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kottke.org posts about Roby So

That little bird, getting his wings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2015

Former convicts Roby So and Carlos Cervantes pick up inmates on the day they get released from prison to help ease their reentry into society.

By now, Carlos and Roby — officially, A.R.C.’s Ride Home Program — have done about three dozen pickups, either together or individually, waking up long before dawn and driving for hours toward prison towns deep in the desert or up the coast. Then they spend all day with the guy (so far they’ve picked up only men), taking him to eat, buying him some clothes, advising him, swapping stories, dialing his family on their cellphones or astonishing him by magically calling up Facebook pictures of nieces and nephews he’s never met — or just sitting quietly, to let him depressurize. The conversation with those shellshocked total strangers doesn’t always flow, Roby told me. It helps to have a wingman.

“The first day is everything,” Carlos says — a barrage of insignificant-seeming experiences with potentially big consequences. Consider, for example, a friend of his and Roby’s: Julio Acosta, who was paroled in 2013 after 23 years inside. Acosta describes stopping for breakfast near the prison that first morning as if it were a horrifying fever dream: He kept looking around the restaurant for a sniper, as in the chow hall in prison, and couldn’t stop gawking at the metal knives and forks, “like an Aztec looking at Cortez’s helmet,” he says. It wasn’t until he got up from the booth and walked to the men’s room, and a man came out the door and said, “How you doin’?” and Acosta said, “Fine,” that Acosta began to feel, even slightly, like a legitimate part of the environment around him. He’d accomplished something. He’d made a treacherous trip across an International House of Pancakes. He’d peed.