Ex-Prisoners And The Tough Road Back to Society!

“In California, known for decades as one of the nation’s most avid jailers, the trajectory of law and order is shifting. Through litigation, legislation and a series of ballot initiatives, the state’s prison population has dropped 25 percent over the past decade… Those who have family tend to find their way. But long stretches behind bars leave many without support.” J. Rodriquez and N. Bernstein, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Former gang member Alfred Medina Jr., who served 17 years for drug-related crimes, lives at a residence for ex-prisoners in Los Angeles. The CSM

“Gretchen Newby, executive director of the Stockton-based nonprofit Friends Outside, which provides support to prisoners and their families, said the city was experiencing a ‘cluster effect’…It’s common to come out with untreated illness, chronic conditions due to age and neglect,’ Ms. Newby said. ‘How are they going to live?’ Friends Outside case managers work to answer this question, lining up job interviews and transitional housing.

Many ex-felons without a familial support system wind up homeless. Some of them live in this encampment called the Trenches. Credit Joseph Rodriguez for The New York Times

The roughly 600,000 men and women who leave incarceration nationwide each year are the long tail of the nation’s prison boom. Finding housing tops the list of challenges they face, followed by getting and keeping a job. These practical barriers are compounded by internal obstacles. Researchers report high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as histories of abuse and neglect among prisoners. These early wounds are compounded by the violence, humiliation and bone-deep isolation of the prison experience.

Jesse De La Cruz spent nearly three decades in and out of prison and now holds a doctorate in education. Credit Joseph Rodriguez for The New York Times

‘It’s a lot of work to unravel the garbage I created,’ said Jesse De La Cruz, who spent three decades in and out of California prisons. Former prisoners, he said, are expected to ‘change everything they’ve done all their lives in three months. It doesn’t work that way.’

Carl Adkisson a recovering drug addict, writes in his bunk bed at the Amity Foundation house. Tony Avelar:The Christian Science Monitor

David Eng was fortunate in this regard. He was sentenced to 17 years to life for second-degree murder…After 28 years, he left prison with the support of a handful of family members and friends. A brother in Stockton offered him a place to stay. A year and half later, he has a car, a new wife and a job helping other returning prisoners get on their feet at Fathers and Families, a Stockton nonprofit.

Alfred Taylor, a convicted murderer who served 41 years in prison, watches television at the Francisco Home-Leighton house. CSM

Mr. Eng is part of a wave of newly released lifers pouring out of California’s prisons — nearly 4,500 since Gov. Jerry Brown took office in 2011, compared with a handful a decade earlier…Results are typically measured in terms of recidivism, defined as a return to prison within the first three years out. Those who manage to stay free past this milestone — roughly half — are considered success stories.There is some logic to this form of accounting: The longer you are out, the more likely you are to stay out.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. What does the outside life look like after a long stint in prison?
  2. California has been known for decades as one of the nation’s most avid jailers.
  3. Photographer Joseph Rodriguez has been documenting crime and punishment in California for years.
  4. Many inmates come out with chronic conditions due to age.
  5. A good number of women also leave incarceration each year.
  6. Humiliation and bone-deep isolation of the prison leave scars.
  7. Mr. Eng is part of a wave of newly released lifers pouring out of California’s prisons.
  8. Many lifers work hard to gain parole.
  9. Abstinence plays a major role in getting a parole.
  10. Fathers and Families is a Stockton nonprofit.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. There are  roughly 600,000 men who leave incarceration nationwide each year.
  2. Many prisoners have family support.
  3. Some prisoners have family members in jail with them.
  4. Researchers report high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as histories of abuse and neglect among prisoners.
  5. Gretchen Newby is the executive director of the Stockton-based nonprofit Friends Outside.
  6. She loves her job.
  7. It’s common for prisoners to come out in good health.
  8. Jesse De La Cruz spent three decades in and out of California prisons.
  9. Jesse De La Cruz holds a doctorate in prison life.
  10. David Eng was sentenced to 17 years to life for second-degree murder.

 

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Mr. Eng describe/described a childhood marked/make by drugs and neglect. At 5 years old, he said, he witnessed/witnesses  his mother’s murder. This kind of early trauma is widespread behind/under bars, according to Daniel Silva, 60, who spent/spends 39 years in California’s prison/prism system. Mr. Silva was still locked up when he began to develop the curriculum for the Self-Awareness and Recovery program, which runs/run healing/heating circles inside several California prisons.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups Have each group list 3  questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

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