After spending more than nine years in a federal prison my cousin is back home. It’s been less than a month since he got out. Relatives tell me he’s in good spirits – for someone in his predicament. He’s going to need that good attitude when he starts to apply for jobs and realizes there are lots of things he had the freedom to do before that no longer are options.

He can’t vote, he can’t register a handgun, he can’t fraternize with other convicted felons or, more importantly, he can’t get security clearance which would allow him to get hired at some jobs with decent pay. It’s hard enough for college-educated never been to jail people to find gainful employment these days, let alone a convicted felon without a high school diploma.

If it’s any consolation for him he’s not alone. More than 600,000 convicted felons are released every year from prisons. Some of them get jobs through programs set up to help re-integrate them into society. Others rely on financial help from family members. I’m not sure what his plan is, but I hope he’s got one.

He owned a storefront business before he was convicted of piracy (for selling bootleg videos. Yes they locked him up for that!), so if he doesn’t find a job he’ll probably try to start another business. Making a legitimate income is key to him staying out of trouble, out of prison and becoming as much of a positive influence on his young son as he possibly can.

Breaking ties with some of his old acquaintances will be his biggest challenge, especially when some of them kept in touch with him during his time away. He was incarcerated during the same time and at the same federal prison in Arkansas as rapper TI. Let’s hope that’s all he has in common with TI: that he learns from his mistakes and doesn’t see the inside of a prison
ever again.

Steffanie Rivers is a feelance writer living in the Dallas metroplex. Email your speaking requests, comments and questions to