Life on the inside was tough, but it was nothing compared to the difficulties Carlo Caraluzzo faced after his release.
"It was essentially impossible for me to live in the U.S.," the convicted sex offender told Business Insider.
(Caraluzzo's story is the fourth in a series about the faces behind America's prison crisis. Click here, here, and here for the first three stories and check back next week for the fifth installment.)
Caraluzzo, 55, has spent most of his life at various prisons in Texas. He was first convicted in 1976 of a sex crime and got out on parole around 1986. (He declined to reveal the exact nature of his sex crime, however.)
He jumped parole and joined up with Mexican cartels smuggling illegal immigrants across the border.
When he was arrested again in 1996 for working with the cartels, Caraluzzo got a relatively short sentence. He served 11 years on the smuggling conviction and was harassed while he was the inside.
"I got scars all over my hands from fighting and my arms and my bones have been broken," he said of his time inside, adding that he's "too old for that anymore."
But that fighting was nothing compared to the harassment he says he suffered from police when he got out after serving 24 years.
Once he was released, he was told he had to have adequate housing to participate in the required sex offender treatment program. But it "was virtually impossible for him, as an individual with no family or other ties in the state," to secure a suitable post-release address, Kipp, Caraluzzo's longtime pen pal, told Business Insider.
Kipp, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, was a pastor in Philadelphia and reached out to Caraluzzo after the now-defunct progressive Christian magazine The Other Side offered to connect readers to inmates around the country.
As a member of the sex offender treatment program, Caraluzzo had to fulfill very specific housing guidelines requiring him to find a home that was a suitable distance from schools and parks.
Once he finally found a suitable home, law enforcement would stop by all the time, under the pretense of checking to make sure he was "safe," Caraluzzo said. But all the visits did was alert his neighbors to that fact that an ex-con lived among them.
The stigma he felt from those visits, and the confrontations he worried about having with his neighbors, made Caraluzzo feel he had to get out of the states.
"He was set up to fail," Kipp said.
So he took the only road he saw available and left America for Mexico, where he's lived for the past four years.
He's now working as a writer and is in a romantic relationship with a man he met online named Tommy who lives in the Dominican Republic.
Tommy is able to look passed Caraluzzo's criminal record for the most part.
"I didn't walk in on him thinking, having this idea of people who have been convicted," Tommy said. "Where I did get scared off a little bit was where he'd been convicted for a sex offense."
For Tommy, whose family doesn't know he's involved with a former inmate, the toughest part of loving Caraluzzo is trying not to smother him.
"I give most of the credit to him but I am there always with my leash. He got really traumatized from that time in prison," Tommy said, adding that Caraluzzo is haunted by his time spent inside.
"He can't get that out of his head," Tommy said. "I have tried, and tried, and tried but every other conversation, I'm not lying to you, there's not one day, not one day he doesn't think about prison. And every conversation leading back to prison it kind of puts me in prison. I kind of have to live there with him. And I was never convicted."
Caraluzzo says he's doing much better across the border.
"But I'm doing well not because of anything they did. I'm doing well in spite of everything they did."
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