From one prison to another

A free man with no ID is not free at all

By Jodi D. Peterson
Executive Director, Interfaith Sanctuary

I was contacted about a month ago through our Interfaith Sanctuary Website from a man by the name of Michael Perry. Michael had seen my TedXBoise Talk regarding the struggles of helping a homeless friend named Bodhi get his State ID. Michael was having some of the same struggles and needed some help.

Just like Bodhi, Michael had been in prison for a very long time, 26 1/2 years in California. He was released in April when a judge overturned his conviction. They let him walk out of the prison with a California Department of Corrections Card, a change of clothes and a good luck pat on the back. Michael immediately left California to join his wife of 46 years here in Kuna, Idaho. There they began the task of reconnecting Michael back into society.

Of course one of the first things you need to get reconnected to life is a photo ID and without a valid Photo ID it is very hard to get a replacement photo ID. Michael had a copy of his birth certificate and Prison ID card which he took for the ID DMV. Turns out that Idaho cannot accept a California DOC card so they gave him a list of other photo ID options and sent him on his way. The list included a copy of his Senior Photos sent directly from his past High School to the DMV — Michael did not attend high school in the traditional way and actually ended up receiving his GED during his incarceration, so that was not going to be an option. That is when Michael reached out to me for help.

Michael Perry and Jodi
Michael Perry (center), with his wife, Julie (left) and Jodi Peterson.

I knew what lay ahead for him based on my journey with Bodhi so I immediately got on the phone with the Idaho DMV to see what options we might be able to come up with. After a few failed attempts at finding loopholes for Michael I picked up the phone and contacted Melissa Win-trow, our State Legislature, Kevin Kempf, the ex-ecutive director of the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Alberto Gonzalez of the Idaho Transportation Department.

This was the team that helped to create the new ID program that is located in all nine Idaho Prisons. Bodhi’s story helped to engage this group in a transformative conversation that allowed great leaders to put their heads together and find a solution. One that now ensures anyone released from an Idaho prison will leave with a valid Idaho State ID. I shared Michael’s story to see what they might be able to do to help reconnect this man back into society. He needed this ID so he could get back to work, be a taxpayer and be a productive citizen. Easier said than done when the system does not give you the necessary tools to accomplish this.

Kevin Kempf was able to get me in touch with an amazing woman named Wendy at The California Department of Corrections. Together we found a way to help The Idaho Transportation Department verify Michael’s identity, so we would be able to use that California Department of Corrections Card as a valid form of ID.

Michael Perry is a great man who went through a lot in his life. He served his sentence honorably and worked very hard to become the man he is today. Today, because of a little help from some friends he now has his State ID!

Michael is committed to sharing his story so that we can improve this system, so the next person being released from prison has an easier time finding their way back. Welcome to your new life Michael Perry.


Word on the Street is a collection of personal narratives, artwork, and poetry published by guests at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter in Boise, Idaho. It addresses the stigma of homelessness in and its material consequences for the population. Word on the Street represents the voices of Boise’s homeless community as a counter narrative against misrepresentations of themselves and a call for connection.

Its purpose is to bring awareness to the voices of homeless individuals and hope for motivating others through change. This paper is compiled and maintained by Project Well-being, a day program, at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter.

If you have a story about how homelessness, mental health and lack of resources affect you, please feel free to send them to wordonthestreet@interfaithsanctuary.org. If you would like to help the homeless, or fund this paper, please feel free to contact us.