensue and the temptation for recidivism will increase.

The $200 each newly freed man’s given by the State is the foundation upon which they’re to rebuild.  Once out, often times people on the outside don’t see their potential and permanently categorize them as who they once were, prisoners. Their new freedom doesn’t provide a clean slate upon reentry into society, opportunities are scarce.

For the half million people released annually, there are few resources available to assist with the transition from incarceration to living freely.

For many of them, Carlos Cervantes isn’t just a driver but their only friend.



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