Kevin Davis has known the date for months: 12/25/2017, the day he would be released from prison. But what he didn’t know was where he would go after he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Almost all of his family had died, and what friends were left in the Lafayette area — where he called home most of his life — were the ones who he worried would suck him back to the cycle of addiction, crime and prison, a painful pattern he’d known well for the last two decades.
But this time is different, the 63-year-old said Monday on his ride to Baton Rouge from the state’s only maximum-security prison.
“I’m already shifting gears, changing mindsets,” Davis said. “I realize I need a base, somewhere to start. … I need help.”
Despite how he prides himself on being self-sufficient, he said he came to acknowledge that for him to succeed in society after eight years as a prisoner, and many more years prior, his reentry will require support. And that’s where Linda Fjeldsjo of Catholic Charities comes in.
“Let’s put it this way, Ms. Linda, once you become an addict, you can spot a con artist from 100 yards, because you’re looking in the mirror,” Davis said to Fjeldsjo, who drove early Christmas morning to the prison to pick him up. “Guess what? I stay away from those (people).”
Davis first met Fjeldsjo, Catholic Charities’ director of prison ministries, at a resources fair at Angola two years ago, and he later reached out to her to express his interest in the nonprofit’s Joseph Homes program, which provides transitional housing for homeless ex-offenders.
Each year, more than 15,000 of the 70,000 men incarcerated in Louisiana’s state and parish prisons are released, according to state records. A…
Davis said he will do most anything — except go back to prison — to not end up how he was after his last release: homeless, jobless and desperate.
“I had nowhere to go, I had to sleep in the bushes,” Davis said. “You just don’t know, (Joseph Homes) is incredible.”
Davis was convicted in 2012 of simple burglary, and sentenced as a habitual offender to eight years at hard labor, because he’d been convicted of the same charge, a felony, in the past.
According to Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court records, he was convicted of simple burglary in 2010. Records also indicate Davis was convicted of simple burglary and issuing a worthless check in 1999. Davis said all of his legal troubles have always stemmed from his addiction, which began with pain pills following injuries from incidents like car accidents, but was compounded when his second wife introduced him to cocaine in the 1990s.
Davis was eligible for, and completed, Angola’s Certified Treatment Rehabilitation Program (CTRP), which gave him the opportunity to shorten his sentence by 360 days through programming aimed to ease reentry, like job skills training, anger management and substance abuse classes.
"(I would) do everything I can to improve my employability," Davis said. "I have goals between now and the next 15 months: cell phone, job, vehicle and then apartment."
Known as the “Candyman” at Angola for his peanut butter fudge recipe that was conducive to cooking in microwaves available to inmates, Davis spent his last few months preparing for his release.
On Christmas morning, he walked out of the Angola gates with a bag stuffed with snacks, summer sausages, towels, coffee, socks and other toiletries he was hoping would help him survive his first few days on the outside. He was excited to learn from Fjeldjo that his parole officer would help him get a cellphone — something he knew would be vital to getting any kind of employment — and that she had a seven-day bus pass ready for him.
“Welcome to Joseph Homes,” Fjeldsjo said, opening the door to his small but sufficient apartment, subsidized by Catholic Charities. While she went over the nonprofit’s requirements for residents — two substance abuse classes a week, group meetings on Thursday nights, no drugs or alcohol and visitors only on Sundays — other residents stopped by his open door, some Davis knew from Angola, all who know what he is going through.
“It’s overwhelming for him,” Fjeldsjo said. “It’s going to take a few days to just kind of let it all sink in … but I think we have a strong community at Joseph Homes, so there’s a safety valve there.”
Fjeldsjo and Davis then walked over from the apartment to the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall for their Christmas lunch. Sitting with another Joseph Homes resident, the three enjoyed the hot meal of turkey, ham, rice, green beans and potatoes that were “way better” than prison, Davis said. But it was the banana he saved for last that he most savored.
“Simple things are good,” Davis said, explaining that bananas were rare to come by in prison.
He waited in line to pick up some donated clothes and nonperishable foods, getting two dress shirts he hopes to wear to job interviews and enough cans of chili and tomato sauce to last him for weeks.
And then he walked back to his new home, where he could sleep in silence for the first time in years, where he said he felt like he could get a fresh start.
“I can’t think of a better Christmas,” Davis said, letting a small smile form under his white moustache. “This is like a miracle.”
Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.