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Donnie (in the foreground) and Didd on the bus leaving the North Country. Photo: Amy Finkel, for Gothamist, used with permission.
Donnie (in the foreground) and Didd on the bus leaving the North Country. Photo: Amy Finkel, for Gothamist, used with permission.

North Country inmates on the bus: free and nowhere to go

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Every year, hundreds of men are shipped to prisons here in the North Country, to correctional facilities in Watertown or Malone, Moriah or Ray Brook. We've been telling the story of the region's prison industry with our Prison Time Media Project.
But every year, hundreds of men are also released back into society after serving their time in state or Federal lock-ups.

Often, former inmates are sent back downstate with little preparation and few resources for reentering society. Many begin their new lives with a bus ticket, a new set of clothes, and a small amount of cash.

Amy Finkel is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. She's working on a new project looking at reform and education programs in prisons and she recently published a photo essay in the online magazine Gothamist.

Her photos capture the bus journey that one group of men made from Saranac Lake after being released from prison back to New York City. She spoke about her work with Martha Foley.

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Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

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Are men like Didd ready for the real world after spending years behind bars?  Photo: Amy Finkel, for Gothamist, used with permission.
Are men like Didd ready for the real world after spending years behind bars? Photo: Amy Finkel, for Gothamist, used with permission.
Martha Foley: It really is a striking striking essay in Gothamist. One thing that struck me is how mundane this moment looked, a bunch of guys waiting at a bus stop in Saranac Lake. They're just getting a taste of freedom and it looks really lonely.

Amy Finkel: It did feel very lonely.

MF: You spent ten hours with those guys and we get to know them through their photographs. Tell us about Didd.

AF: He was the first one I met, he was very quiet. He was caught with 7.6 grams of crack and a gun. He got 30 years and he was so shy, so nervous around me. It took him a long time to open up.

MF: How hopeful were these guys about their future, about having a shot? They're kind of looking ahead.

Their faces reflected defeat in a way. They just seemed broken. They just seemed sad and exhausted more than anything else and terrified.
AF: It was distressing, it was really sad to see their faces. Their faces reflected defeat in a way. They just seemed broken. They just seemed sad and exhausted more than anything else and terrified. It was visible.

MF: One guy, Donnie, seemed pretty realistic about his life and the disadvantages he carries with him now.

AF: He was probably the least hopeful. They all had hope. I think I just didn't expect them to be as self-aware as they were. Many had come from really rough childhoods and upbringings. Two of them, they had parents who were drug dealers and they started dealing drugs at a very young age. They were thrilled to be out but they understood that they got in because they didn't want to be homeless and they needed a way to make money. For Donnie, I think, it was very sad, because he doesn't really know anything but the system. He kept talking about how he grew up in the system and that's all he knows. He would love to be a member of society where he's needed and wanted, but he really didn't understand how that was going to happen.

Hear more of Martha and Amy's conversation by clicking Listen above and see more of Amy Finkel's photographs at Gothamist by clicking here.

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