In 2000, Dana Bowerman was arrested for her role in a methamphetamine ring in Texas. She was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison—a sentence even the judge overseeing the case admitted was very harsh.
“I needed time to get my head straight,” Bowerman admits, reflecting on a life that had gone from being an honor roll student to a 15-year addiction to methamphetamine at the time of her arrest. “I definitely needed an in-patient rehab at least.”
Released after 15 years behind bars due to a change in sentencing laws, Bowerman is now readjusting to life after incarceration. And while she is grateful for her second chance, there are still significant challenges in returning to society.
“Freedom for me was a little disconcerting because it’s not easy to shed the inmate mentality,” Bowerman says in an interview with The Daily Signal. “I felt other, different, less than. I sometimes catch myself thinking, I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be talking to him. I am doing something wrong because I am out here with free people. It was hard at first to shed that.”
The biggest hurdle, Bowerman says, has been finding a job. She is currently working at a local supermarket part-time, but admits that is not sufficient to provide for herself. “Some people just cannot hire felons,” she says.
“Even after someone has paid their dues to society, after they have spent decades in prison, they continue to be punished for the rest of their lives, really,” says Julie Stewart, the president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “What do we want to do? Do we want to prepare them to be the best citizens they can be when they come out? Or do we want to have these people that are totally lost because the world has passed them by?”
According to Stewart, the key is shorter sentences for prisoners, like Bowerman, who are not a threat to their neighbors. “[Y]ou’ve got a nineteen-year sentence,” she says of Bowerman’s case. “You go in with an addiction and they’re not actually going to treat it until the last 18 months of your sentence.”
“It’s backwards,” Stewart concludes. “You should treat the person as soon as they get in and help them get over the addiction and then release them.”
Ninety-five percent of current state prison populations will eventually leave prison and return to their communities. Punishments that are overly punitive and don’t seek to rehabilitate and restore those who are guilty of crime are destined to result in higher rates of crime and recidivism. Prison Fellowship supports policies that promote fair and just punishment, with the ultimate goal of restoring those individuals as contributing members of society. To learn more about our efforts to ensure that former prisoners like Dana Bowerman receive the help they need, both during incarceration and after release, visit our advocacy pages.