Articles Correctional Insights

The Many Voices of Redemption: Albert Reed

With 2021 now in the rearview mirror, resolutions made in the lead-up to the new year are now in full swing. For some, the new year is a symbolic reset. For others, it’s a chance to strengthen a skill or tackle a new goal.

For Albert Reed, change had nothing to do with a New Year’s resolution.

His motivation for self-improvement boiled down to one word: survival.

“I knew that if I remained in the state that I was in mentally and spiritually,” Albert remembers, “I would not be able to survive.”   

He’s coming up on the three-year anniversary of his release from federal prison. Traveling back in time, he details his journey and relentless pursuit of redemption…

The year was 1994.  

Having already endured more at 24 than any person ever should, Albert found himself facing drug possession and trafficking charges. Rather than plea-bargaining for a 30-year sentence, he decided to go to trial, where he ultimately lost.

That same year saw the enactment of the 1994 crime bill—a problematic piece of legislation that included a federal three-strikes provision. Per the law’s sentencing guidelines, a “third strike” carried a mandatory life sentence.

Though the provision was presented as a crackdown on habitual violent crime, it wasn’t quite as straightforward in practice. Any serious offense was deemed a strike, lumping violent offenses with nonviolent drug-related offenses.

The results were particularly devastating to marginalized communities. Fast forward to the present, and people of color make up over half of our nation’s prison population. The stark reality is that the excessively punitive effects of that policy are still felt today.

Rewind again.

The year was 1994, and Albert Reed had just received his third strike—the last of three drug-related convictions.

He was ordered to the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  

Coping with this new normal wouldn’t be easy. And yet, despite the heavy-handed sentence, Albert remained confident that his case would eventually be revisited.

He knew it wasn’t a matter of if but when, noting, “I had to be prepared when the time came for my release.”

Albert wasted no time turning his attention to the facility’s law library. There, he absorbed as much information as possible, knowing it was, in his words, “the only way out.”  

But Albert was no stranger to higher learning. He had earned his GED and studied at Denmark Technical College in Denmark, South Carolina before his incarceration. 

As he quenched his thirst for legal knowledge, Albert began branching out into other areas of study as well. With the help of his family, who sent him books and magazines, he developed an understanding of business and finance.

Learning about entrepreneurship prompted him to begin mapping out his future post-incarceration. “[Education] sparked my mind and assisted in formalizing plans to own my own business upon release,” he says.

But he didn’t stop there.

After being relocated to different facilities with varying security levels, the scarcity of educational opportunities really struck Albert.

From this, he could draw parallels to life on the outside. He was painfully aware of the disparities in education communities like his suffer. Those disparities lead to self-perpetuating problems and, in his words, “extreme” damage” within inner-city communities—something Albert still knows all too well.

Behind bars, that was out of his control.

What he could control, however, was access to education from the inside. So, the aspiring entrepreneur and multidisciplinary student became the teacher.  

As he sagely puts it, “With knowledge comes power and responsibility.”

One day at a time, he continued down the path to redemption, helping others help themselves through education.

The years went by, but he was never one to lose focus or faith. He eventually found himself at the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana.

Finally, in May 2019, Albert received the news he had waited more than 24 years for: He was going home.

As one of a few thousand inmates granted release by the First Step Act, Albert could start the next chapter outside of a correctional facility. This exciting new chapter has included connecting more deeply with family and realizing his entrepreneurial dream.

Establishing his consulting firm, Albert Reed and Associates, has given Albert a fresh sense of purpose. His firm specializes in helping those once system-involved find avenues for employment—a fitting continuation of his story.

“We have helped to uplift quite a few people in finding their own form of redemption by clarifying one’s vision, ideas, hopes and dreams,” he says.   

But Albert acknowledges there’s a lot of work to be done.

He puts it this way: “If more of us formerly incarcerated members of society would create their own businesses, I believe it would go a long way in changing the perceptions held about those of us coming out of prison.”

However, stigmas tied to prior incarceration cause many to set low expectations for themselves, leading to maladjustment. For a stigmatized person, it’s difficult enough to find gainful employment; the odds of them starting a business are even slimmer.

Albert Reed and Associates looks to change that, breaking the mold in the public policy space. According to Albert, collateral consequences, by design, prevent the formerly incarcerated from becoming business owners.

The evidence backs up his claim.

A survey conducted by the Centre for Entrepreneurs found that, out of 95 participants currently serving time, 79% hoped to start their own business following release. Of 158 previously incarcerated people, 71% expressed interest in being business owners.

Yet, general skepticism and unfavorable social conditions make business ownership a challenging prospect for anyone who has done time.

As we look to the future, key questions must be addressed: Will we satisfy this appetite for entrepreneurship? Or will we turn our backs on people in search of redemption? 

For his part, Albert plans to do what he’s always done: educate and serve. Through his efforts, he hopes to pave the way for others with a troubled past to begin anew.

“What I hope resonates [from my story],” he says, “is the ability to act and move in a positive direction, the ability to search out and find true freedom, joy and happiness in life.”

All great redemption stories have a common thread: They empower others to write their own redemption story.

Albert Reed’s story is a testament to that.  

For more inspiring content, check out the first installment in our Many Faces of Redemption series!

Articles Correctional Insights

The Many Voices of Redemption: Gerald Tarboro

Stories of redemption are all around us.

The context varies, but the inspirational quality of these real-life stories is universal.

Behind every redemption story is a person who wrestled with adversity and succeeded against unlikely odds. Determined to make their mark on the world, they had a positive impact on others’ lives, righting wrongs in the process.

Stories of people making the most of a second chance are worth celebrating. In a way, they strengthen the fabric of society.

The same is true for the formerly incarcerated.

We know that the majority of inmates will eventually be released. This, in theory, clears a path for them to find redemption—something the public overwhelmingly approves of.

A public opinion survey in the Federal Probation Journal backs up that claim. Researchers found that almost 80 percent of respondents “totally agreed” it’s possible for offenders to lead a law-abiding life.

Equally interesting, over half of the participants thought an offender’s slate should be wiped clean after doing their time. This study, like many others, is indicative of the public’s resounding support for former inmates getting a real shot at redemption.

Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t always square with the goal.

Certain built-in societal restrictions set former inmates up for failure as soon as they step back into society. These restrictions, known as collateral consequences, permanently freeze previously incarcerated individuals out of public involvement—for example, voting. Former inmates are also beset by barriers to adequate housing, professional licensing and a living wage.

“Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions”, a book published by the American Bar Association, argues that very point. According to the authors, a combination of collateral consequences adds up to an increase in “recidivism and undermine meaningful reentry of [formerly incarcerated people] for a lifetime.”

In case this sounds like an overstatement, consider this: Males who have spent time behind bars earn 40% less than those who have not. By age 48, that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income.

Consider another fact: The average retirement age for Americans is 62. That doesn’t leave former inmates with much time to find financial stability, much less find some sense of redemption.

If that troubling truth gives you pause, it should.

Frankly, redemption is difficult to achieve for recently released individuals as it is. They’re commonly ostracized and face a great deal of growing pains associated with reintegrating into society. However, many pursue redemption when the stigma of being a once-incarcerated person is lifted.

Meet Gerald Tarboro. His story is proof positive of that.

In 2008, he was staring a lengthy prison sentence—15 years, to be exact—in the face. His sentence, stemming from drug trafficking and gun charges, was the result of a downward, though lucrative, trajectory.

Describing the addictive nature of his lifestyle, he remarks, “You can’t shut it off. I had seven cellphones, and I couldn’t shut them off.”

Gerald was at a crossroads: He could continue feeding his addiction or steer his life in a new, positive direction.

Fortunately for him and many others in his position, he chose the latter.

From the moment he arrived at the U.S. penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia, Gerald was single-minded in his pursuit of changing lives for the better. But by no means would it be a walk in the park. As one of the larger U.S. federal prisons by population size, USP Hazelton is rife with danger. In fact, it’s considered one of the nation’s most violent facilities.

That wasn’t going to stop Gerald. He was, in his words, “laser-focused on being part of the solution, rather than the problem.” He began thinking of ways he could leave a positive imprint. It didn’t take long for him to identify a need.

Two years before his sentence, Gerald had earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology. Academic support was sorely needed in USP Hazelton, so he took up tutoring through the facility’s education department.

He had found his calling.

Teaching from sunup past sundown, Gerald discovered that his love for the craft compensated for his dislike of math. And as his class sizes grew, so did his will to help his fellow inmates ultimately earn their GED.

Despite being moved from facility to facility, his commitment to teaching never wavered. Gerald eventually found himself at FCI Cumberland in Cumberland, Maryland.

That’s where he met Dawan Maynard.

Among the many students Gerald had the pleasure of teaching, that name stands out in his mind. Dawan, currently seven years into a 25-year sentence, had yet to earn his GED. So, when he heard about Gerald’s success with students, Dawan came to Gerald, eager to learn.

He became one of Gerald’s star pupils. Before long, Dawan had earned his GED and was tutoring alongside the man who had tutored him. In my conversation with Gerald, he described how much Dawan’s progress as a student and person meant to him.

Gerald’s quest for redemption paid off in March 2019. With four years of his sentence remaining, he was granted release by the passage of the First Step Act.

Since his release, Gerald has kept in regular contact with Dawan. He’s confident that Dawan’s sentence will be commuted in the not-too-distant future.

Gerald is now a welder and CDL driver, applying that same work ethic he had as a tutor. But his tutoring days are far from over. When his schedule allows for it, he plans to continue reaching people through education.

He hopes his youthful missteps serve as a cautionary tale for others. He explains it this way: “I want to use my story to tell others following a similar path of crime that there are really only two options: jail and death.”

Standing at the crossroads in 2008, Gerald Tarboro began following the path to redemption instead.

He never looked back.

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Articles Correctional Insights Recidivism Tips & Facts

Three Words to Live by: Knowledge is Power

I’ve always had a profound love of sayings and proverbs in language. Few are as to-the-point and thought-provoking as this one: Knowledge is power.

The pursuit of knowledge opens so many doors. It gives us power over our lives and futures, the ability to learn from the past, the ability to learn about others and the world around us and the opportunity to pass on what we’ve learned to others.

On top of that, knowledge (to be more precise, education) staves off stagnation and helps break cycles that impede individual progress.

One of the most crippling and vicious cycles facing our nation is recidivism. Unfortunately, our jails and prisons bear the brunt of this, as they house millions of reoffenders each year.

We know that the temptations for inmates to continue engaging in behavior that put them behind bars in the first place are strong. But we also know that empowering inmates with the means to education counteracts those temptations, making the road to rehabilitation smoother.

Education and rehabilitation are practically one and the same; it’s tough to imagine one without the other. And in their darkest hour, unfettered access to information and academic literature provides inmates with a beacon of hope.

Frankly, the collective effort to combat recidivism starts from within—specifically, within the walls of our correctional facilities.

Three brothers—Cole, James and Robert Younger—recognized that knowledge is power as far back as 1887. Thanks to the Youngers, that year saw the birth of America’s oldest active prison newspaper, The Prison Mirror. Their story is nothing short of remarkable.

Just 10 years earlier, the trio led lives of crime alongside fellow outlaw Jesse James (Maybe you’ve heard of him). Together, they formed the James-Younger Gang. After their involvement in an armed bank robbery that went awry, the Younger brothers were tracked down and jailed.

Having barely dodged a death sentence and serving life in the then-Minnesota State Prison, they sought to redefine their legacy. Each of them worked their way up and obtained resume-building jobs in the prison. Eventually, this led to a love of literature and a desire to launch a newspaper.

While others had a hand in The Prison Mirror, it was the Youngers’ name recognition and funding that made the publication possible. It’s believed that one thing convinced them most: The lion’s share of the profits would be put back into the Minnesota State Prison’s library.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This revolutionary idea came at a time when inmates were underserved and often ignored. Today, the need for education in our correctional system is just as pressing. We at Encartele have highlighted the importance of prison libraries in encouraging intellectual curiosity among inmates in past articles.

When we think of structures that exist to educate, we automatically think of schools and public libraries. We attend schools and visit libraries to advance our job prospects and expand our knowledge.

If rehabilitation of inmates is the ultimate goal, why shouldn’t they be afforded that same right?

In “Books beyond bars: the transformative potential of prison libraries”, author Lisa Krolak asks that very question. She argues that prison libraries should functionally be no different than any other library.

Krolak explains, “It is important that the prison library is a special space, separate from the rest of the prison, where inmates can experience an inspiring, creative atmosphere different to their everyday cell life.”

How tangible is the impact when education is emphasized in correctional settings?

One study cited in “Books beyond bars” revealed that inmates provided with an opportunity for sustained learning were 43 percent less likely to wind up back behind bars.

For perspective, a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that nearly 45 percent of former inmates are arrested no more than a year after release.  

The evidence suggests that as access to informational resources for inmates goes up, recidivism goes down. And if that’s the case, it’s about time the phrase “knowledge is power” echoes in every hall and housing unit of jails and prisons across the country.

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