Ex-Cons Still Face Major Scrutiny Even As Drug War Winds Down

By Seth Ferranti 06/03/16

The ex-offenders who use the facade of legitimacy to hide their criminal activities make it extremely hard on other ex-cons who live within the limits of the law.

Ex-Cons Still Face Major Scrutiny Even As Drug War Winds Down

Currently, only a small percentage of Americans who’ve been convicted of a felony are incarcerated. A majority of the estimated 20 million Americans with a felony record are out of prison and living in society among us—working, paying taxes and being productive members of their communities, despite the insurmountable barriers that restrict their employment, housing and even educational opportunities. 

In the U.S., once you’ve been branded a criminal or convict, it's something you can never live down. It sits on you like a weight around your neck, blocking your attempts to resume your life. And when freed ex-cons stumble—like Najmuddeen Abdus Salaam, who was charged with dealing drugs to the prisoners he was mentoring at Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio—it sets a bad precedent. 

Salaam, of Marion, Ohio, was indicted last week on charges of drug possession and drug trafficking. After completing a nearly 20-year sentence for rape charges, Salaam began volunteering at the prison as a mentor to Marion Correctional Institution inmates. But during his volunteer work, Marion police suspected Salaam was smuggling drugs into the prison. They placed a GPS on his car, and on May 15, the Ohio Highway Patrol discovered Salaam was carrying 249 grams of cocaine during a traffic stop. 

“I don’t know if dude is guilty or not,” Chris, a 32-year-old prisoner serving eight years in the Ohio system for a meth charge, tells The Fix. “But I do know that having this situation blasted all over the news only makes things harder for me when I get out. I mean when do some people learn their lesson?” 

Scamming and manipulative ex-offenders who get out and use the facade of legitimacy to hide their criminal activities make it extremely hard on every other ex-con who is living right, reintegrating to society and conducting themselves within the limits of the law. Society expects those released from prison to recidivate, and therefore trumpets their failure loudly when they do.

Just as the case of Willie Horton was bandied about in the media and used to the detriment of all ex-cons, parolees and those on community release, this new case can throw a monkey wrench into the wheels of criminal justice reform. We have made tremendous progress as the War on Drugs comes to a close, but when situations like this pop up and are publicized, it limits future chances for all returning citizens.

“I hope dude is not guilty with what he’s been charged with,” Chris tells The Fix. “Because if he is, he just destroyed the ability of people in the world to trust us. If I wanted to get out and work with prisoners here in Ohio, that opportunity’s lost to me now. I always say, don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch.”

Hopefully, these types of ex-con missteps do not impede the progress made in the last year by the Obama administration toward a rehabilitation style of incarceration instead of the current model of warehousing men.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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