When I was incarcerated I took an Inside Out College course. A group of my peers and I met with a group of West Virginia University students once a week to discuss collateral punishments and reentry. I will never forget reading a piece on a Returning Citizen (That is what we are called now) who said that “From the Gavel to the Grave” he will be paying for the crime he committed. He was speaking of the harsh reality that people will never let you forget your past. Moreover, some people will never let themselves off the hook for
I have a friend who was a straight menace in his younger days. He used drugs, robbed people, and went to prison repeatedly. Eventually he changed his life and he is now one of the most well- respected men in the community, mainly because he overcame the seemingly impossible task of recovery and reintegration. He obtained a degree and blossomed in his career. He makes a difference in the lives of many. He often baffles me when he speaks about the fact that regardless of his success thus far, there is an invisible ceiling that will never allow him to excel beyond a certain point because he is an Ex-Felon (That is what he calls himself). He gets perturbed by terms like Previously Incarcerated People and Returning Citizens. He thinks all of that is just a word game. “At the end of the day, no matter how they refer to us we still face barriers that will never be pushed aside” he says. “I will never be able to be a police officer, or even a lawyer he proclaims.” He believes forgiveness has limits.
Recently I heard the former Mayor, Marion Barry speak to a group of Returning Citizens at a Training Program. He said, “If I let a man borrow $20 and that man pays me back, then, every time I see him I ask for my $20, that is plain wrong.” He likened that to a Returning Citizen who pays his debt and proclaimed that we should be allowed to re-join society with a clean slate after release. I found that simple analogy profound because, the truth is that I can’t undo my past and I don’t blame those who want to hold it against me. However, I have truly rehabilitated myself from the person I used to be to the woman I am now. I’m looking forward and moving forward. It’s rewarding when I’m in the midst of people who are dong the same.