Inmates Need Social Media. Take It From a Former Prisoner

The country’s most famous inmate is free. O.J. Simpson’s release highlights the challenges of leaving prison, saddled with multiple felony convictions. I would know. It’s hard to re-enter society, but it might be easier for those returning citizens, like Simpson, whose NFL pension and luxury homes, along with the prospect of the new iPhone, await him, compared with the likely transition for those who will return to poverty.

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ABOUT

Chandra Bozelko (@aprisondiary) is a 2017 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim criminal justice reporting fellow and writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries.

Like Simpson, when I came home from prison in 2014, after serving more than six years for identity-theft-related crimes, I had resources: money, my family’s support, a driver’s license that my parents had renewed in my absence. I had a safe, warm, and free place to stay as long as I needed to.

Where I floundered — and where Simpson may struggle, too — was technology. The years 2008 to 2014 might have been the worst time to live outside of society from a technological perspective. During that time the smartphone became ubiquitous. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all reached critical mass. I hadn’t used Facebook before I was incarcerated but I learned about the platform by reading Facebook for Dummies, which is like learning to swim on dry land.

Dealing with the device was hard enough — I tapped when I should have swiped, swiped when I should have stopped — but not knowing the hierarchy of platforms and chat/messaging abbreviations branded me an outsider more brightly than felony convictions. I was so lost I couldn’t find my app with both hands. FML. That’s the one to use, right?

Even with all the advantages I had compared with other former prisoners, I would have been far better prepared for society if I had been primed for social media use prior to coming home.

While the United States remains focused on the front end of criminal cases with attorney…

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