Saranac Lake Re-Entry Pilot Program
TYRRELL MUHAMMED (Adirondack Mountains, 2017)
This is a pilot program to benefit people who have served their time and are returning home from prison. Throughout these mountains, newly released folks are regularly dropped off to catch the bus South. In Saranac Lake, they are dropped off in front of Fusion Market, often thinking this is a full-service bus station with indoor seating. We have found that many newly released people are ill prepared. They often don’t have the funds to buy food or other supplies for the trip, and depending the season wait outside in the freezing cold for up to two hours. The owners of the Market are respectful and have tried to help these folks where they can. This program makes that help concrete. We believe this transition need not be so harsh and difficult and that it might be eased with a few basic offerings.
The first phase of this pilot program is to offer a To-Go Bag, which includes water, a nutrition bar or crackers, and a piece of fruit for the bus ride, along with a note of encouragement for these first hours of freedom. A heat lamp has been installed outside the market for folks to keep warm while waiting for the bus in the winter months.
Kim began riding the bus to NYC several times a month for work purposes in 2018, when her family relocated from the New York City. She noticed that every time she traveled, there were a few men who often didn’t have coats, and seemed nervous about going into the market. She learned that these folks were recently released from a correctional facility. She connected with Jane, who had been trying to find a way to help people riding home on the busses.
Years ago, Jane was driving up Rt 73 with her friend Tyrrell Muhammad when the bus to NYC passed going down the hill. Muhammad began to talk about his own ride in 2005 when he was returning home. Muhammad said, “The punishment is the time served. But they don’t treat you like you’ve done your time. They still treat you like you’re a criminal. You feel like everyone sees you are newly released and it’s bad. You feel real bad. You don’t have any money to spend on extra stuff. I was hungry but I needed the cash to buy another bus ticket when I got to Albany.” They began to talk about what might have made the trip a better experience.
It is time to stop punishing people and start supporting them. We believe that even a small bag of food and water and an encouraging message can increase the chances of a formerly incarcerated person making it home, and help ease some of the initial stress of re-entry. We also believe there is an ancillary benefit to all bus riders when people are calmer and have had some of their needs met.