It is critical to understand your history and then be true to one self in such a way that one’s connection to the suffering of others is an integral part of understanding yourself. Dr. Cornel West
This quote from Dr. West made me think about the many people serving lengthy sentences I left behind when I was released from prison. Many of them have done lesser things than I have done. Many of them do not have the support of friends and family members. Like me, many of them, deserve a second chance.
I often feel undeserving and guilty because I’m home and they are not. I feel guilt-ridden because I know I should do more to support them. I could send them money orders, cards, letters and pictures. I find myself so distracted with my own life that I tend to procrastinate on following through on my good intentions.
When you are busy with life and the mundane task of coping with society, It’s so easy to shrug off the feelings of sadness that arise when you remember loved ones who remain incarcerated. People in prison end up feeling like nobody cares, even if there are people out there like me who are thinking about them. They end up feeling all alone in their predicaments. I know I did.
When I was in prison, I relied heavily on my spiritual foundation when people weren’t there to support me. Even today, I’m still detached from many of my loved ones because they were not emotionally present when I needed them the most. Interestingly, I’m not bitter, or angry. I never felt like anyone was obligated to support me while I was incarcerated. Consequently, when I was released after 18 years in prison, I quickly came to grips with the realities of my situation. Nobody offered me a place to live and although many of my family members gave me basic essentials like a phone and clothes, even getting underwear was difficult.
I am grateful that despite all of the emotional pain I have suffered, I have found joy and peace. In terms of remembering those I left behind I find some solace in performing acts of charity for children who have incarcerated mothers and raising awareness regarding incarceration and reentry. Supporting people who are worse off than you serves to ease the pain of sadness. It prevents excessive worrying, and helps to keep you motivated not to return to where you came from.
I visit the women in the jails and prisons often, and when I do it’s difficult to reminisce on that time of my life when I was locked up and depressed. It’s hard going back there even though I know I can leave after a visit, and I’m reminded of how grateful I am to be home.
Visiting prisoners enables me to remember that I remain connected to all human beings, including those in prison. I can really relate to Dr. West’s statement because remembering and serving men and women who are incarcerated or returning from incarceration helps me to stay grounded, remain grateful, and understand my own pain and suffering.