Life on the Outside

After 16 Years in Prison Elaine Bartlett Came Home to a City and a Family She Barely Knew. Freedom Wasn’t at All What She’d Imagined

It was nearly the end of her first Thanksgiving as a free woman. Looking back later on the afternoon, she would consider it a success. Not the happiest event, perhaps, but at least it was a start. In the months ahead, she had many more goals she wanted to accomplish. She would keep making daily calls to the Housing Authority to check on her application for a project apartment. She would continue to work, to save money, to mother her children. She would try to make sure Danae graduated from high school, Tara went back to high school, Apache got his college degree, and Mel stayed out of further trouble.

For now, though, she had a job to get to. At 4:15, she headed down the corridor to Apache's room and returned wearing a long coat and the same black knit hat and fuzzy scarf she had worn the day she left prison. "Bye," she said. "I gotta go." And then she grabbed her pocketbook and walked out the door.

This story was photographed with support from the Center on Crime, Communities & Culture of the Open Society Institute.

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