Public Employee Press
Freed from prison, she finds her new life harsh
In her powerful book, Life on the Outside: The Prison
Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, author Jennifer Gonnerman wrote: Nobody
inside the prison seemed to care that she had never been arrested before,
or that she had left behind four small children. All that mattered were
two numbers: the length of her sentence and the ID on her shirt, 84-G-0068.
Ms. Gonnerman, a Village Voice writer, Elaine Bartlett and Lora Tucker
spoke at DC 37 Oct. 25. Susan Bailey of the sponsoring Authors Talk Committee
introduced the program: This is the first major work on re-entry.
Over 600,000 people are being released this year from state and federal
prisons, she said.
Under the super-harsh Rockefeller drug laws, Ms. Bartlett served 16 years
of a 20-year sentence. Thanks to Ms. Tuckers relentless efforts,
Elaine Bartlett won clemency in 1999. (DC 37 and a statewide coalition
fought to change the laws; as PEP went to press, the Legislature voted
to ease the penalties.)
This is a book about us. Its about women. Its about
families, said Ms. Tucker, who met Elaine Bartlett when she ran
a program for prison inmates.
Elaine came out of prison on a cold day, said Ms. Gonnerman.
Her kids were grown and angry. She had no clothes, no money, no
job, and no vote.
Ms. Bartlett told of the toll her prison sentence exacted from her loved
ones. Your whole family is incarcerated. My siblings, my mother,
my children did the time too. Most of the womens kids end up in
the foster care system. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who cared
for my children until she died in 1998.
Life on the Outside explores the difficulties that begin after
the sentence is served. I felt that the happiest day of my life
was the day I got out of prison, said Ms. Bartlett. But after she
was rejected in 52 job interviews and many other hardships, her outlook
changed. I left one prison to enter another, she said.
There are 70 prisons in New York State. The book puts a human face
on a phenomenon that has been largely ignored and in this way exposes
the hidden consequences of our nations punishment policies,
explained Ms. Gonnerman.
Life on the Outside tells a riveting story. For more information,
you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org