Joe Ex_Offender – Composite Case Study

In this case study, Joe’s issues come from several real ex-offenders’ lives.

As you read:

  • Count how many issues he is dealing with
  • Note and name what areas of his life are affected
  • What should the Church do?
  • What probably won’t work well?


Decisions & Opportunities. In prison, especially before getting to Charlotte’s work release camp, Joe has only had to make about 20 decisions a day, the rest were made for him by the system. People on the outside typically make 150 to 200 decisions a day about all kinds of minor details or major moves. Joe was put into prison for making bad decisions in the first place. Joe is now coming out and there are all kinds of decisions to make that have real consequences that he will have to live with.
Anxiety. He is feeling anxious. He has just a few bucks in his pocket plus some clothes that had been donated to the unit. This is the third time he has been at this cross roads. Almost 70% of ex-offenders come back within a year and half.
Negative Thinking. Deep down he really wants to make it this time, but he is not convinced that he is not a loser. He has clearly been told this negative message over and over. There are deep, painful inferiority feelings and accusatory thoughts that rise up and chop at him as he constantly compares himself to those around him on the outside. Every where he turns he knows he is labeled with the degrading word “ex-offender.”
Housing Is A Major Issue. Joe is first of all dealing with practical thoughts like, “Where am I going to really stay?” in spite of a housing plan he had to come up with in a required class back in the work camp. “I can only stay with Mom, relatives, or a friend a very few days. “Where am I going to find what I need and how will I pay for it? The cheapest place, all that I can afford, is in a bad environment where there are drugs and alcohol flowing everywhere. People all around have bad attitudes.” Deep down he wants a better place, but he ended up, at least for now, some where just north of Pegram Street in Charlotte.
Temptations. Joe, along with 80 or 90 percent of inmates, has had problems with chemical abuse. Now, he is right in the middle of a chemical playground with playmates. These people just use each other with no commitment or real bonding as friends. Drug money seems so easy at times. But, he has been holding these wrong kinds of people off pretty well. He sort of aches insides cruising around alone so much, so the old numbness and “the just do what it takes to take care of myself” attitude tends to floats back. He thinks about the some money he saved up while on work release. He feels tempted to blow some of it on the good time he deserves. “I have a right to at least celebrate getting out of the joint.”
Bad Influences. Where is he going to find the right kind solid friends who stick up for you even when you mess up and the right contacts to get resources? For the last two days, his brother has come to stay with him who has been drinking out of a brown bag, offering some to him. He thinks, “You can’t kick out your own brother.” He is now double-mindedly confused. His heart hungers with the need to receive and give love, which he tasted with the Christian program in the unit, and to use a chemical lift feels something sort of like that.
Transportation Is Another Big Issue. Another very real decision is how to get transportation to work in a car oriented society. The bus line is just a little far off. Is he going to spend his little money on a junk car that drives him crazy with repairs, or on an apartment? There is not quite enough for both just yet. The apartment company already took the extra money he had to pay down. Getting money for transportation is a really key issue. “I have to show up at work. And if I miss seeing the parole officer, there’s big trouble.”
No Direction For Developing A Skill. Work is boring to him at the gas station. It does not pay well enough to really make it. He does a little yard work for cash on the side. He is not clear about what abilities he has that could help him to succeed. He doesn’t even know in what he is really interested that would be satisfying. He has no real clue about what career path to follow. He took some ability tests somewhere, but does not know what they really mean.
All these problems pile up and overwhelm his mind at times. Flashes of floating anger boil up, but he still is handling it pretty well like he learned back in the Christian program. Other times he just gets depressively down or numb to having to figure out all this stuff all the time.

He thinks, “What counts now is hand to mouth survival. Living in the ‘right now.’ What will I eat, wear, where will I stay, or pay the basic bills with, etc.?” In the past, because he believed it was hopeless to make it in the business world anyway, he had spent his time sharpening his street skills. Prison was a great place for doing that – even though he spent a lot of time with the Christian brothers.

He thinks, “The bank will never give credit to a person like me to do legitimate business or own a home anyway.” Somehow with that rationalization, his mind slides back to his pre-Christian, street survival attitudes. It’s the hardened “I got to just get by”, or to find someone to prey upon – to con mind-set with no real thought about the consequences, or who it may hurt.
Lack of Education & Training. Joe has about a ninth grade reading level, and he always struggled with math. He was working on his GED in prison, but he had to go on work release just before finishing it. He meant to finish it as soon as he got out, but things are pretty busy now. The forms Joe gets at work for car parts had seemed confusing. He struggles with keeping the math straight for the customers. However, he’s now doing these things a little faster than before.
No Money Management Skills. The forms at the bank, however, seem tough. He thinks, “How to function with the bank is a real trip. I never really know how much money I’m really dealing with. They are just after my little bit of money. There is not quite enough money for buying food because I had to buy cold medication and some used furniture that I did not count on.” Budgeting seems foreign to him; the budgeting forms from the class he took didn’t seem to work anyway. And the tax forms that are coming up seem out of the question.
Culture Shock & More Temptation. Joe has not been out in the world for seven or eight years. His eyes get big with culture shock feelings. The girls now wear revealing stuff in the malls that used to be only seen by streetwalkers and the boys are loading up with body ornaments. And it’s mainstream people too, not just street types doing it. It feels overwhelming. Knowing how to dress to show that he is somebody, or to be accepted is really awkward.
He wonders, “Do I dress ‘cool’ to show I have respect? But when I dress real nice, then more women start winking at me. I have not been involved with a woman directly for years. I just got a note passed across the table at a restaurant yesterday from a nice looking gal. What a rush!” This is the second time this has happened. But thoughts of the Lord still mix in to save him from pleasured trouble for now.
Furthermore, he thinks, “Temptation like this is very powerful and makes it really hard to live for the Lord. I want to live for the Lord, but in the last church I visited, really felt that the people really looked down on me. They had so many legalistic rules they pretended to live by. So, where’s God? What the ‘heck.’” His rationalizing pulls him back towards his the old way of living as a loner with no real attachments to God or people. There are no memories of real father-love or close family growing up to draw from.
Common Marriage Problems. Joe has a wife, but marriages of so many prisoners fall apart. His wife Susan had been seeing Joe off and on during his incarceration, but less and less frequently. They are separated, and he knows there are other men involved. In fact, there is now a child on the way by somebody else.
Crazy as it may seem, Joe and Susan feel strangely drawn together again. They have been talking again lately, but it is real touchy. Joe is tying to prove that he has really changed, but she wants to wait and see. Joe cost her a lot of money and emotional pain; there is a lot of bitterness that rises up that she quickly throws on Joe. Joe wants acceptance, but now is being tested by her. He must earn it back inch by inch, but in a flash she jerks it away over little things.
He also would like back the authority he once had again to run the household and wants respect from his children, but she can’t trust him yet. She has worked hard to learn survival skills in a penny pinching, welfare situation. She has been all-alone and has had to take charge to make it. She can’t just give it up and risk more pain and trouble – just because Joe says he is going to do better now.
Trying To Keep The Faith. Well, anyway, Joe had been seriously trying to live for the Lord now and believed that God has a special plan for his life. In prison he had read his Bible and prayed every day. He learned to walk close with other brothers following the Lord. He went to a lot of the services. He misses the relational closeness he had with the brothers back in the unit. Only one person from there seems to show they really care. However, that person is often busy and has his own family, work, and problems. Still just that one person believing in him sure feels good; he hungers for more. “I want to go to church, but how will I figure out which one I really want to belong to.”
Temptation to Backslide. But now he is alone with all these problems. It is getting harder to keep reading the Bible and praying. At the same time, the old survival mode of aloneness and hardness comes back – to just do whatever it takes to make it through another day. At such times he gets the perverse idea of phony role-playing with a nice church person who wants to do ministry. Conning them might help “get by” for today.

© STEP Foundation of Charlotte, Inc. – 1/30/05