On July 11, 2022, we watched our friend Arthur walk out of the barbed wires and into the arms of his parents, Tina and Henry. At 33 years old, he was a free man.
Tina and Henry had watched a judge sentence their son to die in prison for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. His sentence was the ultimate expression of
hopelessness, a judicial pronouncement that he was beyond redemption.
Thankfully, Joseph House was founded to reject the idea that anyone is beyond redemption. With their help, Arthur (or “King Arthur” to borrow from the inimitable Joe Sullivan) has turned into a remarkable re-entry success story. At the one-year anniversary of Arthur’s release, his journey with Joseph House deserves both celebration and reflection.
Arthur’s re-entry process started months before he walked out of prison. Fr. Dustin Feddon and Rachel Bunting spent hours sitting with him in a poorly lit prison room, separated by glass. Arthur’s resilience, decency, and potential permeated the barrier, and Fr. Dustin and Rachel were able to identify his needs, listen to his hopes and dreams, and create a game plan to see them come to fruition.
That plan included navigating a complex interstate transfer process; picking up Arthur from Mississippi; helping him establish a trusting relationship with his parole officer; obtaining state-issued identification; connecting Arthur with the amazing team at ReFire Culinary; and even providing driver’s education. Most profoundly, that plan included providing Arthur with a home—one that was bright, colorful, loving, and healing.
Joseph House’s investment in supportive re-entry services has paid dividends. Only one year into his re-entry process, Arthur is thriving. He has earned his ServSafe Certification, teaches other returning citizens the art and science of cooking (“heard!”), and is making a career out of humanity by preparing two meals each day for people in need.
In recognition of his tremendous strides, Arthur was approved to visit his legal team in New York over the July 4 holiday weekend. What better way to celebrate freedom? We enjoyed bagels in Brooklyn, overlooked Manhattan from 60 stories high, and ran through the rain after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. We rode the subway, strolled through Central Park, and ate pizza along 42nd Street. The bright lights from Time Square stood in stark contrast from the dark and damp room where we first met Arthur.
Arthur’s re-entry success is remarkable, but it should not be. Local, state, and federal governments must invest in re-entry so other returning citizens can unlock their full potential. These investments also keep neighborhoods safe by driving down recidivism rates, which in turn frees up money to address the social conditions that lead to crime. Meaningful discussions about improving public safety should include expanding access to supportive re-entry services and housing.
Re-entry organizations like Joseph House are critical in the fight against mass incarceration. A concrete re-entry plan provides skeptical courts and parole boards with the assurance they need to release people, which drives down the prison population. A supportive re-entry program can literally be the difference between a person walking free and spending many more years in a cage.
Finally, as we celebrate Arthur, we also need to think about the thousands of other amazing and resilient people—with their own stories, hopes, and dreams—who are languishing in prison. Most of them will come home one day. When they do, they deserve holistic and robust re-entry services. By supporting Joseph House, and continuing to join them in their mission, we can help create a world that is more just and hopeful.
-By Adam Murphy and Ashok Chandran
Adam and Ashok are lawyers with the Legal Defense Fund, and proud members of Arthur’s legal team.)