by AVIS LEE
Friday, February 12, 2021 was by far the happiest day of my adult life. I left prison after serving 40-1/2 years, and 12 days of a Life Sentence with no parole (LWOP).
As I traveled down the interstate I felt ecstatic, elated, overjoyed, jubilant and relieved. It was happening I was on my way home … to Pittsburgh. The ride was smooth but I got a little queasy about halfway; it took about 2-1/2 hours to get here.
I’m at Pittsburgh CCC (Community Correction Center).
The day arrived I did intake, met the center director and my counselor; was given a new mask, gave a urine and went to quarantine to await my Covid 19 test lab results.
I’m supposed to be here for one year. I’m allowed out Monday-Friday for work and also for two 4-hour segments of Free Time. (Update: Free Time is now 6 hours twice a week), I work part time for Let’s Get Free the Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee. Due to Covid 19 restrictions I had to go in quarantine until my lab results came back. I was able to go shopping the day after I got out of quarantine Note: that was one of my 4-hour free times.
· Fill out weekly schedule for free time, work, community service, and outpatient treatment.
· Get a job.
TIP–Local fast food restaurants hire you on the spot or within one or two days!!!
· Due to Covid you must wear a mask when out of your room and stay in your cohort
· You buy and cook your own food but you can cook and share with your roommates
· NOTE: The CCC does have a pantry that we use until we’re able to buy groceries.
· NO FOOD ALLOWED UPSTAIRS EVER!!!
· There are coin-operated washers and dryers for $1 each (you must use quarters only; they will give them to you one time if your new but you have to ask for them). You’ll be given 3 combination locks; one for your closet, one for your refrigerated food bin, and one for your dry foods locker. You’ll also get a bin (like the gray bin on commissary) for clothes, papers etc.
· You have total control over your cash. You can have cash, credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts. You do not pay rent at CCC. You can have and you need a cell phone because you have to call downstairs before you can leave to go anywhere. You can get food stamps and a medical card because within days of your arrival you will have to choose a PCP (which is a doctor) called a Primary Care Physician and a Health Plan.
· You can have bus passes.
· There are “real” mattresses with built-in box springs, carpeted rooms with air conditioners but there aren’t any TV’s in them and you cannot bring yours. You can have your tablet and headphones there are no kiosks.
· No visitors permitted right now because of Covid but friends and family can drop off a cell phone, groceries, clothing, and cosmetics – TIP Dollar Tree (not Dollar General), sells everything for $1.
· If you ask you’ll be given a voucher for $14 for the thrift store.
· You cannot wear any prison clothing including brown sweats. If you arrive in them you will either be given clothing or sent to the thrift store to get clothing. the Red White and Blue Thrift Store has great deals. I bought Tommy Hilfinger sandals for $4.99 and Coach slip-ons for $14.
Overall the CCC is nice, the staff are very helpful. Secretary Wetzel and Dr. Conti came to see me just to check in with me and see how it’s doing.
It’s been about 65 days now since I’ve been released. I saw a parole agent on Thursday she came from New Castle, PA to talk to me about preparing to see the Parole Board in October. She gave me a parole booklet to read and told me to call her once a week so she could get to know me better because she will not be my field agent (a.k.a. P.O.), but she will be putting in a recommendation to the Parole Board prior to my interview with them in October. If your wondering why I have to see the parole board if my sentence was commuted … it’s because as long as we’re at the Center we are considered furlough status; once we actually see the Parole Board, are paroled and assigned a permanent P.O. we are able to move out of the center and live at our own place on parole.
Basically she asked me a lot of questions about how my reentry is going and what my goals are moving forward. I told her that I work for Let’s Get Free the Women and Trans Defense Committee part-time and that I am currently in a 6-week pre-apprenticeship program with Reimagine Reentry. This program prepares you for jobs in the construction trades. Some of you may remember that SCI Muncy offered a Construction & Maintenance program with Mr. Lou Capaldi; that is where I learned carpentry. I told her that my short term goal was to get my Learner’s Permit (received it on 4-13-21), and my long term goal (by Fall), is to get my PA driver’s license and possibly enroll in a 4-year carpentry apprenticeship and that part of the requirement is that I must have a driver’s license and reliable transportation to get to the various job sites.
Housing Tip: In addition to going to a Center if you can find a home/furlough plan with family or friends I would do that because finding “affordable” housing in the city is difficult; all of the waiting lists are 12- 18 months long at least!!! Most of the housing applications that you’ll fill out ask if you have been convicted of a felony in the past 7 years … which for the many of us is no BUT I tell them up front NO but I have a conviction stemming from a crime committed in 1979; have received Executive Clemency from the PA governor and I am 60 years old and on parole for the rest of my life. I do this because I believe it’s just best to be honest and if you live in an apartment building that has a security intercom system your P.O. has to have the access code, so your landlord would find out you are on parole anyway; also if a landlord would refuse to rent to you because you’re on parole why would you want to live somewhere where your not wanted anyway? That’s how I see that. I’m happy to be associated and spend my hard earned money with people who believe in giving people second chances.
All in all reentry is a beautiful thing. I highly recommend it. PLEASE CONTINUE TO FIGHT EVERYONE WE ARE OUT HERE SUPPORTING YOUR EFFORTS IN MANY WAYS. YOU ARE DEFINITELY NOT ALONE. I KNOW SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE IT BUT JUST TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THIS Y-O-U ARE NOT ALONE. It’s a lot of work. I’ve had a lot of victories and a lot of frustrations; mostly with wanting things to happen quickly. For example: I wanted to start looking for and purchase a car on Friday after only having my Learner’s Permit for 4 days. I figured I could just park it and once I had my license it would already be there.
Reality Check – a title can’t be transferred to someone who only has a Learner’s Permit and not an actual PA driver’s license without a co-signer and tons of paperwork.
LOL Rookie Mistakes:
Putting lid upside down on takeout coffee is not a good idea or a good look.
Freezing precut-bagged salad and then running warm water over the bag = soggy salad.
Buying a monthly bus pass at Giant Eagle for $97.50 and finding out from your roommate the following day that you could’ve gotten it for $30 elsewhere.
Beautifully colored slushies at Primanti’s are alcoholic; they’re adults only slushies. Who would have thought? Always ask what’s in anything you’re thinking about ordering as a beverage. Good thing I asked!