You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?

Jon Mooallem, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

The opening riff of ‘‘Good Times, Bad Times’’ kicked in on the stereo as they hit Los Angeles County, just before 2 p.m. Carlos bobbed his head in the back seat. The mood in the car was up — for a minute or two. Then, construction work narrowed Route 101, and Roby grumbled as they slowed nearly to a stop. ‘‘See that, Dale?’’ he asked Hammock. ‘‘I’m complaining about traffic. You know what that’s called?’’

‘‘No,’’ Hammock said.

‘‘That’s called ‘free-man problems,’ ’’ Roby said.

They fought through the congestion to their next stop, a Target in downtown L.A., where Roby put Hammock in charge of the big red shopping cart. ‘‘There you go, pushing a cart!’’ he shouted as they set off into the aisles. ‘‘Who would’ve thunk it!’’

Every ride home includes a stop to get the third-striker out of his sweats and buy him some real clothes and basic toiletries. It’s typically the last thing Carlos and Roby do; walking into a crowded big-box store asks a lot of these guys. Roby was released on Presidents’ Day weekend, and his father and cousins took him straight to an outlet mall. The swarm of bargain-seeking humanity overwhelmed him. In prison, people move slowly, drag their feet and keep their distance; all of a sudden, Roby was being jostled and bumped. And after 12 years in the same state-issued clothing, he had no idea what to buy. When his father asked him what size he was, Roby told him: ‘‘I don’t have a size.’’

I’m late to the party on this article, but I had to link to it; it’s just that good. If you need a mental espresso shot to restore a flagging faith in humanity, drink this up.