The basic trauma of being locked inside of a penal institution is often overlooked. The effect this system has on a person is very hard to imagine. Along with the institutional scars, each inmate carries his own internal wounds from his personal sense of suffering and loss. The average prisoner has several weeks notice before he is released. During this time he daydreams of spending time with his children, eating “real food” surrounded by family and friends. Some even fantasize about a parade waiting for them upon their release. No more counts, lockdowns or being told what to do. In a few weeks he will show the world how wrong it was for sending him here in the first place. The average prisoner holds onto the dream of starting his own business, helping at-risk youth, and traveling the world first class. For the next several weeks all of their thoughts are positive and productive. Never a mention of being strung out on drugs, being in any kind of trouble. Nor a thought of anything other then complete success. There are far too many horrid memories of this place to ever want to come back. As the day approaches the family encourages him constantly that all his dreams are plausible. Having been less then nothing the last ten years of his life there is nothing he wouldn’t do to maintain his freedom. Taking a walk around the big yard, he looks at the walls that cast a shadow over his life during his time here. Blocking out all the death here because it no longer belongs to him. Trying to recall the young boy who first walked in here ten years ago yet unable reclaim his innocence. That’s alright though, I don’t need that boy because it’s over now. I beat the system; I lived to walk out of here.
The countless people who went out before him and failed are not in his mind, nor are any other negative thoughts. Life is all good from this day forth. If he can survive ten years in this place, then he can survive freedom.
The loud speaker sounds and his name is announced. The yard becomes motionless, and nobody says a word. It’s a strange happening when a man’s name is announced on the speaker. We’re all interconnected, everyone says a silent prayer for the departing whether friend or foe. Through this brief moment the entire population becomes connected.
Walking down the hall to the gatehouse towards the front lobby the mind overloads and goes blank. Far too many things moving to grasp. Then the last door slowly slides open and you’re free. No more handcuffs, no gun tower, no numbers on your chest, just silence.
You search yourself looking for that something which is different. Only to discover that you are the same man who was minutes ago standing in the big yard looking at the other side of the wall. But how can he be the same man? Freedom is a reality now. There has to be something different that comes with being free. Wait a minute-the parade isn’t here either.
When the officer drops him off at the train station he gives him the customary “See you soon, ” and a smirk. The first ten minutes of the train ride is spent with hateful thoughts towards the officer and his smirk. How dare he say I would be back. “F- him, he don’t know me. ”
The people on the train all know where I am coming from. They stare at me from under their newspapers not speaking, but thinking I am a bad person. I try to look like I belong but I am the only black man on this train. Sitting in the parole office waiting to be seen. I attempt to put that guard’s smirk and those people from the train out of my thoughts. I remind myself that I survived and made it. My parole officer starts by reading me the riot act. He has seen it all, heard it all and knows it all. So when I decide not to obey any of the two million rules he just sped-read me, I will be return to prison-end of story. After listening to how the drug testing system works and my need to find a job yesterday, I am allowed to ask a question. I have so many things running through my mind. “How do I go about getting a business loan? Where are some good substance abuse programs?” Most of my thoughts are about doing good and making it. After being yelled at by this man for the last forty minutes, I come up with the only question that matters, when do I get off parole (and away from you). After some paper shuffling I get some crazy date. I try to explain that the date is wrong. This sets off a bitter dispute between us. It ends with him telling me he is right because he says so. Walking out of the parole office I throw his card in the first trash can I see.
Home at last, the house looks to be in a lot worse condition then I remember. I am glad to be here but at the same time it feels strange too. The last time I was here I was a kid heading down the wrong path. I convince myself that simply being older makes a difference. We do the family thing for a few days. Then they go back to their own lives. Out just walking I run into the old gang. They do the “yo dog that was a long ten years I meant to come see you but you know” and I respond “yeah I know. ” Now they pick me up daily, head to the liquor store and weed spot. They assure me that I won’t get violated for the urine test. There is stuff at health store that can beat the test. I skip on the weed but have a few drinks with them. Reminiscing about old times and me telling prison war stories.
It’s been a week now and I can’t sleep. Sitting awake in my room I think about my life. Recalling my time inside and all my friends who are still there. Sleeping on this twin bed half way reminds me of prison. I pull out my yellow folder I came home with. I look at my business plan that I wrote inside. That van service was a great idea. I read over it admiring the concept before putting it away and focusing on finding a woman again. It’s been a touchy issue since I got out, ten years is a long time. I will call my partner and have him hook me up. My first time was faster then I wanted it to be or thought it should have been. It was all good though. I stay in touch with her for another date. Before long she some how became my girlfriend. The fact that she doesn’t work, smokes weed and drinks is not a serious issue for me. The bottom line is she will have sex with me and I feel comfortable with her. She has bad habits and I have a bad history sounds fair to me.
Trying to find a job is driving me crazy. I honestly filled out at least forty applications with zero call backs. They always ask about my prison time. My parole officer suggested a place but I remember how that guy in the movie Heat got jerked by his parole officer. Besides I am not trying to hear from my slave master about anything. I know his sole purpose in life is to send me back. My girl hooks me up at a day labor spot. Now my day is set. Work all day moving rocks and sweeping dirt floors, go home and change clothes then spend the rest of the night at my girls apartment, we drink, she smoke, have sex and another day done. The job got my slave master off my back. My mother is not happy about my girl but she is happy I’m home and have a job. I finally got into the union now which means better pay. Now instead of taking the bus I ride in my own car to and from work. I change clothes at my mother and go to my girl’s apartment, we drink, we smoke, have sex and another day is done.
On the weekends I chill with my boys cruising the town. Local bars nothing too far out. We had a few run ins with other crews but nothing serious. It was all about relaxing and enjoying life. When the police pulled us over I didn’t think anything of it. When I felt those handcuffs against my wrist that little boy inside of me cried. I didn’t feel outraged, truthfully it felt normal. It was like they had never been taken off from before. The judge gave me no bail because of my parole situation. The district attorney wanted the gun to be mine, even though I was in the back seat. I screamed the police had no probable cause to search the car. They lied about smelling weed but nobody heard me. Why should they I was born for this right. The arrest alone was enough to violate my parole and the dirty urine didn’t help. As my parole officer signed the papers I couldn’t even pick my head up.
Walking towards the transport car I should have known it be him. Only this time instead of a smirk, he had the “told you so look”. There wasn’t much I could say on the ride back. He started telling me what has been happening at the prison. I didn’t want to be listening to this. I told him my probable cause story and he just shook his head. He couldn’t help but to tell me his daily routine. First he drops all new parolees off at the train station in the morning. Then in the afternoon he picks up parole violators from area courthouses.
Back in the block I tried to make sense of my 90 day tour of the street. I told everyone who would listen about the lame probable cause story. I blamed the police, my parole officer, I found enough parole failures to bash the system with. I asked my mother to mail me my folder because it had all my legal papers in it. I had found an old timer willing to help me with my case. I gave the old timer the folder when it came in the mail so he could research my situation. Talking with my girl I find out she is one month pregnant and is still smoking, drinking and having sex. Now I have to get out of here for the sake of my seed.
Sitting in the big yard thinking of a way out of this mess, the old timer helping with my case came over. He gave me some papers saying they were mixed in with my legal folder. I looked at them and it was my business plan for the van company. I hadn’t seen these in forever. I read over it admiring the concept before tossing it in a trash can, thinking to myself it was a great plan though.
André J. Norman is a public speaker. He is available for school assemblies, church groups, colleges and universities, non-profit organizations and corporations. In addition, André has extensive experience designing programs and workshops focused on high-risk youth and ex-offenders. He also does corporate trainings.
André runs his own consulting business, Project Footprints (http://www.projectfootprints.com ).
André's work comes out of his personal experience of having served time in prison for armed robbery and other related charges. A Christian conversion accompanied by a decision to change his life led to his release from prison several years ago. Since then, André has worked extensively with troubled youth and adults and corporate executives. André draws on his own inspirational story, in which he moved from childhood illiteracy and crime to speaking for churches, youth groups, elementary, middle and high schools, and universities such as MIT and Harvard.