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Navigating the First Step Act: A Journey of Persistence and Advocacy


The article below was written by Waiel "Wally" Yaghnam (a fellow inmate who was the LPC while I was). Wally, while at the Halfway House, successfully navigated getting his FSA reinstated WITHOUT GOING THE ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDY ROUTE (NO BP'S). Inexplicably, the BOP loves to arbitrarily stop your FSA credits right before going home (which is the worst time for them to do it). I wanted to hear the story. So he broke it down in a way hopefully people can follow and replicate. Every Halfway House is different, but hopefully, this provides a blueprint to reinstate your FSA.


The First Step Act (FSA) of 2018 revolutionized the federal prison system in the United States, introducing reforms intended to reduce sentences through earned time credits and improve conditions for incarcerated individuals. Yet, the reality of claiming these FSA credits is often a complex and frustrating endeavor for many former inmates.


 The Challenge of FSA Credits


FSA credits are supposed to reward inmates for participating in rehabilitative programs that ostensibly prepare them for reintegration into society. These credits can lead to early releases or transfers to facilities like halfway houses. However, bureaucratic red tape and a lack of clear guidance can hinder obtaining these credits.


The journey to secure these credits is often characterized by extensive phone tag and navigating through a maze of unhelpful bureaucracy. My own path involved numerous calls across several weeks, first to the regional office in Kansas City, which oversees operations, including the Leavenworth prison where I served my sentence. This office repeatedly directed me back to my case manager at Leavenworth, who never returned my calls.

Repeatedly reaching out to the regional office only led to being redirected to the halfway house in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was staying. Unfortunately, the case managers there were not knowledgeable about the FSA nor particularly inclined to assist. Their lack of interest forced me back to the regional office, where I was finally advised to contact the local correctional office in St. Louis. Even then, the journey wasn’t straightforward. Initially, I was disparaged by an employee who erroneously claimed that I did not deserve any credits. It wasn’t until my call was passed to another person in the office—the Residential Reentry Specialist—that I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.


 Breakthrough and Resolution


The Reentry Specialist reviewed my computation report and acknowledged that I was indeed short of the FSA credits I had earned. After a discussion with his boss, he confidently assured me that I would soon receive the credits necessary for my release. The only remaining hurdle was a form confirming my completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). 

After a tense day of waiting, I called him to inquire if I had missed his call, only to learn that everything was on track and the update to my records was imminent. The next morning, he called to inform me that I had been officially released and should return my GPS monitoring equipment to the halfway house.


Key Steps to Success


The process was dizzying, often feeling like I was running in circles, but the key steps that led to success were:


A) I called the local correctional office.

B) I inquired specifically about assistance with FSA credits and requested a review of my computation report.

C) I was eventually directed to the Reentry Specialist, who understood the necessary steps.

Conclusion


While I was fortunate to find a Reentry Specialist who was helpful and committed, not every inmate can expect the same level of support, given the varying characters within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). My experience highlights the need for persistence and informed advocacy in navigating the complexities of the FSA credit system. This is not just about obtaining early release; it’s about ensuring justice and fairness in a system that often seems designed to obstruct rather than facilitate rehabilitation.


Waiel "Wally" Yaghnam

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