Saturday, February 13, 2010

#26 Snowblind and Prisonblind (retro)

Snowblind and Prisonblind

Today I was determined to get out in the snow and trample around in it. With about 5 inches on the ground, I wasn’t going to let it melt without me setting a footprint in it. But I also wanted to get outside because the closest place to our house to buy a soda is a local recreation center, about 2 or 3 blocks from the house.

I could not buy a soda yesterday because of the snow, and I could not buy one the day before because it was a Federal holiday. So I had not had a soda in like, 3 days….

Gosh, I make it sound kinda desparate, don’t I?

Anyway, I went out this morning, about 11:30 to walk over to see if the recreational area was open, because they have a few soda machines. I took a pocketful of coins to get me and my mom a soda… or few. I took my time walking through the street, being mindful of some of the ice patches, and made my way across the picnic area.

It looked so nice I took a picture with my disposable camera, which was another reason why I wanted to get out. A blanket of snow covered the area, and I just had to get a picture or two of that. I finally made it to the building and as I walked down the hall I heard some guys playing in the gym. I looked in as I headed to the soda machines but realized I could not see them as well as I should.

It was then I realized that I was partially snowblind and it would take time for my eyes to get adjusted to the inside. I was also reminded that sometimes after snow falls, on a sunny day, the reflection off the snow can be just as blinding. Anyway, happy that the place was open, I could then buy me some sodas…

(to which I bought FIVE)

I put them in my book bag and returned back home, taking extra care of where I stepped, especially with five sodas in my back pack . But it was then that I realized that I could blog about some similarities between snowblind and “prison blind” today.

According to my Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of “snowblind” is “unable to see owing to the effects on the eye of the reflection of light off snow”.

Free-online dictionary defines it as a temporary loss of vision based on the reflection of the light off the snow and the ultraviolet rays reflected off the snow and ice.

The term snowblind is most often used in a temporal sense, in that it most cases it is not permanent. But what we can also add to this is that this is a case of going from one environment to another, where the differences can be very great.

When I first stepped outside, I had to adjust to the brightness of the sun off the snow. It was very bright out there, so I had to be mindful of that. But just as important, I also had to be mindful of my steps, because as you all know, snow changes to ice and slush and can be tricky to walk on.

But once you get used to it, you can manage better. Now I didn’t say you could dance in the streets with slick ice, I am saying you are more careful. You can still slip and fall if you are not careful. Still, you are more adjusted to the snow and ice…until you enter a building. By then you are so adjusted to the brightness that it becomes a bit harder to see regularly inside a building. That is because you are going from one extreme to another, and it takes time to adjust….

You see where I’m going with this?

So many people worry about a loved one in prison because they not only worry how they will adjust while IN prison, but how they will adjust AFTER they get out. Often times we don’t fully consider the adjustment time that it takes for a person to go from one extreme of life to another.

I did almost 17 months in jail before I was sent to prison, and even though I could say that I was able to “prepare” for prison by how I lived, I could not fully understand what prison life would be like. It reminds me of something a juvenile said when I was in jail. Back when I was in jail, I was in seg cells, and we went out on the yard sometimes with the juveniles. I met a lot of them and got to know them pretty well, but I remember one guy saying how he’d rather be in prison than in jail. He said there was no difference between the two because you are still “locked up”.

I told him that the difference between the two was that for most folks, in jail you are still innocent until proven guilty…in prison, you ARE guilty, whether you were innocent or not.

Anyway, when a person goes from one extreme of life, that being a free life, to one of condemnation, that being prison, there can be some strong adjustments. When I first entered prison, I had NO idea what to expect. Even spending a year and a half in jail, I was slowly adjusting to what prison could be like, but it was still an eye opener when I first arrived at Craven Correctional.

But when you go to prison, the adjustment stage is very short. You get in, you start doing your time, and “sink or swim”. And to be honest, it wasn’t impossible, but very tough considering that I had no idea how to deal with it. But you adapt and handle what is in front of you, and do the best you can.

The problem, however, is where the term “prison blind” is applied…when that person FINISHES his incarceration. Just as there is a hard and very short period of adjustment going IN prison, there is virtually no adjustment when a person who has done time is released.

This is the fear so many people have for a loved one, because they think that person will come out of prison much worse than when he or she went in. Well, part of that problem is based on the fact that you must remember that this person is coming out of one extreme and being thrusted into another, with almost no time to react.

Remember folks, one major reason for prisons is not just to detain, but also to rehabilitate. To get that inmate in a better focus of how to be productive and positive in a free society. This means there should be some preparation for that inmate before he is released back into the free world.

This is where our society misses it.

We think that if you put a man in prison 10 years, teach him nothing, and throw him out in the streets with a “good luck” and maybe a gate check of a couple of dollars, he would have learned his lesson and never “sin” again.

Who are we fooling?

Now, I know some prisons allow inmates to take classes, but we’re talking about a very, very small percentage. We also know some states have what is called a gate check, an amount of money given to an inmate to help him get his life back…but when I got out in 2001, the check the state gave me was $45.00. Tell me how do you get your life back with only $45?

We forget that unless that inmate is prepared for the society he is entering, he will be prison blind to it unless he can find a way to adjust. Releasing a person does not mean the problem is solved. Think about it. What if a guy is being released this month, January 2009, but was in prison 10 years? What was the world like when he went in prison during January, 1999? So much has changed, but prisons tend to release inmates on the thought that nothing has changed, and if so, it is up to the inmate to “figure it out”.

The moment an inmate is released from prison, he still has the prison mentality, because that is what he lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year, for HOWEVER many years he was in prison. When your lifestyle is that embedded, it is hard to change in a few moments.

It takes awhile to adjust, but just as important, it also means that it takes HELP for that person to adjust. So many people wonder why inmates end up going back to prison, a lot of it is because the adjustment bar is set way to high for a man or woman with a criminal background to succeed. Now, let’s not be ignorant and think every person is like that…there are some guys that need to stay in prison, and there are some that, once they get out, could care less about their fellow man. Those people I am not talking about.

I’m talking about men and women and juveniles who made some bad choices, and want to change, if given the chance. This does not mean they come out of the prison with wings, halo and able to change water to wine. They can still have problems, but if you look at the heart of those people, you can see they are doing the best they can.

(that’s only for those who are able to receive that message)

But the moment an inmate leaves prison, he is prison blind to the world, because he knows mainly what he has been living. The hold or grip of prison may still be on him. For me, it certainly was that way. The day I was released, my two brothers took me to a restaurant for breakfast, and I will be honest, I felt like I should not be there. My self esteem was very low, because I felt I was still an inmate, even though I was free. It just felt like I had a big sign over my head that said, “be careful, this is an inmate!” I had not yet adjusted to the free life, because the prison life I was living was still very embedded in me.

It takes time for an inmate to adjust his eyes to the new life of being free, instead of the life of an inmate. But that takes not only time, but positive advances in self esteem. To be sure, there are still many “ice patches” for an ex felon, even as he tries to adjust to his life. For some it will be parole, for others probation. For some it could be restitution or the difficulty of getting a job with a background check. It’s not easy.

I lived through that folks, I know what it is like, and it can severely test your faith and your self esteem. But I have found that if you just stick with it, and stand in some faith in God, and just a little in yourself, things will change, and change to the point where you will see great success. See, society believes success is only for those who “earn” it, for those who are pure and righteous…but those terms are man-made, and have nothing to do with the heart of a man.

Some of the greatest stories of triumph come from men and women who were once seen as “fallen” by the eyes of man. But success isn’t based on what somebody else sees, it has to start from within. An ex inmate can believe to own a million dollar business just as much as somebody else who has never been to jail. An ex felon can believe he can provide for his family just as much as a person who has never been stopped by a cop. An ex felon can believe he or she can take a week’s vacation to the Grand Canyon just as much as anybody else.

But that inmate has to first adjust to the temporary prison blind he or she has… and understand, it IS temporal. Just as with the snow blind effect, it wears off as you get adjusted to the inside. An ex felon, with help from loved ones like you, can get adjusted to his new life, and with patience and encouragement, he or she can indeed become a great success.

Keep that in mind when you think of your loved one. Anyway, like I said, I got some sodas in the refrigerator, I think I’ll have one now. Email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask about prison issues, or ask about my prison books or my free prison encouragement certificate… still free until about Feb. 2nd. Also, my continual thanks to those of you who support my blogs by sending me gifts. I can never say thank you enough for that. Until next blog….

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