There are more than 2.2 million people living behind bars in the U.S. today.
Ashley is one of them.

I was arrested for prostitution, possession of paraphernalia, possession of heroin, possession of marijuana … falsifying documents, issuing false documents, felony theft, misdemeanor theft, and forgery.

I am Roman Catholic... I was a really good student. So perfect poster child, right? But I had some traumas in my childhood and some problems within me. I internalize a lot of things, and I began drinking when I was really young.

  • Age 10 — Started drinking
  • Age 15 — Left home
  • Age 16 — Became addicted to heroin
  • Age 17 — Exchanged sex for money
  • Age 18 — Became a parent
  • Age 19 — Arrested

Three-quarters of those returning from prison have a history of substance abuse

I wanted to be saved, but I was just expecting someone to know I was drowning and to throw that lifesaver.

I had a young infant, no job, was behind on rent, had very little support. I went into a deep depression, because it was kind of like my world had shattered.

More than half of inmates are parents

Children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to suffer from depression or behavioral problems.

Ashley plans to take parenting classes when she gets out. She says nurturing her relationship with her daughter is a priority.

After serving time in jail, Ashley entered a county-run halfway house to serve the remainder of her sentence. After her release, Ashley hopes to become a social worker. But she may face obstacles in persuing her education.

The Higher Education Act of 1998 makes students convicted of drug-related offenses ineligible for any grant, loan or work assistance. No other class of offense, including violent offenses, sex offenses, repeat offenses, or alcohol-related offenses, results in the automatic denial of federal financial aid eligibility.

I want to live for something. I want to have something that I wake up for. Right now I don't. But I want to wake up and say, 'I enjoy my life. I enjoy my job'. I want to do something that helps people the way that people have helped me. I want to contribute to society, rather than taking away from it.

Watch the series to find out what happened to all three inmates after they were released.

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Sources: The Council of State Governments, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Journals of Health and Social Behavior