Not long ago, a blogger with an interest in social issues and the pressing matters faced by the poor posted a video on YouTube: a homeless man from Austin, Texas spoke of his ordeal after being released from prison.
The man was wealthy before he was forced to go to jail on drug charges. He had his own business with employees, but after he was released from prison he was left homeless with no job. He has since been sleeping outside. It was only when his story came to light, that a good Samaritan who had watched him tell his story on YouTube decided to give him a job. That was how this ex convict got integrated back into society.
But the story of another man named David Potchen is quite different. He too was a wealthy man before he was convicted. He too came out of prison with nothing, and was at the mercy of the street.
He has been homeless, with no hope since being released. He was not too lucky, unlike the man from Texas, and no blogger spotted him. His voice would go unheard, and he would not get a job from a person with a compassionate heart. Instead, he decided to walk into a local small-town bank in Gary-Indiana. He wanted to go back to prison, to save himself from the mess on the street. At least in prison, he will have a decent place to sleep and food to eat.
He walked into the bank and told the teller to give him all their money. He got $1,600 but did not go away. In fact, he sat down to wait for the police. He wanted the police to arrest him.
When the police arrived, they took Potchen away and charged him as he had expected. But during his trial, after Judge Clarence Murray had heard all the evidence, and upon learning that Potchen had deliberately committed the crime in order to avoid sleeping on the street, the judge shouted out in the courtroom asking if anyone present could offer him a job.
But nobody in the courtroom was able to offer Potchen a job. A local reporter then wrote a story about the incident, about what had happened in the courtroom. And when an owner of a truck company read the story, he was touched and offered Potchen a job as a welder.
As we speak now, Potchen has been fully integrated back into society. He has a salary, an apartment and a retirement account. He could never think of doing something that would send him back behind bars. His story has brought back the old debate about the prison system, and how convicts are treated when released.
It is time for us to sit down and think about the issue critically. We should make life comfortable for people we have already punished. They should at least have the basic requirements of life so that they will not be pushed into doing something even bigger than what had originally sent them to prison for the first time.