I am a numbers guy, which explains me graduating at the top of my bookkeeping/accounting certification class taken through Walla Walla community college or my correctional industries work experience in the C.I. business office where at the age of 21 I was the head of all accounts receivable. The youngest in my position, I succeeded due in part to my ability to scan over a spread sheet and recognize when the numbers just weren’t adding up.
As I look over the spread sheet of so called “justice”, staring back at me is the disproportionate sentences being handed out to inner-city minorities compared to the rest of the nation. How can we as a society place an unequal value on the life of a person based on the color of their skin or because of where they live? A kid in urban America commit’s a crime, lets throw the book at him before he becomes even more of a menace to society or recognizes his potential. A kid in suburban America commit’s the same crime, its not his fault he turned out this way and its not too late to save him. He has a bright future, we can’t give up on him yet.
There is a man I know who recently was released after serving over 30 years of his life behind bars. He was in prison for a crime committed when he was barely 16 years old. Hours before his release I had the opportunity to pick his brain. While the men surrounding us were excited for his long-awaited fate, he was trembling with fear and doubt.
“I haven’t been out there since ‘79-’80 and I was only a kid when I was. I have never owned a car, a driver’s license, or even my own place. I have never lived a normal life because before my arrest I was in and out of group homes, foster care, and the insto (referring to juvenile institutions). Now these people want to let me out, they should’ve let me die in here.”
At his honest confession, I was at a complete loss for words. I had no proverbial wisdom or sound advice coming to mind to share with him or even to provide him with a sense of comfort. So I opted to just listen and be there for him as a ready ear, not a savior.
“How am I suppose to survive out there, I don’t even know how to use a cell phone or a computer. I haven’t even had a real job or ever paid my own bills.” He vented, “I don’t have anything. No parents. No kids. No family. No woman to come home to. I don’t even have a home to come home to. Prison is my home! All the people I know, all of my friends, are in here.”
This perspective hit me like a ton of bricks. There is always a sense of fear with the unknown, but this man was terrified. I know men that took their own life to escape the concrete realm, but he would rather remain in purgatory than reach paradise. As he continued to pour his heart out to those listening, the sound of his voice was muted by my internal thoughts. Could this be me? Could I be the one sitting here years from now like this man? I refuse to!
Out of nowhere I blatantly ask him, “Its been 3 decades plus, what have you done with your life since you been down?” The entire group glared at me, but I only asked what we all were thinking. Then as if he was just hit with a revelation he responded with his head hung low, his shirt stained with tears, and his voice barely above a whisper, “Nothing. I did me. I did my time.” Wrong answer.
The lack of preparation is something I see often with men being released. Men ready to be released, but aren’t ready for their release date. Then combine this lack of preparation with unrealistic expectations and you have an equation that equals men returning to prison at alarming rates.
Whose responsibility is it to rehabilitate an incarcerated individual? To prepare that individual for release? That individual themself. Although there is a measure of responsibility on the state, the brunt of the burden is placed on the individual doing the time. The burden is on the state to find you guilty, not to prepare you for your release after they got their conviction.
Corrections is a government agency, an institution, a big business. So if people stopped filling these beds, think of how devastating that would be on the economy, especially the rural economies that depend on corrections. I too, would love to live in a Utopian world without crime, pain, violence, suffering, or fear. But you know who doesn’t, many of those who reap the economical benefits of crime both legally and illegally.
For me, re-entry started the day I entered D.O.C. The decisions I make rarely revolve around “Just doing my time”, but rather, “Will this decision help or hinder me as I strive to become all that I was created to be?” I tell those to whom my voice is influential. “Don’t wait for things to happen, make things happen. Rather than promote independence and self-reliance, prison promotes dependency on others instead of ones self. Take initiative over the life you desire.” If D.O.C. won’t allow me to take certain classes, I take correspondence course. If budget cuts are cutting education, I will live frugally, penny pinching to pay for my own education with my meager $50 a month paycheck. As I have been doing. By any means necessary…I will succeed!
Personally, I’d rather be prepared for an opportunity that never comes, than not be prepared for an opportunity when it does.
I may not be able to do everything, but what I can’t do is nothing. So, 16 tumultuous years + 30 wasted years is too long to do nothing.
Categories: Cyril D. Walrond