Angel Was Here: Life After Prison

After serving 29 years for murder, one man finds that life after prison presents its own set of challenges.

  • Angel Ramos attempts to forge a life after prison, where he finds his new freedom disconcerting—his rehabilitation daunting.
    Photo By Fotolia/Photo 5000
  • Sabrine Heinlein shadows the lives of three recently paroled men in "Among Murderers." These men, each a convicted murderer, struggle to reintegrate themselves into society, and find that their new freedom can be just as confining as their former cells.
    Cover Courtesy University of California Press

With Among Murderers: Life After Prison (University of California Press, 2013), Sabine Heinlein offers a stark and brave look at the new lives of three recently paroled murderers, and their struggles to reintegrate into society. Having lived most of their lives behind bars, these men struggled to cross the street, choose a dish at a restaurant, and withdraw money from an ATM. In this chapter, "Freedom Day," we meet Angel Ramos, new to freedom but seemingly adrift in an unfamiliar world.

Freedom Day

And just like that, that was that. No sense of being at all, Angel wrote in the spidery script of a nine-year-old. He titled the new page in his diary Freedom Day, March 29th 2007. He was dazed by the abrupt shock of having dropped from one sphere into another in a matter of seconds. The course that had taken three decades to unfold had suddenly advanced with blinding speed: Attica’s prison gates closed behind him. Freedom.

The prison van took him to a gas station, where he boarded the public bus to New York. Freedom? He looked around. Some of the guys on the bus reminded him of the loser mind-sets he had just left behind in Attica. Loser mind-sets who told the same street stories over and over. Tales of how they robbed old women and dealt drugs, how much money they once had, and what cars they used to own.

“Tell me you own a business,” Angel would tell them. “That would impress me.”

The people on the bus all struck him as surprisingly young, and it was then that Angel realized that somehow, somewhere along the line, he had gotten old. More than half of his life had passed. He had spent twenty-nine years behind bars for committing one murder and attempting another. He was forty-seven now.

As more people got on the bus Angel nervously scooted over on his seat, removing his bags to make space. He could see the Manhattan skyline on the horizon. Looks goooood! he wrote as the bus entered the Lincoln Tunnel.

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