ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. — Walking outside on a cool, sunny day may seem like a typical day for most, but not in this case.
“I committed a crime of selling drugs back in 2015,” said Calvin, who recently got out of prison and asked that we not use his last name.
While the U.S. Army veteran is now on the outside, it hasn't been a walk in the park.
“When you get out of prison, you have nothing,” he said.
However, in Calvin's case, there is something: a basic income.
“It's a relief,” he said. “It's a major relief.”
Calvin is one more than 50 people in Alachua County, Florida, who were formerly incarcerated and are now receiving a monthly check, known as Basic Income. It is a privately-funded effort from the nonprofit “Community Spring.”
Similar basic income programs exist, but are usually based on where someone lives, or other specific criteria. In this case, it is for those who have been to prison. A similar program is also launching in Durham, North Carolina.
“Oftentimes, people come home and it is a very icy and harsh reception,” said Kevin Scott, who runs the program, called Just Income GNV.
Scott understands what people face when they are released from behind bars. He was once in their shoes, too.
“We know from our own experience, people who have been incarcerated and have had impact with the justice system, how important it is to have resources like immediately when you get out,” Scott said.
Here's how it works: those released from behind bars in Florida during the past six months can apply.
Through a random lottery, two groups of more than 50 people each are selected to get $1,000 up front, followed by $600 a month, for one year.
It's a pilot program and part of a research study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research.
“We want to look at the relationship between income and recidivism, income and housing stability,” Scott said. “It is truly no strings, so people can use it for whatever they need. We think that everyone is the expert in their own lives and should be allowed to make the decisions of what is best for them.”
That includes 26-year-old Izzy King.
“I was released and put on three years of probation,” she said.
King, who is working to start a small record label, sees the basic income, as a way to reach for a better future.
“When you are a felon, you are automatically like, like nobody wants to give you a chance. People are overlooked, but I've seen the most talented, creative people behind bars,” King said. “I want people to know that this is giving a lot of people an opportunity to grow.”
That can be hard for the formerly incarcerated, who face upwards of 30% unemployment and are 10 times more likely to end up homeless, among other challenges.
“The math is very much against you during and after your incarceration,” Scott said.
Whether the basic income program for former inmates works remains to be seen. Back at his apartment, Calvin said, in the here and now, the basic income is helping him as he searches for work.
“It helps me monetarily afford food and helps me to be able to move around, maneuver, submit resumes, get on the bus, so on and so forth,” he said. “You know, I don't have to so much worry about committing another crime just to support myself.”