Leaving Prison: A WNPR Series

Part Two: Release Day

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April Harrison (r), with friend Deb Neves
Photo:Jeff Cohen/WNPR
Leaving Prison: A WNPR Series
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Leaving Prison: A WNPR Series

 

The state's prison population is on the decline for various reasons -- including the fact that crime is down, and the state is releasing more non-violent offenders.  So we're taking a step back to look at what it means to get out prison, and what's waiting for you when you do.
 
In the second in a three part series, WNPR's Jeff Cohen speaks with a former inmate on the day of her release.
 
It's about 7 o'clock on a rainy Thursday morning, and Denise Holloman is sitting in a van, waiting on April Harrison.  Harrison is getting released from prison today after nearly a year locked up for stabbing her boyfriend in the groin. 
 
Holloman is parked where judicial marshals usually drop prisoners off, but, as it turns out, she's in the wrong place.  Harrison has already been dropped off and picked up by a friend.  Together, they drive up in an SUV.
 
Holloman: Is that April?  She was picked up here earlier!  Oh my god!  I was just waiting for you! Oh, April.
 
Harrison: They left me out in the front.
 
Holloman: In the front?
 
Harrison: Usually they drop us off in here.  
 
Holloman: I've got the hookup girl.  I've got everything for you.  I've got a hygiene bag for you...
 
Harrison: Stop playing!I can't believe today's the 22nd!
 
Holloman: Today's the day!  Today's the day!
 
Harrison: Absolutely. I can't believe I'm here.
 
Holloman: Ok, so we're going to go to breakfast at Goldroc.
 
Harrison: I'm scared.
 
Holloman: Don't be...you'll be fine.
 
Harrison is wearing a white prison top and slip-on shoes. The roots of her hair are still gray but she's got new teeth. A couple months ago, she was hoping to get out of jail a little bit early and stay with a sponsor until her eventual release date.
 
But those plans fell through, so Harrison stayed behind bars at York Correctional Institution until today -- September 22.   
 
She's also made a pretty big decision -- she's leaving Connecticut for Virginia in less than a week.  But before we get to that, Harrison's got bigger things to think about -- like breakfast.
 
Server:  You ready yet?  Are you still looking? 
 
Harrison:  I'll have... I need like tons and tons and tons of...you have strawberry syrup?
 
Server: Not the syrup but we have the strawberry topping...
 
Harrison: But I need like extra, it has to like overflow.  And whipped cream...lots and lots and lots.
 
Server: So you want three pancakes... 
 
Harrison and Holloman, her case manager from the non-profit Community Partners in Action, are at the Goldroc Diner in West Hartford. So is Deb Neves -- Harrison's lifelong friend.   
 
Neves: So for the past I'd say month every day I'd think about doing something or have to find something for her, toiletries, clothes, make sure everything's going to fit her, tracking down all the documentation, getting her wallet ready, making sure she has everything for traveling.
 
The two women grew up together, and Neves says she's seen her friend come out of prison before.
 
Neves: And she swore up and down she wasn't going to go back. 
 
Harrison: I wasn't.  
 
Neves: But sometimes when you're in an abusive relationship you don't see what's going to happen and that's what put her where she was.
 
Now, Harrison is out, hoping to avoid that abusive relationship and her boyfriend she stabbed.
 
Harrison: Even if I don't go look for him, eventually he's gonna, we're gonna run into each other or he's gonna find me or he's gonna want to see me.  And we are very, very bad for each another but we're magnets to each other.  
 
Cohen: So you need to leave, kinda, to move on? 
 
Harrison: Basically. Or I'm going to end up six feet under - because either we're going to kill each other or one of us is going to be in jail for life.  
 
So she's leaving, for Danville, Virginia. 
 
That's where Harrison's eldest daughter lives, and that's where she's headed in less than a week.  Her daughter already has a job interview lined up for her.
 
But before she can go, she's got to get provisions.  
 
So she goes to Savers, a discount clothing store, and gets three pairs of pants, three shirts, a camisole and a pair of shoes for $45.65.   She goes to Stop & Shop for snacks for the train ride.  And she goes to Target for underwear.  Next for Harrison -- a few days to reunite with her family before she says goodbye.
 
For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.