BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – On paper, Glenn Allan Tefft was sure he qualified for an open position at a Longmont printing plant even with his criminal background. But his spirits were low after he believed he was judged on his appearance during what he thought was a suspiciously brief interview.
“People won’t even look at you,” he said a week before the opportunity arose. “You can tell I’m homeless.”
Almost 39, a three-time felon who’s been to jail but not prison, Tefft is struggling to defy the odds also faced by 95 percent of the prison population that the Congressional Research Service expects will reintegrate back into the greater community at some point.
The roof under which he rests his head at night – that is, when he feels comfortable enough to drift to sleep – is the concrete of a Longmont underpass.
“I don’t see how you can get from nothing to something,” said Tefft, an on-and-off drug user and father of two young daughters. “You’d have to work nonstop for three months and not spend any of that money just to have a deposit. And I don’t see how it’s possible without help.”
With policies limiting employers from hiring felons and property managers from renting to them – two of the most competitive markets in Boulder County – those with criminal backgrounds wrestle with putting their darker pasts behind them and starting anew.
The result is often homelessness, recidivism and the continuation of toxic behaviors, which catapults them back into a cycle of failed attempts at sleeping somewhere stable, landing well-paying jobs and seeing themselves as worthy members of society upon re-entry.
Studies in recent years by the Bureau of Justice Statistics have found that out of 404,638 prisoners released across 30 states in 2005, about two-thirds, or 67.8 percent, were rearrested within three years of release. More than half were rearrested by the end of the first year.
Pressure to change falls upon the offender to be proactive, but the leaders of re-entry programs in Boulder County say immediate support from friends, family and the community is also critical.
“We always say the first 72 hours are really important because if they can’t get some type of stable housing situation, food, clothing, they’re going to resort to what they know best, and that’s most likely either drugs and alcohol or back to some sort of crime,” said Courtney Gomez, executive director of Focus Reentry.
Several countrywide initiatives – such as the “Ban the Box” movement to remove the criminal background question from job applications as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new direction to landlords to not flat-out refuse ex-offenders – are acknowledging the struggle.
But backing up the criminalized population more directly in Boulder County are the local programs, such as Focus Reentry, in its 12th year, and others that bridge that vulnerable gap by pairing inmates up with mentors.
They act as liaisons between food banks, probation and health appointments, job training, bus and clothing vouchers and other basic services.
“It’s really overwhelming for those first few days to be back into the real world and so much responsibility and so much freedom just all at once given to you,” Gomez said.
“So our mentors are there to just be a presence and reduce as much anxiety as possible for the mentees.”
Struggling for shelterComing from a wealthy and college-educated background, Lisa Lacey said for the first time she had to fight for life’s essentials upon her release from prison in 2013 and then from the Longmont Community Treatment Center in 2014.
“It was scary because everybody wants to do a background check, a credit check,” she said. “Me being a felon, you don’t want that embarrassment. It was embarrassing to me to have to say, ‘Yes, I’ve been to prison. Yes, I’m a felon.’”
In 2009, Lacey was sentenced to the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility after being convicted of embezzling $35,000 from her employer, a Colorado Springs medical practice. At the time, she said, she was wrapped up in cocaine addiction and unhealthy relationships.
While incarcerated for four years, she said she took advantage of every program offered, from culinary arts to transformational ministries – the latter of which was led by a woman named Kristi Hornick – until she was released six years earlier than her initial sentence.
“I was that determined that I wanted to be OK when I got out and I wanted to make something of myself,” she said.
Lacey said she mustered the inner strength to lock down a job as a waitress – she was fired from Walgreens when they discovered she was a felon – and find stable housing. She said she found a studio apartment on Craigslist from a landlord who didn’t prod about her criminal background. A year later, she moved into a cottage he owned before returning to her family in Colorado Springs in 2016.
“He told me, ‘You have been one of my most amazing, best tenants I have ever had,’” she said. “Those are good things to hear when you’ve come from where I’ve come from.”
But not everyone catches a break. Lacey is a success story that Hornick sees as a model for others. Hornick is now serving primarily female felons in Longmont with Deborah Simmons through The Reentry Initiative, which they formally launched in October 2016 out of Longmont’s OUR Center.
“If you can set them up with that housing-first model, it seems the rest falls into place,” Hornick said.
However, affordable, sober and felon-friendly housing is scarce in Boulder County, said Greg Brown, the 20th Judicial District’s chief probation officer.
The average rent in Boulder is $1,721 a month, $1,295 a month in Longmont and $1,532 a month in the rest of the county, according to January reports.
Longmont Housing Authority denies anyone with a felony, and Boulder Housing Partners excludes anyone who’s been arrested or convicted of a crime, according to posted eligibility requirements.
And across Longmont, anti-crime programs such as the police’s Crime Free Multi-Housing immediately disqualify people with felony convictions from participating complexes and the recent recruitment of individual landlords.
Brown said he views the exclusive strategy as harmful, separating “us” from “them.”
“It’s trying to create some artificial barrier between us and them when everybody is in the community anyway,” he said. “Most people who get into trouble are not a threat to their next-door neighbor.”
Facing stigmas, self-worth
In addition to hurdles against life’s basic physiological and safety needs, felons face society’s stigma that they’ll forever be involved in crime, thus repunishing them even after they’ve served their time.
Rising awareness of how punishment and public perception impacts the likelihood of reoffense has led to youth-focused restorative justice philosophies, put into practice by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office and the Longmont Community Justice Partnership.
“The idea that those people face consequences that will limit opportunities for the rest of their lives just feels like the consequence is out of balance with the action or their intention at the time they made their choice,” said Kathleen McGoey, LCJP executive director.
She said one offender who was referred to their office, and was therefore spared a blemish on his record, is now in his 20s is able to live uninhibited because of his clean background.
“I just think, what if he had been convicted with a felony as a young person?” McGoey said. “It would be coming up again and again and again with so many people that he meets, and how does that impact his own understanding of himself and his identity?”
Since Colorado began tracking data in 2015 of pilot judicial restorative justice programs, including in Boulder County, preliminary and incomplete research shows that 8.5 percent of 130 juveniles recidivated within at least six months, but less than a year, after completing their contract.
For Boulder County prosecutors, psychological state, pathology and the human condition play a large role in how they decide whether or not to felonize or send someone to prison, said Assistant District Attorney Katharina Booth.
She said unless they’ve been red-flagged or committed major offenses, prosecutors first exhaust county resources, such as restorative programs, community corrections and drug rehab.
For many, a second chance turns into a third, fourth, fifth and so on. For Lacey, she said she feels grateful that her one visit to prison gave her an opportunity to mature and find direction.
Before being forthcoming with her story with new people, she waits to see how the relationship unfolds because she’d rather be judged on the person she is today.
She said she’s changed her name, which she requested remain concealed, and has reconciled with her son, daughter and granddaughter. She said she now manages a Colorado Springs restaurant, pays $900 for a quaint, one-bedroom apartment and recently bought a new car.
“The girls, they don’t realize that you do get a second chance, but you have to want that second chance,” she said. “You have to want to be able to change your lifestyle and be a different person and be a better person.”