For inmates released during COVID, online-everything makes coming home a digital headache

When my client missed his first support group Zoom call, I didn’t think much about it. When he missed his telemedicine appointment, I assumed that he was slow to get organized. He had every reason to need some time.

He had just been released from 30 years of incarceration after we won our motion for compassionate release in Washington, D.C. The judge ruled that because my client was over 60 years old, had served over 20 years in prison, had underlying health conditions that cause “acute vulnerability to severe medical complications or death as a result of COVID-19,” and did not pose a danger to society, he could go home for the first time since 1991.

The next day his daughter picked him up from the prison lobby, and we had a jubilant, celebratory Zoom call on her phone — the first time we saw each other’s faces. He was soon trapped in a court-ordered 2-week quarantine at his elderly sister’s home, while the rest of the world continued to navigate the pandemic. As the days passed once he got home, he did not return emails I sent to the address his daughter set up for him. He called me often saying that he had emailed, but nothing came. Then, he missed the Zoom support group meeting, and then another one. I got more worried.

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