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Walking free - now what?

This fall, the state is changing the way it releases men who have paid their debt to society
The first steps to freedom aren't between opening steel gates or beneath menacing guard towers, but through double glass doors and down the stairs to 12th Street.  It's just about the only way out alive from the Texas prison system.

About 90 percent of male prison inmates in the state are sent here for the home stretch of their sentence before being released back into society. That's around 32,600 ex-convicts a year who, ready or not, are funneled back into the streets through this town, an hour's drive north of Houston.

“Dazed and confused,” Gerald Butterfield said when asked how it felt to be back in the free world after 20 years. “It doesn't compute.”

Butterfield, convicted of an especially heinous burglary and rape in Williamson County, said he hoped to get back to Michigan, but his prison-issued bus voucher was good only to the Texas state line.

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