Words tend to tumble out of Tony Green’s mouth, but when he talks about his hardest days in prison, his voice slows almost to a halt. His mother, Linda K. Green, died on April 14, 2012, toward the start of his nine-year stint in state custody.
Nobody at the prison told Green.
“When you lose the mother that brought you into this world, and you wasn’t informed or you didn’t know what was going on, it was devastating,” he said.
Green, 46, of New Orleans, has spent most of his adult life incarcerated, most recently after getting caught up in a gun and drug bust in St. Bernard Parish. His initial release date was in April 2019, but Louisiana’s criminal justice reforms pushed that forward to Nov. 8.
Since then Green’s mantra has been patience. There are so many things he wants to accomplish — from owning a car to starting an auto repair business — but he knows from prior experience that he has to move purposefully.
Like many parolees, Green has relied on an informal network that includes loved ones, friends, his congregation and a nonprofit group dedicated to smoothing the transition.
“I have so many people counting on me to be who I am now as opposed to who I was,” he said.
First comes his longtime girlfriend, with whom he shares a one-room apartment near University Medical Center. Her room is bedecked with posters and pictures of Paris.
“She’s a remarkable female. The little she has, she works with it,” he said. “She’s a touch of class.”
Then comes the congregation of his mosque. Green converted to Islam in prison and said the religion has given him a new understanding of his role in the world.
Next come his friends, including an acquaintance from the work-release program in Baton Rouge who found him a job washing dishes at a French Quarter restaurant. He started Jan. 11.
Finally, Green has received help from the First 72+, a re-entry nonprofit with offices just across the street from the Orleans Justice Center. A friend referred him to the group, which helped him obtain a driver’s license.
Kelly Orians, a staff attorney for the First 72+, said housing and job discrimination are her clients’ biggest hurdles. Referrals like the one Green got have kept her office busy since the November releases.
“It’s sort of like a tree that blossoms out with different branches from people that believe we’re worthy,” she said.
Someday soon, Green hopes to have his life arranged to the point where he can say goodbye to his mother. But he's determined not to rush his trip to the family’s burial plot in Tylertown, Mississippi.
“It has to be the right time and situation,” he said. “I want it to have purpose.”