"All those years sitting in the cell, being involved in the different situations that go on in prison, it's kind of hard for you to fathom being out here and being free," says Joseff White. "[Freedom is] beautiful, man, and I'm just so thankful—but I never thought it would happen."
For 26 years, Joseff hoped for freedom from behind prison bars. So many on the outside forgot about him. But just a little over a year ago, Joseff was released on parole, and now he's trying to rebuild his life from scratch.
"When I came home, I didn't have a credit score," he says. "I was a ghost."
Even with the odds stacked against him, Joseff is determined to survive reentry.
"I've just been building and building my life," he says, "so that I would be as productive as I can possibly be in my second chance, and not let anyone down—including myself."
JOB HUNTING ON PAROLE
Joseff needs work, but finding a job with a criminal record can be difficult. He wears a GPS monitor as a parole requirement, which further complicates his situation.
The GPS monitor restricts Joseff's movements. "I can't just get out, you know, and go look for a job as I want to," he explains. Instead, Joseff must notify his parole officer in person and request permission to visit job sites in advance.
Once visits are scheduled, Joseff's parole officer will call the employer. The two will discuss Joseff's background and what the potential job will require of him. For many companies, having to coordinate with a parole officer can be seen as "a hassle." The process has made it difficult for Joseff to find an employer willing to take him on.
Even so, he hasn't given up.
LET GO AND LET GOD
The key to Joseff's resilience is his faith. In the face of trials and tribulations, Joseff believes the best thing he can do is to "let go and let God."
"A lot of times, we get in our own way in life," he says. "My main thing is that no matter what happens to me, what I go through—the challenges I go through—I'm not going to give up. I'm never going to give up. I'm just going to keep on pushing."
For Joseff, that means not giving up on a job and his dream of one day owning his own house. He returned to society as a "ghost," but he hasn't let that stop him. Joseff has since built up his credit score and continues to educate himself on financial responsibility. But the struggle to find work can take a toll.
"A lot of times, the flesh feels like it's not going to happen," he says, "but my inner being—my inner soul—tells me, 'OK, maybe that's not for you. Maybe God has another plan for you. … He's going to send you [in] the right direction where you need to be to get that job that He wants you to have—something He knows you'll love and that you can be a contributor to society."
If Joseff could offer advice to those who are facing their own release from prison, it would be to prepare themselves for reentry and the second chance they're about to receive. He recommends studying, participating in various programs to learn new skills and habits, and focusing less on the present and more on what awaits them in the future.
"Make [the parole board] want to give you a second chance by looking at your record, looking at the things you've done, looking at your educational background," Joseff says. "Just seeing you move forward in a negative environment, doing positive things."