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Marked man

The difficult path from prison back to society

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In 2008, when Missoula native Eric Fevold was first incarcerated at a high-security federal penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas, he lied about the conviction that brought him there. In a hierarchical prison system, people like Fevold who commit crimes involving children can be subject to scorn and worse. Fevold worried that his conviction for receiving and possessing child pornography would make him a target, so he said instead that he was doing time for gun charges.

It didn’t take long for the other inmates, with access to a law library, to figure out the truth. “They saw through that immediately,” Fevold recalls. He says he was ostracized and spent most of his sentence alone, reading and studying math.

In August, Fevold, who’s now 55, returned to Missoula under a conditional release. He’s now facing the same predicament he encountered in prison: cover his crime or openly disclose his past. He’s aggressively chosen the latter, and is now speaking publicly about the challenges he and other newly released felons have when arriving back in their communities.

Convicted felon Eric Fevold says an array of mandates governing his behavior is making it tough for him to reintegrate into the Missoula community.
  • Convicted felon Eric Fevold says an array of mandates governing his behavior is making it tough for him to reintegrate into the Missoula community.

“That’s what I’m facing,” he says, pulling a letter from a stack of papers. The letter advises that his application for graduate school admission at the University of Montana is on hold until he provides a typewritten account of his crime and an explanation of why he’s required to register as a sex offender.

Next he produces another piece of paper from the same stack. It’s a “Contract for Sex Offenders” provided to him by his church, Immanuel Lutheran, obligating him to have one or more chaperones accompany him while he’s on church premises and attending congregation functions. It also mandates that Fevold move to a different seat if a child 2 years old or younger sits next to him at a church function.

A third piece of paper includes the terms of Fevold’s release from the federal penitentiary, which, among other things, prohibit him from being “in the company of any child under the age of 18,” viewing pornography and consuming alcohol.

Fevold says he understands the rationale of UM, the church and the federal justice system to take precautionary measures, but the hurdles can feel daunting.

“They’re trying to prevent the worst scenario from happening,” says Fevold, who adds he feels like there’s a target on him. “I realize that I’m marked for (institutional scrutiny).”

Fevold’s challenges are not uncommon among those newly released from prison, says Casey Dunning of Partners for Reintegration, a volunteer group that helps people like Fevold readjust to life in Missoula. He says the issues Fevold’s facing are among the reasons nearly half of all released felons end up back in jail.

“It can get to a situation—and it often does—where it’s just easier to go back to prison than to make it in the community,” Dunning says.

Hundreds of convicted felons return annually to the Missoula community and 43 percent are sent back to jail within three years, typically for a technical violation such as consuming alcohol or drugs, according to data compiled by the Montana Department of Corrections.

Partners for Reintegration, which is comprised of churches, social service providers and local citizens working with the Montana Department of Corrections, aims to curb the personal and institutional costs associated with that trend. The average cost to house an inmate at Montana State Prison is $97.63 per day, while one year of probation or parole supervision costs $1,691. Partners for Reintegration serves as an advocacy network, uniting felons with a system of volunteers who help secure housing, jobs and social support.

In an effort to pool resources and more effectively handle housing demands, Partners for Reintegration approached the Missoula City Council this past year for support. Council approved the resolution in November.

The group now hopes Missoula’s support will help persuade state lawmakers to back initiatives at a statewide level. Jana Staton, co-chair of Partners for Reintegration’s steering committee, says they’re asking the 2015 Montana Legislature to pass a proposal introduced by Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Helena, that would authorize the Department of Corrections to fund housing vouchers for parolees who, without such assistance, would not be eligible for release.

“Partners is trying to work on a community level,” Statin says, “not just an individual level.”

As for Fevold, he’s looking for work and hopes to begin classes at the university this semester, depending on findings from UM’s Admissions Review Committee. As for the attention he will likely receive for telling his story, Fevold says it’s a relief to share it publicly. As he learned in prison, the truth is bound to come out anyway.

“Then there’s going to be other repercussions that are almost more difficult to handle than being honest in the first place,” Fevold says.

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