This story was reported by Canopy Atlanta, a community-powered journalism nonprofit. This story was informed by feedback from the South DeKalb community as part of the South DeKalb Issue, a series of stories about the neighborhood.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has 34 state prisons across the state, which house nearly 47,000 felony offenders. Formerly incarcerated South DeKalb residents face many challenges as they engage in the process of resocialization, seeking housing, employment, and health care while reclaiming their space in the world. This oral history is a look into the lasting effects of incarceration, whether in local, state or federal prison, and the overlooked mental and spiritual effects on families as they wait for their loved ones to return home. Four formerly incarcerated people share their truths about whether they are ever really considered citizens again.
Kevin Skidmore, who works at Phase 16 Diesel in Union City, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1979. As a child, Kevin wore polo shirts to ensure that he was the best dressed amongst his peers.
“James Young, I met him at Metro Reentry. And he pushed up on me and he said, ‘Hey, I want a job when I get out.’ I said ‘OK’ like I say to everybody else: ‘Just find me, you call me.’ And he did. He called me when he got out. I told him what to do. He went and did everything I told him to do. He got a [commercial driver’s license]. And once he called, he sent me a picture of the CDL. I had to abide by my word. I went ahead and gave him a job. Bought a truck and put him in a truck. And he’s still with me now. He’s been with me since he’s been home, and it’s been a little over three years. So that’s a success story that is really close to my heart. He always used to say, ‘I don’t know what my life would be if you didn’t give me a chance.’”
Jeffery Stargell Jr.
Jeffery Stargell Jr. was born in Atlanta in 1982. As a child, Jeffery’s friend got him into remote control cars. They would swap out the motors, making the little cars faster. Modifying those toy cars, like he was a mechanic, gave him joy.
“Being that I’m a convicted felon, it’s kinda hard to apply for certain housing and things to that effect. ‘Cause when you’re a convicted felon, they really don’t want to mess with you like that. Job-wise, it’s easy to get a warehouse job. [But] your background, that will kind of hinder you from reaching your full potential.”
Curtis King was born in Ruleville, Mississippi, in 1962. As a child Curtis’ life was vibrant and full of games: kickball, tag, hide-and-seek, and Captain, May I. Most of his childhood friends were from church.
“Some of my fellow church members were actually justice-involved. I had a chance to walk alongside them and see firsthand the barriers that might be in place, in terms of employment, housing, stigma, etc. And when I was doing theological studies as an adult, one of the projects that I wrote up was the idea of making information about resources for people reentering from incarceration more readily available. I believe in the power of information. Oftentimes there are resources and there are people who could use the resources, but there is no connection point between them. The information flow isn’t there.”
South DeKalb Fellow Dominique Harris was born in Atlanta in 1990. Prior to that, his family, including some who worked as sharecroppers, moved from “the country” to Atlanta’s west side in search of a better life. Dominique has since lived all over Atlanta and the surrounding areas, from West End and East Point to Decatur and South DeKalb.
As a child, Dominique wanted a bike more than anything. He and his friends used to wander through sewers and abandoned houses, though that wasn’t enough: “We wanted bikes because we wanted to be out.”
“When I got to Central State Prison around 2017, I had one more incident that almost cost me some more time. It was my last straw, I think. I started trying to think of how to get out of that prison environment. And when I started trying to get my mind out of that environment, I came across Metro Reentry Facility.
“It was hard for me to get there, but I got two trades in prison: I got my apprenticeship in heating and air, and I got my apprenticeship in carpentry. Some of the staff were still seeing me around these negative people, so they said, ‘Well Dominique, we need to get them away from you now. We see you’re on a different path.’ So my reentry really started in prison before I came home. If it didn’t, I don’t think I would have transitioned that well, because I wouldn’t have been looking for the resources. The resources are already scarce.”
As Canopy Atlanta’s inaugural Reporting Resident, Bankhead Senior Fellow Ann Hill Bond explores whether DeKalb residents who have been incarcerated can be defined by more than her crime and punishments. Her new reporting begins with a personal essay that helps explain why that community listening response resonated with her. That story begins in 2009, with a job opportunity at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and why Hill Bond wasn’t ready to accept it: her brother’s own incarceration, and the pain it caused her and her family.
Canopy Atlanta also trains and pays community members, our Fellows, to learn reporting skills to better serve their community. Dominique Harris, a South DeKalb Fellow, contributed reporting to this story.