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Former inmate discusses the challenges of freedom after incarceration

Posted: 7:28 PM, Nov 02, 2017
Updated: 2017-11-03 00:28:25Z

What happens when inmates are released from prison? James Cross talked to TODAY'S TMJ4 about the obstacles he faced.

Cross was incarcerated from the age of 14 to 23. 

"All I knew how to do was sell dope," he said.

Cross was often bullied and became a fighter. That aggression cost him his freedom.

"I was in for battery of a law enforcement officer," Cross said.

He entered prison when pagers and flip phones were popular. He was released into a world of Google and iPhones.

"I didn't go through the coming of age process that most people go through, there was no first job, there was no high school graduation."

When Cross left prison he had no place to go.

"While I as in the joint, my mom moved to Colorado and my dad died. So I came home with zero support."

Cross knows he's not alone.

"They're coming home from prison in this unstable chaotic place. They're supposed to assimilate immediately in a world where nobody wants them! And it's just hard."

"People are  40, 30 years old coming home. There is no home. You're 30 years old. Don't nobody want you on their couch!"

Under terms of his release, Cross could not travel to the south side. 
"Ya'll stuck me in and pretty much told me I could only go to the most murderous part of Milwaukee and I can't leave!" Cross said. "It was a chore everyday to wake up and not hit the south side that's where all the temp services were at. I've been in the joint forever, this is the only job I'm going to get." 

To be more marketable Cross changed his appearance.  
"I got rid of my contacts. I wear white glasses cause they soften my features. I'm way less of a threat with glasses on. You know what I'm pants fit because I'm way less of a  threat without my drawers showing. I had to co-flip somewhat for people to give me a chance to even speak to them."

But James changes are apparently working. He's one semester away from earning a degree in Biology from UWM. He credits one local social service agency will helping him find the way. 

"I came to the Alma Center and found a place where people wanted me," he said.