Families don’t choose where to live as they may have told friends that they’d like to live there, but witnesses may get to choose one of several prepared options. Only around four government officials will know where they choose.
Families also practice their back story, from learning about the part of America that they are now “from” to signing their new name. Witnesses often keep their first name or at least first initial to make the transition easier. One couple told the New York Times that coming up with a new family name “was like naming a baby.”
Priceonomics has a fascinating history of the Witness Protection Program, which came around in the 60’s thanks to the mob and Gerald Shur, an attorney at the Department of Justice.
I think we’re all naturally obsessed with the idea of getting spirited away in the middle of the night, and brought to a Washington suburb, where we get to pick a new name and have a bunch of documents forged on our behalf. All new Google results! A true #burnitdown.
But after you get sent to a new town (not of your choosing!), then what happens?
Relocated families receive a stipend (perhaps a few thousand dollars a month for a family) that is phased out after witnesses have time to look for a job. They also get funding to pay for housing and other basic expenses, but except in the case of witnesses like Fratianno, it is enough for a basic apartment and used car. Since the government refuses to provide a fake credit history, witnesses also struggle to secure products and services when companies demand financial information.
The article also talks about the fact that often, the government is protecting convicted criminals. Obviously sending formerly violent criminals into small towns, and anonymously at that, is a controversial move. But rehabilitation is very high — turns out when you support someone financially, help them find work, and give them an entirely new start, odds are good (82%) they won’t commit another crime. Compare that to “data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that as many as 75% of American prisoners are arrested within 5 years of being released.” Crazy.