Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to his daughter when she was struggling to overcome the pain of a past mistake. He said, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; but get rid of them and forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day and you should never encumber its potentialities and invitations with dread of the past. You should not waste a moment of today on the rottenness of yesterday.”
What great advice. For some formerly incarcerated people I know firsthand that it’s easier said than done. There are so many subtle reminders of the lives we have led. Many of us have been greatly unjust to ourselves and to others. Oftentimes we won’t let ourselves forget and others are determined to remind us of who we use to be.
Sometimes the mere sight of a security guard in a white shirt exerting his authority over someone triggers painful memories. Seeing a police officer in my rear view mirror can cause my heart to race.
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Then, there are those consistent visits to my parole officer, pissing in a cup, and filling out the same form time and time again to verify that I have not committed a crime, I am still employed, I attend school, and my address has not changed.
During my last visit, my parole officer mentioned that she was going to submit my paperwork for early termination. Currently, the date in which my sentence expires is July 11, 2055. This means that if I violate my parole, I could be incarcerated until year 2055, or if the state deems fit, I could stay on parole until the year 2055.
In most cases when an offender successfully reintegrates without recidivating, that person will be terminated early. This means no more reporting, no more filling out forms, delivering pay stubs, and submitting to assessments. No more piss tests. Nevertheless, if you commit a crime, you will fulfill the sentence previously imposed. Parole is serious business.
At times being on parole is a nuisance. Sometimes I’m so busy and overwhelmed with the demands of life, working fulltime and attending school, I find myself forgetting to stop mid-day to drive across town to visit my Parole Officer.
It never fails: I remember my appointment at the exact moment I’m supposed to be there. Then, I rush out of the office, speed across town through traffic, and I stress over a parking space. Finally, I go inside, make my way through the metal detector and complete the dreaded form, and chat with my parole officer for ten minutes, tops. I count it all as my lunch break even though my stomach is growling with hunger.
When I return to my car, I look up at the sky and am reminded as to how grateful I am to be home, how grateful I am to be free. Being on parole is a cinch when I consider what it was like to be incarcerated day after day, week after week, and month after month for 18 years.
On days like those Emerson’s words come in handy. I recall that I “should not waste a moment of today on the rottenness of yesterday.”
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