Prior to my release from prison on October 14, 2014, I have preconceived notions that my transition back into society would be a smooth one. My logic was mostly based on the notion that I prepared myself for for my eventual release. I had a very supportive family and friends who I believed would never turned their backs on me. It is safe to say that I totally underestimated what society would look like. As I talk at schools and detention centers, I often mentioned how difficult life can be after spending so much time in prison. I can go into a bevy of things that I am finding to be huge challenges, but I refuse to complain or feel sorry for myself. To put my struggles in perspective, I could still be in prison. But I’m not, so I have an opportunity to address my struggles. My number one struggle is complacency. After spending so much time and energy getting out of prison, and knowing how difficult it was, I should be the last person struggling with complacency.
My problems are mostly psychological. I am often down on myself because I feel like it is taking me too long to address my problems, knowing that I went through some very difficult stuff during my incarceration. I think one of psychological effects that traveled home with me was the death of my father during my incarceration. I would think 16 years is not a lot of time to spend with your father. In prison, inmates are conditioned to think a certain way; to protect our feelings; not show a softer more humane side of ourselves. The problem with that thought process is that it can get entrenched into your soul. And before you know it, you bring it home with you which often creates a whole new set of problems.
I can certainly tell you that there are a number of things that I am extremely happy about. Please forgive me if it appears like I am complaining. I’m not! I feel like I will overcome the feeling of being on the outside and not being able to find myself. Life is complicated but I’m not sure I’m in a position to complain. Besides, who would care if I did. My struggles with freedom are good problems to have. I remember many times, when I thought my life would end in prison. But that thought process got me to thinking about my childhood friend, Willie Stuckey. Willie lost his life in prison after spending 16 years for a crime that he did not commit. Whenever I think about the fact that Willie could not walk out the door with me, it leaves me with unspeakable sadness. Some would call it a burden, but I tend to think it is a phase that I struggle with constantly. I was talking to a friend of men, who suggested that it could be survivor’s guilt. The fact that I’m here and Willie is not. I will not rule out the notion that I’m sad because I survived what is akin to being hell. Knowing that I did nothing wrong to feel this way, does nothing to overcome my sadness.
While some believe freedom is a state of mind, I believe that freedom can’t be defined with one word, or one meaning. While I will always be eternally grateful for the opportunity to walk down the street and enjoy all the things life has to offer, I would not be telling the truth if I lied about what I go through sometimes. I’m struggling yes, but like most of my time in prison, I will find a way to get through my struggles. That said, society is a much different animal. Unlike prison, where there are not many distractions, and where everything is structured, there are so many distractions on the outside that I sometimes become overwhelmed. I struggle with issues that may seem small to others, are unimportant. I struggle on crowded trains. In prison, space is arguably the most important thing to have. On the outside, it seems like I am sharing space with millions of people.
In the end, it is up to me to figure things out. Much like in prison, when I desperately needed help, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help nor am I afraid now. I will admit there is some trepidation at times because I am sensitive about imposing on other people’s lives now that I am out of prison. After all, my family and friends have lives, so I don’t want to appear selfish. The help that I need has less to do with finances, although important, but more to do with addressing my struggles. I continue to learn that it is very important that I embrace my problems which will hopefully make it easier to address them. I know that I’ve come along way and that this journey is still in motion. I’m going to be find but I must take those steps necessary to deal with my struggles. While I hope I’m not painting a picture of doom and gloom, I am fortunate to be in a position to write about this. Besides, I have met more than a few people who would love to struggle on the outside rather than sitting in a prison cell, so perspective is very important.