I had an interesting conversation with my cousin who was recently released from incarceration. This was his second prison term and he says that this time he plans to stay home. I was curious as to how it must feel to be released from incarceration and return a short while later. The embarrassment and shame must be difficult to handle.
I asked my cousin, “How does it feel to return to prison once you are released?” Interestingly, he replied, “It’s the worst feeling because it’s like you had a taste of something and then it was taken away. When I went back in my mother told me that she was glad I was back there because she didn’t have to worry about me. She said when I came home and continued on a negative path she was concerned for my safety.”
His mother was under the impression that she didn’t have to worry about him while he was incarcerated, but my cousin feels this is not the case. “That hurt because prison is not safe. I’d venture to say that prison is even more dangerous than society. When you have issues with guys in prison there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. In prison you can get killed for the minutest things. You can lose your life just because someone from your city has offended someone,”
I asked for clarity and he said, “It’s so bad that if a dude from our city does something foolish to start trouble we will literally run him off of the compound and have him check into Protective Custody. Petty things can start a war in prison.”
After of few moments my cousin told me how men in prison have an unspoken rule that you do not spit in the sink when you are brushing your teeth. The sink is to remain clean of facial hair and saliva. It’s for washing your face only. “To this day I still find myself spitting the toothpaste into the toilet when I brush my teeth.”
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He talked about how hard it was to get into the shower without his shower shoes when he first came home. He used to sleep in his boots when he was feeling unsafe in prison.
“Guys in prison use the restroom with one leg out of their pants just in case someone tries to attack them while they are on the toilet. You have to consistently be ready to defend yourself in prison. It’s not a game.”
I thought about the impact that living in a constant state of fear must have on these men when they are incarcerated. The stress and anxiety must be overwhelming only to gain your freedom and return to incarceration because you have not learned the appropriate reentry strategies to succeed in society. That’s a lot to tackle.