Rodney Fenner

Second Chance? By: Rodney Fenner

Hello world. The idea for this came about when I was asked by one of the cofounders of the Second Chance Qwest group if I wanted to join the program. I paused in contemplation before I replied. The program is relatively new and there’s quite a few people who’ve taken it and relayed to me that it’s a good program with a good cause. My pause wasn’t to question the program, it was to ponder the concept of a second chance. Can we as ex-cons or felons or whatever label you want to give us, actually get a legitimate second chance in society? Most would say yes, however the real answer is more complicated than that. When you give somebody a chance for the first time, everything is fresh. Their slate is clean. You have no preconceived notions and no predisposition towards them. You chose to believe in them. Optimism rules for them. If there are any hangups, they would be from something personal of the person giving the chance and have nothing to do with the person getting the chance. Giving someone a second chance is much more difficult because whatever discrepancy that forfeited the first chance will mar the second one. This time, the person getting the chance is branded as something. Every time that person is seen, that brand will be seen. Sometimes, the brand is all that’s seen. With us, of course the brand is prison. It doesn’t even matter what you were in prison for. Just the fact that you were in prison is enough to deter people from hiring you or dealing with you at all. The past becomes a barrier. Even though you’re free from prison and paid your debt as a physical exile, you’re still an exile in the minds of any and everyone who knows you’ve been incarcerated. That barrier keeps people from getting to know you as a person. It’s like you can never fully pay your debt to society because you’re still paying every time you get turned down for a job. Every time you get the derisive looks from people. Every time a woman decides not to deal with you because of your time behind the wall. Society labels and stigmatizes. Perpetually judges. This, in turn, causes exactly what they fear. Recidivism. If I’m being denied at every turn when I try to do something positive, what’s left? Some will tell you to persevere and persist, but in the meantime, what am I eating? Where am I sleeping? Who is supporting and comforting me? Who is empathic and understanding? Where are my clothes coming from? Even if I have solid answers to those questions, how long will that help hold up? If I have children, what kind of example am I being as a father? The worst part is that what the system calls rehabilitation in here is an absolute joke. Some of us actually take the time and effort to really grow and change on our own. When those of us who actually become better men come home and are met with this “second chance” in society, how are we supposed to respond? The weak-minded will return to what they know, which is usually what got them locked up. Some of them will try something different, yet still illegal. There is no shortage of pressure for the newly freed man to succeed, however there is no shortage of resistance to his success either. There is resistance to any success, but it’s certainly different when you’re coming from prison. The pressures are different and the failures feel so much worse because it makes you start to believe that maybe everybody was right. Maybe you don’t deserve a second chance. Maybe you’re only good at being bad. I haven’t even mentioned that the majority of prison populations in America are black men. So with everything that’s already attached to the black man, how much extra damage will being an ex-prisoner do? The answer to that is obvious. What kind of second chances is society really giving us? Sure, there are those who’ll help. Some who give us jobs. Some women who don’t mind our past. Some people who take the time to see far enough past our past mistakes to the person we’ve become. But what about the rest of the world that we’ll have to deal with on a daily basis? Having a second chance in the minds of few will mean nothing in the faces of the many whose pessimistic energy is enough to be effectively discouraging. I have to be comfortable to do well at anything and how can I be comfortable in life as a black male, ex-prisoner surrounded by people who likely think I should still be in prison or who are just waiting to say I told you so when I fail? Second chances don’t start when they open the prison gates. They start way before that in the hearts and minds of those we’re being released to live amongst.

Rodney Fenner
DOC #1436377

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