Prison is one long adjustment. Returning is another. In both there is a tremendous amount of anxiety, stress, frustration and fear. Yes, fear of the unknown when you return back to a world that has moved on while you stood still counting years. In that time – emotionally, physically and psychologically – there has been change. And now there will be more.
When released your world is not the same anymore. There is no routine to follow or guide your every move and thought; you have to make decisions after not being allowed to make any for so long. You’ve dreamed of this freedom countless days, nights, years and now you’re free and don’t know quite how to handle it. You’re afraid of making a mistake that puts you immediately back inside – Go Directly to Jail; Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. But this is not a Monopoly game! The stakes to maintain your freedom are high. Many before you have returned to prison in days, weeks, months after their initial release – certainly not voluntarily, but because they had trouble doing what it takes to stay out.
The most common mistake upon release: I’ll try to make up for lost time! I want to get back the years that passed me by, today. I want to be that father or mother to my children. I want to be the head of my family right now! I want to be the adult in charge in my own home. I want a job that pays well; I want to believe that my past is forgotten and I am a new person, given a chance to demonstrate that I’ve changed.
Now that your dreams of freedom are a reality, you feel caught between behaviors that helped you survive prison life and the need to develop new behaviors to survive out of prison. Often times there is no home to go to…there’s a shelter; there are lines for services and many strangers who seem to know and believe that you’re that ex-con who’s just waiting to return to crime again. You have to take a deep breath and remember that you’re not a criminal. (It’s obvious that you’ve failed at that profession.) You have a long way to go to overcome the stigma of the ex-con.
Once you can understand and can accept the idea that no matter what you accomplish or change, many will still not want to “help” or “believe in you” – then you can move forward. It is up to you to become the person you want to be for you; regardless of whether you’re given an opportunity or not – be true to yourself. Your insight into understanding and accepting that your past lifestyle has not been productive for you is the key. You know what barriers are in your way. If you can’t identify them then you won’t change your past patterns; you’ll merely continue to exist, not live the life you say that you want to live.
The temptation to return to your old destructive habits and behaviors will always be hanging around you like a fly looking for a place to call home again. You must be able to make the decision to sacrifice who you think you are for who you know you could become. Educators, criminologist, etc., will continue to develop all sorts of strategies to show you how to “make it” outside of the prison environment. However, the only true wisdom is patience and your commitment to working on feeling good about yourself.
Two quotes to guide your next steps:
- “To be alive is to suffer, but to find meaning in one’s suffering is to survive.” – Victor Frankl
- “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” -Carl Jung
These may be simple phrases, simply said, but with a wealth of meaning when you connect them to your life’s journey, past, present and future.
Asking for Help
No person is an island…you cannot take this difficult journey alone. New York offers you a lot of possibilities and resources for growth, change, progress and opportunities. This directory provides you with an important step towards reaching your goals and maintaining your freedom; and in this game of life and redemption, it is your “Stay Out Of Jail” card. There are lots of good people out here who want to help you; search them out.
Do not be afraid to ask for help, from anyone. If you don’t get a helpful response, move on and ask someone else. Keep that pen and paper handy to write down names and telephone numbers of people you come across that may be able to assist you in this journey for change. Remember, you can learn from anyone, even those who don’t seem to be helping. Turn it around and treat others how you would wish to be treated – that’s how your humanity is restored.
It is hoped that this directory will provide you with information that will assist you in taking those important steps in reaching your goals.
– Tips: Viewpoints from the Partners for Success Program, Westchester Independent Living Center, Inc.