Sarah Bones meets Earl, who has spent the past 50 of his 75 years behind bars.

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Gallery
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75-year-old Earl Reinhardt shortly after leaving prison where he spent the majority of his adult life. — ©Sarah Bones
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After spending the last 50 years of his life behind bars, 75-year-old Earl Reinhardt is about to be set free. He is completely unprepared and has no money, no destination, and no family or friends to help him when he walks out the prison door. — ©Sarah Bones
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At an exit interview in Laural Highlands SCI in Somerset, Pennsylvania, Earl tells the prison social workers that he doesn't want to leave and he is confused about where to go and how to survive. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl thinks that if he keeps a low profile and stays quiet they will forget to release him. — ©Sarah Bones
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Since his release from prison, Earl is homeless and living on the streets of Reading, Pennsylvania. where he spends most of the day on this park bench. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl flashes his prison ID photo card when approached. It is all that he has to show for himself. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl looking for shelter from the cold rain in downtown Reading, PA. — ©Sarah Bones
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Still wearing his prison jacket only now with his name crossed out, Earl stands underneath an abandoned storefront roof to stay dry. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl visits the welfare office to ask for help. He is homeless and needs medicine for his blood pressure. The lines are long and he does not wait in them. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl coming out of the local cigarette store after buying a pack with his panhandling money. — ©Sarah Bones
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Sitting in a local luncheonette, Earl talks about how hard life is living on the streets and wishes he were back inside prison. He misses it very much and is thinking about committing a crime so he can go back in. — ©Sarah Bones
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I said goodbye to Earl as he walked off into the city streets of Reading where there is a large homeless population. He eats at local soup kitchens and spends much of the day keeping warm in the library. — ©Sarah Bones
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I found Earl in a hospital in Reading where he was being treated for broken ribs, emphysema, high blood pressure and malnutrition. — ©Sarah Bones
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After an 8-week stay in the hospital, social workers were able to place Earl in another institution at a state funded nursing home. Earl seems quite comfortable there and is getting excellent health care and it feels similar to prison to him. — ©Sarah Bones
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I said goodbye to Earl and thanked him for sharing his story. — ©Sarah Bones
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Earl passed away in June 2005 in the nursing home. — ©Sarah Bones
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©Sarah Bones
Find in
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Story

The story of Earl came about after I finished shooting a project for The Pennsylvania Prison Society. I was documenting social service programs within Pennsylvania’s state prisons and it was at SCI Laurel Highlands where the warden called me into his office and told me the plight of the elderly in the prison system. At the time this state prison held the largest population of elderly and disabled inmates.
I reached out to the empathetic warden about doing a story on the elderly within prison walls but never received any responses from he or his office.
I continued to pursue the story using other contacts and after a year and a half I was granted access to Earl. I had former private detective help me locate Earl and we were able to find him sitting on the park bench in Reading still wearing his prison jacket.
He seemed like he found some level of peace inside the nursing home before he passed away about one year from the time he was released from prison with nothing in his pockets except a bus ticket.

Sarah Bones

Sarah Bones

Photograph

Sarah Bones saved for her first 35mm camera at age 13, in 1969. She immediately hitchhiked into Philadelphia so that she could photograph the lives and circumstances of people living on the street. As a professional photographer and documentary film maker, her passion and courage in telling the stories of people in need continued and has carried her to Africa, across Asia, Guatemala, Cuba and locally, into prisons, homeless shelters and the intensity of political campaigns. She is a member of the collective group Photographers For Hope led by David Burnett and Anna Wang, ASMP Philadelphia and the NPPA.

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