I remember the day that I left prison for good. It was April 24, 2011. After serving 23 years and a little over 5 months, I was sent to a Work Release program in downtown Indianapolis called Brandon Hall – VOA. The crazy thing is how sudden it happened. That morning I was in a medium security prison serving just another day in a long progression of days, and that evening I was looking out a window at downtown Indianapolis.
The next few days were a blur of paperwork, phone calls and staring out that window at the end of my bunk. A huge glass monstrosity that let me see everything up and down N Capitol Avenue. I’d watch every car, every person and all the comings and goings of people I would never meet. But, it was exciting to me. I was so close to a life that I never believed I could have only a few years earlier.
Knowing that I deserved to be in prison for the stuff I did was the one constant that kept me sane. It also came with a price. I never believed that I deserved redemption. Intrinsically, I still don’t. The direction of my life has a rudder of recompense attached to it. It guides me and steers me. I follow it, and don’t interfere too much with its purpose. I’ve lived with this rudder for many, many years. Decades. Over a quarter of a century as of this writing. It’s my constant. The spurs and the reigns by which my life is guided.
Because of this, I never really believed that I would be (or should be) given a chance. I wanted to be out, I wanted to be free, but not in any type of literal way. I was scared of that truth. It haunted me nightly. Nightmares about being released, living a life, only to have the state come and tell me, in my dream, that they had made a mistake in releasing me and back to prison I went. I’d wake in a panic. The other dream was being free and being consciously aware that I shouldn’t be free. I still had time to serve, I still had things to make up for or to be punished for. These dreams lingered with me long after I woke and even now creep into my bed with me at times, running their cold icy fingers down the middle of my spine.
After a few days of my release I found a job making 500$ a week as a administrative assistant for a local non-for-profit. I was discharged from work release on May 22nd, 2011. My mom came to pick me up in her Honda Civic and we just drove away. An anti-climatic ending to a nearly 25 year journey through the depths of a hell of my own creation. I cried powerfully when I sat in the car with my mom. Great sobs of relief and fear, thankfulness and dread. I could barley catch my breath. I had one bag and the clothes on my back.
But I had my freedom. Deserved or not, right or wrong, good or bad, it was mine again. I spent the next year on parole, obeying stipulations, taking lie detector tests, trying to fit into a world that had moved on. I felt many time like I woke after a long voyage and entered into a world that I never knew.
Obviously I had television, radio, and books while I was incarcerated. I read voraciously, I watched tv, and listened to my Walkman, but none of those things prepared me for real life outside prison walls.
Life was a cacophony of sounds and sights and movement. Cars and the stench of exhaust, people smoking or talking on their phones, moving around with their lives. I walked to work 5 days a week for a year. In the snow, in the rain, in the heat. I watched people. I watched life move around me. Like that scene in World War Z where Brad Pitt had all those zombies just move around him when he was infected with a lethal virus.
All the while I knew. I wasn’t them. Not meaning I wasn’t them personally…….no, I mean I wasn’t them on some redemptive level. I couldn’t attain that. I knew society had no room for me. I had a violent felony and no matter how much people said I was accepted or forgiven or not that person, I still live with it. It is my reality.
So they pass around me. Yet, I found my niche. I found a way to live life out here in freedom. A small group of people have made me part of their family. I have a wife and step kids and grandkids. All who know my story, my past, my choices and have chosen to let me in.
In the end, I never really left prison, though. I still carry it with me. The dreams come. The questions. The rejection by people who see my felony only and what I did back in 1987. That’s ok, too. Because I still owe things to the victims of my crimes that I can never repay. This temporal redemption is elusive and fleeting and not for me to grasp, I don’t think.
If I said I was stuck in a place where I can’t remember why I wanted to go back, and I can’t forget why I had to leave, I hope you’d understand that. I volunteered in prison in a Re Entry program for a few years. I wanted to give back to the men, give them some hope for the future, and bring some healing to my life, too. Maybe even satiate the demons that came creeping for me at times in my memories of the things I had done and people I had hurt. It was surreal and cathartic. But I think I got stuck there.
I don’t volunteer anymore. A better word is can’t. The state won’t allow me back inside because of my crimes. New rules. New people in charge. New logic.
To my brothers and sisters still incarcerated, know that there is hope. The battle with the outside isn’t with other people but with ourselves. Our own thinking, the way we look at things. What we believe the world will give us or let us earn. Those things are what we have to come to terms with. The negative people and those people who just want us to fail so thay can see it, or feel better about thier own prisons are not the focus of our journey. They never have been.
We need to continue to dwell on lovely things, uplifting things, things that edify us and others. We need to focus on making amends and giving back to the community from which we have taken so much. That is a common theme in these blogs, but it is truth.
And that’s Re Entry to me.