Four years free after returning home from Federal prison, 30-year-old Nokomis Hunter is on a path that has never looked brighter. He has a career with District of Columbia Government, a young family and now, Poetry of a Caged Bird, his recently published collection of poems.
The book chronicles the ten years Hunter spent behind bars beginning at age 16 after a carjacking left him with an adult armed robbery conviction.
Hunter recalls how hard it was adjusting to being a free man for the first time in his life. Having been in prison when he came of age, he had to get a driver’s license and insurance before he had a clue about how to apply for a job. After spending a few months in a Delaware halfway house, Hunter returned to his mother’s home in Washington, DC, a city he barely recognized from his childhood. Because the Federal prison system moved him to institutions in a number of states, his mother was unable to visit. So he had to get to know her all over again, this time, as a grown man trying not to be a burden and doing his best to make a contribution.
“I went from part-time job to part-time job, but because of my record I couldn’t find anything sustainable,” he said. “I even tried to get a loan to start a catering business, but my record kept me from that too,” he said. “It was really discouraging.”
A year ago, just when he had almost given up, Hunter became one of the first formerly incarcerated adults served by Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., which traditionally provides services to young people as an alternative to youth incarceration and other institutionalization. YAP had recently become a partner in a program that helps Washington, D.C. men transition from prison to freedom.
By participating in the program, Hunter said his record was sealed, since the offense occurred before he was an adult; and he was able to be released early from his probation. In an interview about the program with Good Morning Washington, Hunter talked about how it changed his life.
Adapting its time-tested youth justice model of training Advocates to provide intensive mentoring and family advocacy, YAP worked with Hunter and his mother. After learning that she wanted to lean on challenges of her past to help others, YAP hired her to be an Advocate to work with systems-involved girls.
At a recent YAP recognition banquet, Hunter surprised his mother with a special tribute and a public thank you for sticking by him throughout his journey.
Hunter said of everything YAP did for him, the most meaningful was helping his mother find her purpose, which has strengthened his family’s foundation for years to come.