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'Don’t judge a book by a couple chapters': Life during and after incarceration

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Posted at 1:59 PM, Jul 20, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — “You know, the old cliché of "don’t judge a book by its cover" is so true. At the same time, don’t judge a book by a couple chapters, you know,” said Montez Day, who was previously incarcerated.

It was 20 years ago when Day’s chapter began.

“I was incarcerated for over 20 years in the federal prison system,” he said. “I was incarcerated for armed bank robbery.”

Behind bars for more than two decades, Day said he clung to helping people in hopes of coping with his own stress and anxiety. He helped an inmate learn how to read and tutored several young men, which opened the door and really opened his heart.

“You’re just trying to get through it with hopes of getting out and doing something better, with hopes of getting out and starting your life over and with hopes of getting out and not being judged for the mistake that you made and the penalty that you’ve paid,” Day said.

But it wasn’t easy dealing with the challenges and everything that comes with living in prison.

“Being in prison is not what most people think it is,” he said. “Being locked in a cell, a concrete and steel cell for 23 hours a day when you’re in trouble because you went to the shoe, or being locked in a cell for 8 to 9 hours a day, waking up on a piece of mattress that’s probably about 4 to 5 inches thick and having a guard walk up to your cell and tell you to stand up and strip naked and turn around and you were just dead asleep. These are things that you get used to doing, but you never get used to it emotionally and mentally and they can break you down.”

And the challenges didn’t stop there. Once being released in 2019, Day had a long road ahead of him.

“If someone leaves prison or leaves homelessness and is in an apartment, we think, so problem solved," said Jeri Warner, Trusted Mentors Executive Director. “But in reality, they’re entering a whole lot of new problems.”

“Just trying to get initial things like driver's license, ID, getting an apartment or a place to live, or getting a car,” Day said. “Just those different things. After 20 years, I’d never even seen a smartphone until I got out of prison. We didn’t have smartphones when I went to prison.”

Now, after getting his life on track, he works as a mentor-match manager at Trusted Mentors, a local nonprofit that provides trained mentors for at-risk adults to help them stay housed and out of prison.

“Having encouragement and resources as well as having someone to safely vent to and then to get ideas and encouragement can make all the difference in the world,” Warner said.

As we come out of COVID, Warner explained the need to help more people is growing. She emphasizes that when we help our most vulnerable, the entire community benefits.

“We know that one for every person that we help, that’s one less person who is at risk of homelessness and one less person who is not going back to prison,” she said. “And he gets a chance to be a parent and gets the chance to be employed and gets a chance to give back through paying taxes and volunteering in the community.”

“We are just people; we’re just human beings like everybody else,” Day added. “We go to prison for making mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes.”

Over the past 17 years, Trusted Mentors has helped hundreds of people stay housed and out of prison. They average over 200 mentoring relationships a year in Marion county alone. 90% of the people they work with remain housed and out of prison — so it’s working.

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