When an inmate is released from Adams County Prison and needs a ride, Richard Swiat has only one question.
“I don’t care what you did. All I ask is where you want to go,” the Adams County chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society volunteer said.
For the past five years, Swiat, a Liberty Township resident, runs out the door and has been ready to help someone the second his phone rings, akin to a first responder.
“I drop what I’m doing” Swiat said about when he gets the call, which can come at any time of the day, or night.
He has gotten the call at 1 a.m.
“I said, ‘you got to be shitting me,’” he said, with a laugh.
He still goes.
While he gets reimbursed 35 cents per mile by the local chapter for transports, it does not include the 32-mile roundtrip he makes to and from his house to get to the prison.
On average, Swiat provides about six rides a month at no cost to newly-released inmates. Volunteer Ray Hopkins, who also drives, does about eight trips a month, according to Swiat.
When Swiat tells people what he does in his retirement, he is always asked if he fears his riders.
“Being in jail doesn’t mean you are a bad person,” Swiat said.
Swiat knows this not only from the people he has transported, but also from personal experience with the criminal justice system.
When his son, who is registered through Megan’s Law, was incarcerated in state prison, Swiat sought help from the local prison society.
By helping local inmates through the prison society, Swiat hoped others were helping his son in state prison hours away.
Swiat has noticed that some of the inmates do not have people to lean on for support.
“The prison society was a vehicle I could find to keep me active when I retired,” Swiat said.
Swiat said his life resembles a pinball machine.
Like a pinball, Swiat has been bumped into different directions by chance, which is how he landed this driving gig.
“I’m so damn lucky,” Swiat said. “I wouldn’t chance one piece of it, even the bad days.”
Adams County is the only chapter in the state to have an “ambitious” transportation program for inmates, according to John Hargreaves, the volunteer director for the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
Lebanon and Centre counties have members who give rides to inmates “on occasion,” Hargreaves said.
“But it is not anywhere near as common as the ambitious program that the Adams chapter has undertaken,” Hargreaves said.
Two women, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, were released about a week apart in May and asked prison staff to contact Swiat for rides.
Both women said they went to Adams County Prison on probation violations from driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.
One woman, who requested a ride to East Berlin, spent three months in jail.
“Your whole life is wrecked,” she said.
Her water and electric were shut off at her house, and her ex-husband took legal custody of their daughter, she said. Her tenant moved out of the house, causing her to lose that income.
“I had beer cans in my garbage and had to serve three months for that because I had a DUI conviction,” the woman said. “It was my tenant’s.”
After putting her daughter on the school bus, the woman was arrested and taken to the prison around 9:30 a.m., she said. She recalled not getting her phone call until 10:30 p.m., despite sharing her childcare situation.
Swiat said he tries to keep his riders relaxed because “they have a full plate of problems” after getting out of prison.
“Just because you are in jail, that doesn’t mean your life has to be thrown away,” Swiat said.
At one point in the conversation, Swiat and the woman bonded over their heritages.
The woman offered Swiat her notes she took from the book “German Humor: On the Fritz” by John Louis Anderson and promised he was going to love it.
She wished she had the money to tip him for the ride, she said.
Swiat said he’d rather see the woman “get on her feet first,” and then donate to the prison society.
She was planning to spend $36 on an Uber ride before a prison security officer told her about Swiat’s transport option.
The other rider found out about the free service by word-of-mouth as well, through another inmate.
“It’s great to have something like this,” she said. “It is out of control in there. It’s a step of support for people getting out of prison.”
The woman was in Adams County Prison for two months and three days, completing DUI classes.
“It felt like a lifetime,” she said.
While the woman is from Maryland, she needed a ride to Harrisburg since her children were living there with her mother, she said.
The woman traveled every week from south of Baltimore to Gettysburg for probation. When she walked in for a regular meeting, she was arrested by her probation officer for an alleged violation, she said.
She had dropped her children off at school and daycare in Maryland and claimed probation and prison staff would not let her make arrangements for them. Just like the other woman, she did not get a phone call until 9 p.m. after being brought in around 2 p.m. to the prison, she said.
“She is the reason we are doing this,” Swiat said. “This is something that tugs at your heartstrings.”
The prison society is looking for more volunteer drivers, according to Swiat.
One of the requirements entails having a vehicle to transport people, Swiat said.
“There are no qualifications necessary other than caring about people,” he said.
Swiat and the other driver use dashcams for safety and as physical evidence of what happens inside and outside the vehicle. The camera keeps a record of any type of car crash as well, he said.
If interested in donating or volunteering, the Adams County chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society is located at 30 Water St., Fairfield, PA 17320.
Adams County Prison Warden Katy Hileman was unavailable for comment Monday.