Between the bars

The state released my cousin from prison last Friday. More than two decades ago, he shot and killed a convenience-store clerk during a robbery in the Bay Area. He was 18 at the time, his girlfriend had just given birth to a baby girl, but he’d spend the next 22 years locked away.

He wasn't a cousin by blood, but we were family. His uncles were mine, my aunts were his. I recall spending a lot of weekends and most holidays together: He showed me and my brother The NeverEnding Story for the first time, and, because he was older, convinced us to steal quick chugs of beer and shoot oysters from the shell when adults weren't looking during parties.

My cousin's parents picked him up from Soledad, or the Salinas Valley State Prison, last week. My mom says that his leaving was anti-climactic: They drove up, he got in the car, they headed down the road for a mile or two, then stopped, got out of the car and hugged on the side of the road. Having family will surely help my cousin adapt again to the real world. But for tens of thousands of former offenders in California, rehabilitation is a lost cause.

In this week's cover story (“The rehab racket” on page 14), SN&R staff writer Raheem F. Hosseini looks at the state's failed prison-realignment effort. The goal of realignment, he reminds, was to improve recidivism. Instead, counties like Sacramento spend tens of millions on traditional corrections infrastructure, and nary a penny goes to outside groups that specialize in helping prisoners avoid reoffending. Meanwhile, recidivism pushes 70 percent in California. Reform seems impossible. Yet there are a few renegades, both inside and outside the system, fighting for change.

And that's worthy, because life after punishment makes a better society for all.