According to Corralez, the manager stepped back, stunned. "Thank you for being honest," Corralez recalls him saying. As the ex-prisoner walked to the bus stop, he knew what it meant. "I took everything that I had accomplished, everything that I had to do to get a second chance," he says. "But I could see it in his reaction. It was like the nail in the coffin."
Corralez's struggle to transition from prisoner to free member of society is one that thousands of inmates across the country are going through as states trim their prison populations on a scale unseen in American history.
From California to New York, Texas to Michigan, a record number of convicted criminals are either being released from cells or serving time in community-based programs as states, under pressure to cut costs, adopt new philosophies on how to handle nonviolent offenders and many inmates incarcerated in the 1970s and '80s near the end of their terms. In some cases, lawsuits designed to reduce overcrowding are forcing authorities to open prison doors as well.
These days roughly 700,000 ex-cons are hitting US streets each year – a new high, according to Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. While the vast majority of the inmates are nonviolent, some, like Corralez, served sentences for serious crimes and are now winning parole in higher numbers.
The result is an unprecedented test – of authorities' ability to monitor the newly released prisoners, of social service groups' capacity to help them forge new lives, of the inmates' willingness to start over, of communities' tolerance to let them do so.