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Former Federal Prisoner Adjusts To Life On The Outside

Barbra Scrivner (center) is pictured with her daughter Alannah (left), her grandson Draydon and her father, at one of her last prison visits. (Courtesy)
Barbra Scrivner (center) is pictured with her daughter Alannah (left), her grandson Draydon and her father, at one of her last prison visits. (Courtesy)

Barbra Scrivner spent 20 years in prison for conspiracy to sell crystal meth, before President Obama commuted her sentence last year. The president commuted the sentences of 46 other nonviolent drug offenders this week, warning them that their re-entry to society “it will not be easy.”

Scrivner spent the first few months in a halfway house, and she struggled to adjust to life on the outside. She didn’t know how to apply for jobs online. She was overwhelmed in big box stores that offered so much choice. Now, she tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti that she has a job and is feeling hopeful about the future.

Interview Highlights: Barbra Scrivner

Adjusting to life outside of prison

“I was going to go to the store, so I got on the bus and went down to where the stores were. And I went into a 99-cent store, and that was overwhelming because I was told some of the 99-cent stores, everything isn’t 99 cents, because there are different types, I guess. So I had got like five or six items and I was looking at the prices and I’m like, ‘Well is this one 99 [cents],’ and I was adding them all up and I’m like, ‘I don’t have enough money for this,’ so I put a bunch of the stuff back and I got like overwhelmed because I couldn’t figure out how this store worked. So I went to the cash register with a couple of the items and they were 99 cents, and then I was like, ‘Oh, this is one of those regular [stores], everything is 99 cents.’ But I was too frustrated to go back in and I just left and went back to the halfway house and told everybody I couldn’t figure out the 99-cent store.”

On feeling frustrated about spending 20 years in prison

“Sometimes I get a little, I don’t even know what word to use, a little upset with what had happened, but then I also have to realize, ‘Ok, well it’s happened and it’s done and it’s over with and I just have to move on.’ When I tried to fill out job applications – I had jobs before I was incarcerated and I knew how to fill out the application, and I could write down my previous jobs and my work experience. I put in over 100 applications all over the city of Fresno, and nobody would hire me. And finally, luckily yes, eventually someone did hire me, and I love my job. But at first it was hard, and I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to account for that big of a gap.”

On the job application process after her release

“Some of them I just didn’t put any work history and I just said, ‘I haven’t had a job in 20 years.’ And I would put my old work history. And some of them I would put the skills that I learned, and they would ask, ‘well where did you learn the skill?’ And I was just point blank and I told them – this is where I learned it, but this is what I know how to do. And I explained about getting clemency from the president in hopes that that would make them look at me in a better light, and not just as some criminal who doesn’t deserve a second chance, because that’s how I kind of felt. A lot people looked at me when I explained that, and it’s not fair and it’s not right.”

On whether or not she feels like she’s back to normal

“Not quite. Some of the blocks are all being lined up now. I do have a job. Unfortunately when I got out, I got out to my father’s home, which I tried to save – he left it to us when he passed away. But there was a reverse mortgage on it, and we couldn’t figure out how to get that taken care of, so the bank took it from us. I think when that’s all settled, and with the way my job’s going really good, then I’ll feel my life is starting to really become my life, and I can live it correctly… I still feel a little off balance, I still feel a little anxious.”

Advice for the 46 drug offenders whose sentences were commuted on Monday

“Stay strong, keep going forward. Don’t let the struggles defeat you. Because there was one point in time when I first got out, and with all these struggles, I was like, well kind of, in a way there was some things that was a little more simpler in prison. But of course prison is not an option to want to be in. Freedom and living your life is the best. You’ve just got to stay strong and keep going and things will work themselves out and you will be able to succeed.”

Guest

  • Barbra Scrivner, former prisoner whose sentence was commuted by President Obama.

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