NHPR's New Podcast Follows Parolee From Prison To 'A Kind Of Purgatory'
"I want to know what it's really like to be out of prison, but not free. To have to check in with a parole officer, regularly, for years. To start again and to try not to get sent back."
That was the goal Vermont Public Radio investigative reporter Emily Corwin set out with in her recently released podcast for New Hampshire Public Radio: Supervision. What she ended up with is a five-month journey alongside one New Hampshire parolee, Josh Lavenets, told over the course of four episodes.
Corwin was still working for New Hampshire Public Radio when she read a statistic: half of the people in New Hampshire on parole end up back in prison within three years.
"I was just really struck," Corwin said. "What is so difficult about parole that it makes you so likely to fail?"
She decided to look into it more by documenting the life of one person on parole. Corwin began attending parole hearings and sending letters to those who had been granted parole. She received a couple letters back, and that's when she found the subject of her podcast: Josh Lavenets.
His letter "was very earnest, and it was clear that he was interested in working with me on the story," Corwin said.
Emily Corwin spoke to VPR's All Things Considered host Henry Epp about the podcast. Listen to their conversation above.
As she followed Lavenets out of prison and into the outside world, Corwin said her biggest takeaway is just how vulnerable parolees really are.
"When you get out, you often have no resources," Corwin said — no savings, no job, no car to get to a job, no license to drive a car.
She added, "All of that stuff is really hard for anybody getting out of prison, but especially for the many people who get out of prison on parole who don't come from a community with a lot of privilege."
Corwin noted statistics that show parolees are also more likely to end up in emergency rooms, a reality she personally witnessed with Lavenets.
"He had seizures while we were together," she said. "And then a few months later, he died suddenly."
Corwin said that event was "shocking," and that it is still somewhat unexplained. Lavenets struggled not only with seizures but with alcoholism.
"That made this a really hard story to tell ... which is one of the reasons it took me two years to finish," she said.
Corwin, who now works at VPR, said that the parole situation addressed in the NHPR podcast is analogous to the Vermont Department of Corrections' furlough process, which precedes parole in the state.
"It's not captivity. And it's not freedom," Corwin states in the first Supervision episode. "It's almost like a kind of purgatory."