The other day I met a gentleman who was recently released from incarceration. He was seeking assistance with employment, housing, and clothing. I asked him how long he was incarcerated. Then I braced myself for his response.
When the gentleman responded, “120 days,” I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief, though I said a silent thank you. Without prodding he continued, “I lost everything – all of my clothes, appliances, furniture – everything.”
I didn’t tell him my story and how I could relate. I was careful not to minimize his conflict. The fact is that one day in prison is too many.
Sometimes the answers I get when I ask someone how long they were incarcerated are heart breaking and mind-boggling. Imagine looking into the eyes of someone who has served 20, 30, 40 years in prison.
The person often displays resiliency, but sometimes there is a certain pleading to assimilate, a longing to be understood, accepted, received and supported.
It seems that anything over 20 years in prison is simply inhumane. There should be a cap on how long someone can remain confined.
That reminds me of a book I read entitled, “Left to Tell.” A woman was hiding in a bathroom for months in fear of the killers who were waging war on her village. She was traumatized by the restricted confinement of that bathroom. She spoke at length about faith and prayer and willing herself to maintain sanity. This seemed a lot like what people go through in prison.
I understood the experience the man I met with had in prison, and I understood that he was in the transitional process of reentry. I knew he had his work cut out.
It’s been two years since I’ve been out and I often wonder how long the readjustment will last. Three years? They do measure recidivism by the number of people who re-offend within three years. So, will I be considered reintegrated after three years? Will I feel assimilated after three years?
Someone once told me that the reentry process takes at least five years. As a matter of fact, what does it mean to be fully reintegrated? Am I reintegrated once I regain my lost possessions, establish a career, and rebuild my relationships? Or am I reintegrated once I establish a sense of normalcy, and routine in my life?
One thing is certain; reintegration is a process and a transition that will be different for everyone. It can be as challenging as changing criminal behavior and surviving incarceration.
Nevertheless, I think every transformed Returning Citizen can attest that they would rather be struggling out here with the reentry process than living a life of crime, or locked up behind bars. Despite the challenges, “our worst day out here is better than our best day in there.”