Society Does Not Offer Sensible Reintegration to Ex-Cons

Kristi Keller

Without proper tools, most may never make it on the outside.

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Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

While attempting to come up with a smart intro for this piece, I found myself at a loss. Perhaps it’s because I can’t imagine the monumental burden of having just 90 days to figure out exactly how you’re going to set yourself up for success…or failure.

Add to those 90 days, the fact that society isn’t set up to assist the underdogs with success. It is all based upon the idea of you as one human, against the world. Except the “world” in this case, doesn’t support who you have been for so long, nor does it offer many ways to help you change.

Exactly who is this person that society never seems to favor?

Some might refer to him as an ex-con or a useless addict. Some may not refer to him at all, because he’s been out of sight and out of mind for so long. Some may have written him off years ago because he can’t seem to get his life together.

While the general population is busy labeling him to suit themselves, he is facing the most significant obstacle he will ever face.

FREEDOM.

Following is a journal entry written by a prison inmate and sent to me to contribute to this article. It captures the fear and uncertainty many encounter when faced with the simple task of living normal, everyday life.

From the age of fourteen, this man has been in and out of prison for a total of thirteen years, due to mental illness and the by-products of it.

His longest period of release was one year. His longest consecutive period in prison has been three years. It all adds up to a grand total of thirteen years being ushered into and out of the gates of prison.

Within prison walls, he has found faith, a university education funded by his family, counseling, medical care, and the camaraderie of men enduring the same struggles.

Outside of prison walls, he has been met with stress, anxiety, lack of comprehensive treatment, lack of camaraderie, and left to cope with mental illness on his own. Not to mention prejudgement as an ex-con who’s just trying to get a job and live life.

Journal entry — January 30, 2020

“Close to 90 days now, until my next and hopefully final release. What a crazy time.

At one end of the spectrum, I’m happy beyond measure. But on the other end, a nervous wreck, uneasy, and afraid. Eight years later I stand at what could be the last and final time for me inside the walls of prison.

All the men I’ve met along the way, some that’ll never see the light of free life again, all pass through my mind as I wearily look towards an uncertain future.

What I’ve learned is timeless, priceless, and unparalleled. But what’s been taken from me is overwhelming. I leave the walls of prison where I entered as a boy, and if I fail will I truly ever leave again?

I can only hope the world will be as forgiving as I intend it to be, that God will watch over and follow me, carry me into the future unscathed. I want to be a success story, someone people will admire for all the adversity I’ve overcome. Tentatively, I begin what is to be the rest of this ex-con’s life.

All at once, 90 days seems like an eternity but also just a blink away. Engulfed in what would, could, and should be, I lay in my cell with lights the off, listening to the distant clatter of regular prison life.

Will I miss these sounds? Will they haunt me in my sleep or bring me solace in my new life to come? I can remember every short-lived release before this one. The insurmountable disappointment and sorrow on my way back in through the fateful gates of prison, once again.

Though my heart aches when I reminisce, I’m met by a desolate familiarity that soothes my shaky nerves. The in and out of my life for so many years. My whole adult life.

Can I say goodbye to that old friend named chaos?

One step at a time, one day at a time, one breath at a time. In and out, in and out.”

The man who wrote that journal entry isn’t a bad guy. He’s never harmed anyone but himself. He possesses a brilliant mind and he has the fortitude to succeed if given the proper tools.

The unfortunate part is that the tools aren’t easily accessible, even to average citizens, never mind ones who have such a blemish on their identities.

For example, how many times have we read stories written by normal people, about how hard it is to get ahead and stay afloat? Single moms, aging men and women trying to fit into the workforce, those suffering from mental illness, etc.

Sure, it all boils down to desire and the will to want to make it in this life, but if it’s difficult for us average citizens, what chance does an ex-con have? Life can deal some really shitty cards and force ordinary people to make extraordinarily bad choices.

Unfortunately, we see it in the news far too often.

In the movies, it’s easy for us to empathize with the good guy who has been dealt a bad hand, especially the way Hollywood portrays it.

Shawshank Redemption is the perfect example. All the characters were prisoners, yet we grew to love the men they were in spite of being locked up.

But Shawshank also touched on how raw and real institutionalization is for those who have spent a significant amount of time behind bars. Prisoners grow to fear freedom more than they fear spending life behind bars, as we witnessed with Brooks Hatlen, in the movie.

Prison offers inmates a certain protection against themselves and the life they don’t know how to live on the outside.

What prison and our society at large do not offer is a gentle reintegration into the world. Upon release, they’re left standing outside the gates with bus fare and no place to start.

It would be akin to you or I being ushered inside prison gates and left to fend for ourselves. We wouldn’t know how to do that either, would we?

We could only hope that one kind soul would have mercy on us, take our hand, and show us the way.

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I'm an old school travel writer who's been flung into another writing world through life experience. I have a compassionate eye, a different opinion, and strong words for this world we live in. I also know a thing or two.

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