By Andrea Leverentz, author of Intersecting Lives: How Place Shapes Reentry

In October 2014, a bridge that connected Long Island in Boston Harbor to Moon Island — as well as Squantum Peninsula in Quincy, Massachusetts — was abruptly closed by Boston’s mayor. For over 80 years, Long Island had been home to homeless shelters and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. At the time of the bridge’s closure, approximately 1000 people used services on Long Island – a homeless shelter, Boston Public Health Commission programs, several transitional housing programs, a “stabilization program,” and several privately-run residential treatment, recovery, and detox programs.[1] Closing the bridge meant closing all these services, throwing the homeless and recovery communities of Boston into a tailspin. The Boston mayor said at the time, “This was a difficult, but necessary, decision that was made in the interest of public safety. This bridge has been a source of grave concern for many years, and I was not willing to risk the possibility of disaster for one more night, with the data presented to us about the serious condition of the bridge.”[2]

Closing the bridge had ripple effects among those who lived or worked on Long Island and throughout the Boston region. The city scrambled to find temporary housing for people who relied on Long Island programs. It eventually opened the Southampton Shelter in early 2015 with beds for approximately 400 men. The shelter was a block away from the Suffolk County House of Correction — a correctional facility that houses people sentenced to serve 2.5 years or less per charge. The area where the new shelter is located, adjacent to the South End, is also home to an engagement center, methadone clinics, and other services. The city of Quincy continues to fight against allowing Boston the necessary access to rebuild the bridge, citing concerns over traffic and environmental impacts.[3]

The Long Island bridge is just one example of the interconnectedness of people and places that motivates my new book, Intersecting Lives: How Place Shapes Reentry. While few might disagree that place matters to reentry, we have a less clear sense of why or how it matters, and we rarely get a view of the lived social-interactional dynamics between returning prisoners and receiving communities. In Intersecting Lives, I look at how neighborhood context and place shape incarceration and reentry, and how people and places are interconnected, sometimes in complex and unexpected ways. The South End is one of three target neighborhoods that I focus on, and the impact of the closure of the Long Island bridge on both other places and on the people connected to its services is a central theme of the book.

When the bridge closed, those who used the services were immediately impacted. Pablo, a Black man in his fifties that I interviewed as part of my study, described the impact on him:

Pablo: Long Island was so cool. It was like a place to go to rest. Have you heard? They shut it down. When they shut that down, it’s like the homeless people just scattered everywhere.

AL: How did you feel when they closed it?

Pablo: I was mad. I was. I was pissed off about that. That shelter was so good. It was good food, it was good living arrangements. The best part, you got a chance to get away from all the chaos and all the trash and all the drama. That’s what I think is the most important thing for a recovering addict. He needs to get away.

Kevin, a white man in his twenties, was in a drug treatment program on Long Island when it closed. “And they moved us from the safety of Long Island to across from Boston Medical Center, and there’s like a war zone over there, like right around Boston, and it just wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t pay attention to the rules as much and I left the program before parole could pick me up.” Kevin said he had been doing “awesome” when on Long Island, and many of the men he had been there with faced the same struggles when they were moved. “When we left Long Island, we had 28 guys in the program. Within a week, we were down to 11.” They were staying in a shelter with “300 guys all getting high at night, and we were sharing bathrooms with them, so we’re around it. Wasn’t a good situation.”

Residents of the South End also felt the impact of the bridge’s closure. Many in the South End take pride in their neighborhood as one that welcomes diversity, and yet recent changes were too much. Kathy, a white woman who has lived in the South End for two and a half years, said “it’s becoming a huge problem since they closed the Island. The amount concentrated down on the lower South End is massive.” Derek, a white man who has lived in the South End for twenty years, emphasized that the users of the methadone clinics and other services were not all residents of the neighborhood, and that those who were there now were “messing up the fabric of the neighborhood.” In my interviews, a number of residents noted recent changes, with an influx of homeless people and an increase in people who looked high. Some of them were careful to distinguish this new trend, both in volume and kind, from the previous homeless population, whom they had welcomed.

The example of Long Island and its importance to the South End and Boston highlight several themes of the book. First, residential neighborhood is one important place for many people, but other places and activity spaces should also be considered to more fully understand their lives. For people returning from prison or jail, this is a particularly true, as many are extremely unstably housed and may go through periods of couch surfing, sleeping on the street, staying in shelters, or renting rooms. They may not have a clear “neighborhood.” The men and women who have served time in the House of Correction are often marginalized as a result of poverty, racism, and addiction, and then further marginalized as a result of criminal convictions. In addition, people who exist in the same places may have very different kinds and levels of engagement to them.These experiences are shaped by individual motivations, but also by interlocking systems of power that criminalize poverty and addiction. We see this in the responses to the closure of Long Island. People who had used its services and others who lived in the South End echo each other to some degree, and yet relate to the closure of the bridge in starkly different ways.

The lives of people exiting incarceration are shaped not only by what neighborhood they live in, but also how they move about and engage with space and other people in those spaces. This is one of the key reasons that places are interconnected. Residential mobility, neighborhood attainment, and neighborhood context are key dimensions to the experiences of people returning to the community after incarceration. As my study shows, where they live, where and how they travel during the day, and who they encounter profoundly shape their experiences exiting the correctional system.

This post is part of our #ESS2022 series. Conference attendees can get 40% off the book with code 21E9132.

[1] Mayor’s Office Press Release. November 26, 2014. “Mayor Walsh provides update on the Long Island Bridge.” Accessed July 20, 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Whitfill, Mary. 2020 (February 17). “Quincy has spent $400,000 fighting the Long Island Bridge. And more is coming.” The Patriot Ledger. Accessed July 20, 2020.