An outside look at the Hope Village halfway house.
Hope Village Photo by Benjamin Burgess // kstreetphotographydc.com

In August, Street Sense Media reported that Hope Village will lose its contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2019. I support the bureau’s decision. When I was last at Hope Village, the staff was poorly trained and unprofessional. They are no help for returning citizens.

When I was released from BOP for the last time in 2011, I chose to do 90 extra days in prison rather than to go to Hope Village. I thought that if I went there, I would be setting myself up for failure. “I have never successfully completed that place,” I said to myself. While I was there, it seemed like whenever I did the right thing, one of the staff would try to make it wrong. And other times I just wouldn’t do right.

[Read more: “We’re all we got:” Former and current Hope Village residents fear the future of re-entry in DC]

I have been to Hope Village halfway house multiple times. The last time was in 2010 when I was ordered to the halfway house through Pretrial Services. Back then, the D.C. Department of Corrections had a work program for offenders who were in the halfway house by Pretrial Services while awaiting sentencing. There was a Green Team that did landscaping around the city and a Blue Team that did clean-up. I was able to work on the Green Team. We made minimum wage. On Fridays, the guards would take us to the jail to get our wages in cash.

Before my 2010 stay at Hope Village, I had been released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to Hope Village as part of BOP’s 500-hour drug program, which I failed to complete.

Safety was another issue at Hope Village every time I was there. Nothing happened to me personally, but I was always fearful because many residents were robbed, assaulted, and even murdered inside Hope Village and in the surrounding neighborhood. One of the best ways to improve services would be through better security. Make the residents feel safe and not like they are still in prison.

This is especially important for people who are being released into homelessness. The point of a halfway house is to help you transition back to society successfully. The way things work at Hope Village is you can receive passes to leave the halfway house: daily work passes or passes to look for work, and social passes that you earn by working that can be used on weekends to visit family. These passes are what everybody works for.

But a lot of people don’t have a permanent address when they are preparing to come home. And if you don’t have a permanent address when you go to Hope Village, such as that of a family member, you don’t qualify for social passes. When you leave, the halfway house wants to know exactly where you are. The way the feds see it, if your family is in public housing or any other federally-subsidized housing situation where their name is not on the lease, you can’t use their address.

So, if you were homeless before you went to prison, or if your family is low-income and on a federal voucher, you can’t leave the halfway house except for work, or something like a haircut. You’ll be in there all weekend. Just imagine being somewhere where you could walk right out that door, but if you do, there’s a penalty. Halfway houses aren’t quite halfway for people facing homelessness. I don’t think that’s fair. Your family can come to you for a couple of hours, once a week. But you can’t leave.

There had been talks about creating a new halfway house in D.C. And since Hope Village can’t get their mess together, BOP absolutely needs to get another contractor here. Hope Village has been here too long, stealing too much money from their federal contract without providing the service they are supposed to. When you’re preparing to be released from prison, it’s important to reconnect with family and build what safety net you can before you get out. That’s why it’s crucial for people to be able to come home, to a halfway house in D.C., before they are released. We need a Halfway House. But we don’t need Hope Village.

Eric Thompson-Bey is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.