Earlier, we talked about setting up your vital document and educational section of your folder. While those two are important, the sections that include legal paperwork and financial paperwork may be the most important things of all. Like me, most of you will probably have some type of supervised release once you are released from prison. While being on supervised release, there are many standard and special conditions you must abide by. In a previous post, we went into detail about these.
No matter what they are, most people will have a similar set of conditions, but may vary slightly. Keeping a copy of your judgment and commitment is crucial to having a copy of this. Anything this document says is the law and you must abide by it no matter what unless you want to live with a twenty-something year old Hispanic nicknamed “Cheese”. (Which by the way is no putdown on my bunkie, just a little joke.) Anyway, your J&C is an important document to have. If you are ever called in and told to do something by your probation officer, if it is not in writing in that document, it cannot be enforced (up to a certain point). The problem is most probation officer’s get a lot of leeway from the courts, but still.
Other important documents include any documentation taking care of previous warrants, detainers, restitution orders, child support and so forth. When you are about a year from release, the B.O.P. will run a new background check for you through N.C.I.C. (National Crime Information Center). Any law enforcement agency who has an active warrant or detainer against you is “supposed” to be filed through this system where other law enforcement agencies can view it (such as the B.O.P.). If you know you have anything pending while incarcerated, it is best to get it taken care of as soon as possible.
Forty-eight of the fifty states participate in an interstate agreement known as the Interstate Agreement on Detainers or I.A.D. The only two states who have not signed this are Louisiana and Mississippi. The purpose of this agreement is that any inmate with serious pending charges (usually meaning felonies) can file a petition with the court that has the pending case and request one of three things. They can give you time served (if you request it), pick you up and physically bring you back to that jurisdiction to face the court or dismiss the charge. By law, they have 180 days to do this once the notice is filed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to happen much and legally if they don’t do it, they are supposed to drop the charges. However, the “speedy trial” issue can be extended for several legitimate reasons.
Either way, what I am getting at is to keep copies of any documentation you send or receive courts regarding these charges. This way if a detainer is dismissed and your unit team disagrees, you can present them the evidence. It can also help you defend false charges against your probation officer as well. Despite having your own copies, the B.O.P. and/or the probation office will independently verify all of this, but at least you have a starting ground.
Another good document to have is a copy of your final progress report. A progress report is created every three years for you and basically is a summary of your past three years worth of program reviews (“team”) combined into one document. When you are near release, your case manager will submit this to your probation officer to have on file. By you having a copy of this document as well gets you ahead of the game if and when the time comes.
The second section you should put together is any financial documents you have. One of the hardest things for inmates to do is setup a bank account while incarcerated. It took me nearly two months of sending paperwork to my bank and having their head legal office review it before they finally approved it. Granted, the only reason I probably got away with it was because I previously had an account there (that had been closed) and was a former employee of that bank. But, even having your spouse or a parent setup a bank account that you can send monthly deposits to is helpful. Keep track of any statements you receive to keep track of your balance.
Another option is to consider a money market account. I had looked into investing for quite a while, but was turned down by several companies. Finally, I was able to open a joint account with my mother through Fidelity Investments. While you can use this account to purchase several investment options, the best use of it is as a money market account. The difference between a regular savings account is usually a money market account returns a higher yield or rate of return. Through my savings account, I gain 0.2% interest PER YEAR. That’s not a typo, it is two-tenths of one percent. Through a money market account, you can gain yields similar to dividends that pay slightly more (although by not a lot). However, any chance at free money is something to strive for. But, keeping any documents with this information is beneficial as well.
A copy of your credit report is something to keep on file and continue to check annually. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). If you have become a victim of identity theft or are denied something based on your credit, you are entitled to an updated copy of that report to show why you were denied. You can obtain a copy of your report by having someone go online to http://www.annualcreditreport.com or you can write and request a copy by mail by writing a letter to each of the three credit bureaus at:
Office of Consumer Affairs
PO Box 74021
Atlanta, GA 30374
National Consumer Assistance Center
PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
In you letter enclose a photocopy of your prison ID, a letter of incarceration from a prison employee such as a case manager or reentry affairs coordinator, a photocopy of your birth certificate or social security card and a list of your last known addresses. While not all of this will comply with the legal requirements, most of the credit bureaus will accept it. The only one I have personally had any issues with was Experian and it just needed more documentation. If your previous address is still available (either through a spouse or parent), put that down as your current address. The report will go there, but they can send it to you later and it’s a lot less complicated.
The reason for your credit report is to verify if the accounts you have are actually yours and are accurate. Prisoners are a huge target for identity thieves because the information is so easily available, especially sex offenders as our names, addresses and date of births are on the public registry! So request your report, go over it line-by-line and verify the accounts are truly yours. Don’t try to cheat on this and start claiming everything is wrong because you are committing fraud and YOU WILL GET CAUGHT! If you have bad credit, it’s no ones fault but your own, so own up to your mistakes.
Finally, the most important thing to have is a budget. While you may not know all of the details of your finances when you get out, a piece of advice I can give you is to assume you will make minimum wage. State minimum wage laws change every year and finding the most up to date rate can be hard, but can be found out. If you work full time, take your minimum wage and multiply it by 2,080 (52 weeks x 40 hours per week). Then divide that number by 12. This is your monthly GROSS income, or income before taxes. Being that you are anticipating minimum wage, multiply that number times 0.8 to get an estimate for your NET income or income after taxes. This means you are paying approximately 20% in taxes. You can then figure out how much you need for everything. If you can plan accordingly and live on minimum wage by eating beans and rice (which you’ve probably already been doing for several years now), you can start saving a lot more money for future endeavors. If you make more than minimum wage, consider it a bonus and a gift and readjust your budget.
I will be posting later a detailed look at budgeting once again. This was a popular post I did last year and I will be posting an updated version of it later.
Keeping track of legal and financial documents and properly planning can help alleviate a lot of unknowns that you may encounter upon release. Having a plan may be the difference between life and death even!