It was a little over two years ago when I was released from Federal Prison after serving 18 years. I was 19 years old when I became incarcerated. My reentry process has been an amazing journey. I have a career in the field of reentry. I’m a college student at a pretty prominent University in Washington, D.C. I have a car (It’s ten years old, but runs pretty good) and it’s kinda cute.
I also have my own apartment. It’s fairly empty, but I have a bedroom set and it feels so good to lie in my own bed for the first time in over 20 years. It’s comforting to say the least. The mattresses in prison are more like exercise mats laid on a slab of metal, or brick. Sleeping in my bed these days is like a slice of heaven. I don’t get to sleep much though. I’m busy with work, school, and my personal life: striving to find my place in my family and working on my friendships.
I’m not doing very well in the area of my relationships. I’ve been using the excuse that I can’t attend to too many things at once. If one more person blasts me for not answering my phone I’ll be moved to tears. They just don’t know how hard I’m trying to juggle this new life I’ve stumbled into. It’s truly a rebirth. I’m experiencing so many things for the first time.
The other day when I went to go pay my rent I had to get the guy in the rental office to help me write my check. I admitted, “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.” He smiled and I added, “Some things should never go out of style.” I was trying to imply that the only reason I have not written a check in over 20 years is because people just don’t write checks anymore. I think he bought it, so I wasn’t as embarrassed as I could have been.
Some people look at my success and fail to see my struggle. Here’s a secret. Even though I have had four jobs since I have been home I got fired from one of my jobs early on. This was one of my first hiccups during the first 6 months of my release.
It was major. I was working with the youth at a Sports Camp in a recreation center. It was a dream job for me. I am passionate about youth and personal training and felt privileged to be able to work in that field. I had to fight hard for that job. I sat in front of a board of 3 people to discuss my criminal history, rehabilitation and present goals. They dissected me thoroughly. I felt like I was in front of a judge and jury.
I couldn’t understand why I subjected myself to such scrutiny. I guess I wanted it that bad, or so I thought. I remember crying when I left that room thinking being judged is the worst. I felt horrible, but luckily I was recommended for hire despite my violent past.
I was afforded an opportunity and I blew it. I blew it big time. In addition to working this eight-hour job at the Recreation Center, I was taking urines 2X a week, attending outpatient drug treatment 2X per week, and trying to catch some sunrays and have a little fun. I was trying to see everyone I hadn’t seen in years and get acclimated back into my family and society.
At that time, I was only recently released from the transitional house where I had spent 90 days. It was more like a halfway house than not. I was not focused at all in terms of my commitment to an eight-hour job. I was all over the place. One day I pulled into a meeting with a small group of my superiors and told, “To gather my belongings and leave the premises.” I was fired. I was so embarrassed and disappointed in myself.
Immediately, I pulled myself up, determined to learn from my mistakes, shake it off and move forward. I hit the ground running, found a new job where I was hired as an H.I.V. tester/counselor and I knew I had to be fully committed to the responsibility that was placed on me. I worked that job consistently for a year. It was my first full time, living wage job since my release. I knew then I was on my way.