I’ve been working with a client who has spent 42 years in prison. When he comes into my office everything ceases. I am committed to giving him my undivided attention. We spend time talking, teaching and connecting to resources.
His main goal right now is to gain employment and obtain his learner’s driving permit. He is physically fit and mentally sharp, but I know firsthand how a person returning from incarceration can hide what they are really experiencing. The other day he was telling me about his visit to an All You Can Eat Buffet. He was mesmerized by all of the food displayed before him, and he didn’t know where to start when he was instructed to choose what he wanted to eat. For so long he had so few choices that making a choice as simple as what to eat was overwhelming.
I am always so honored when I meet with this client because he is the epitome of human resilience. I understand that in his past he committed some criminal acts, and I know that because of that many people would not deem him a hero. Nevertheless, in my opinion this man is a soldier in every sense of the word. As a woman who has spent 18.5 years in prison, I am still in awe when I meet people who have served decades incarcerated, who come home vibrant, kind hearted and ready for the world. Unlike most Returning Citizens this gentleman is not afraid of a computer mouse. Unlike some men and women who return to the community after serving lengthy terms this man understands clearly that a mouse is not a rodent to be feared. In fact, he seems to be adjusting pretty well overall. He spends ample time fidgeting with his cell phone and playing around on the computer in our digital lab. He’s already investigating Facebook, Twitter and is learning to text. To so many people these technological tools are daily norms. To someone who has been isolated, and oppressed for over four decades, the world today is like Mars to an Earthly human.
One of my goals is to assist this awesome man with the reentry process in any way that I can. I want so much to witness his successful transformation. I’m most grateful that as I go out into the community I can speak to practitioners about men and women like this and persuade them to practice compassion and support their reentry process. I tell everyone, “All most people need in order to succeed after reentry is support, not necessarily tangible support, but mental and emotional support. All most people returning from incarceration need is to be treated like a normal human being and chances are they will blossom.”
I’m so excited about freedom and I’m honored whenever I encounter someone who has experienced the loss of freedom and emerged healthy and whole. The other day my client asked me why I was smiling at him and I replied, “I’m just so happy and excited for you.” He simply smiled back. If my experiences will serve to enable me to aid those in need who are going through the reintegration process then I guess they were not in vain.