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Harold Sylvester entered Lafayette prison a drug dealer struggling with addiction and the anger he felt over the brutal death of his father at the hands of men he once mentored. The prison re-entry program helps him. NOLA’s First 72+ helps others.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

After two decades of cycling in and out of prison, Sylvester is dealing with his past and trying to leave violence behind.

The seventh in a series of multimedia projects that examine causes for recidivism in the American justice system.

LAFAYETTE, La. — Three times, Harold Sylvester almost died.

He had been hooked on Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana. And during one of those three overdoses, Sylvester, now 42, heard paramedics say there was nothing else they could do to save him.

The inmate gets emotional as he sits in a room filled with bunk beds and blue lockers at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center and recalls his early life. He talks about the crimes he has committed and the toughest moment of all — the murder of his father. 

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He remembers a young man he mentored who killed his dad during a dispute. When Sylvester went to prison on drug charges, he was placed in a cell near the killer. The man taunted Sylvester, writing him letters about the murder. Sylvester came up with a plan to kill him.

When the inmate was outside of his cell one day, Sylvester saw his chance. On his way to the prison nurse’s station, Sylvester made his move, but at the last minute turned away, unable to bring himself to take the inmate’s life.

Sylvester remembers being angry and fighting frequently while in prison. And while he wasn’t a killer, he also never developed the skill set to deal with his anger until he reached Lafayette — which has one of the nation’s few comprehensive prison programs that help men deal with anger issues. 

Chapter 8 preview: One inmate explains how he was trained for prison:

Overall, men are victims of — and act on — violence while incarcerated at levels that far exceed that of women. And it’s generally violent crimes that get men incarcerated (and re-incarcerated) at much higher rates than women.

Rates of sexual violence, for example, are higher in male prison facilities. And…