The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 18, 2010

‘The light of day’

Johnstown man personifies challenges inmates face in returning to society

— David Ambush calls his years in the state prison system “days scratched off and taken away.”

This week, the Harrisburg native and Johnstown resident gets another chance at freedom – a chance to beat the odds every ex-con faces when leaving prison.

Ambush, 44, has been in and out of prisons – mostly in – since 1984. His history includes two convictions for violent crimes – robbery, then aggravated assault – and a string of parole violations.

His time inside, Ambush said, featured numerous run-ins with guards and other inmates. And many long days in an isolation cell.

“I lost all my formative years as a man – growing up in prison,” Ambush said.

His Department of Corrections journey has taken him back and forth across Pennsylvania, and eventually to the State Correctional Institution at Cresson. He left that facility in February and landed at Johnstown Community Corrections Center, a halfway house on Washington Street.

His allotted seven months there will be over on Tuesday. Then, Ambush hopes, he will find a place to live and get a job – and someday even counsel young people about the dangers of crime.

Otherwise, his past will beckon.

“At times, I did feel like I was buried down in there,” Ambush said, “like I was never going to see the light of day.”

He knows from experience that the odds are not on his side. State DOC data show that more than 40 percent of those released from prison return within three years. More than 10 percent are back in six months.

Ambush said he plans not only to stay out this time, but also to use his story to help others avoid the same fate.

“All my lost years – I’ve got a lot to give back,” he said.

“I did my time. I did enough time for three or four people. Now I want to make my family proud.”

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What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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