Monday, February 15, 2010

#36 Prison Release Anxiety (RETRO)

Prison Release Anxiety

**Note: This blog originally started late last night**

Well, it is almost midnight as I sulk: UNC AND UCLA lost!

I was pulling for UCLA because I used to live in Los Angeles, and I pull for UNC because I have always liked them.

I have nothing against Memphis and Kansas, and wish them both the best this Monday.

Well, I debated whether to blog tonight or now, especially since I have not answered my emails yet. If you emailed me, I will get to it, but probably Sunday. But I wanted to touch on an issue a reader mentioned to me, one I touched on the previous blog.

To jump right into it, how do you deal with prison release anxiety? To be honest, I don’t even know if there IS such a condition, but in simplest terms it is this: An inmate who has done a certain amount of time in prison, and gets nervous or even fears the time when he is released back into society.

Now, to the novice reader that sounds dumb. Why would an inmate be worried about getting OUT of prison? Well, let me speak as one that has been there, and felt the same way.

You see, many folks believe that the happiest day to an inmate is when he is released, and most times that is certainly correct. But when you release a person back to society, you must understand what you are also releasing him TO.

Sometimes a free society is the worst thing for a condemned person to return to. I remember when I was in, a guy I knew was about to be released the next day. That guy had been in prison for maybe 4 or 5 years, and now he was getting his freedom…but I tell you, I would have sworn that he didn’t want to go.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it. Well, I felt the same way.

Not that I LIKED prison, it was what I was returning to. My release in 2001 came with a 3 year probation, and I had to pay $10,000...

I don’t think you got that…$10,000!

I remember talking my mom on the phone during my last few weeks in prison that I would rather do the last 3 years in prison than come out. My mom thought I was crazy, and said, “don’t talk like that”. But I was serious. I knew that a guy coming out of prison was going to have a much, much worse time trying to get his life together in a society that isn’t as sympathetic as they say… and to have a probation on top of that restricts me to the extreme minimum.

It’s as difficult as possible, but I was still expected to make that probation and all the characteristics of that. That is very hard to do. And those next three years were pure hell mentally and spiritually, pure anguish. If I had it to do again…I would have opted to STAY in prison.

Some inmates get used to prison life and accept it for what it is, and begin to take root in that life. Responsibilities are not as much as in the free world, but you trade that freedom for a life that can be quite dangerous. But once you get to understand it, you realize that it is what it is, and for a condemned person, it is still better than nothing (to many).

But when the idea of being put back in society comes, it creates a wave of fear and anxiety to the inmate. How will he get his life back together? How will he get a job? Where will he live? Who will hire a person with a record? What if he can’t afford to buy clothes? Where will he eat? What if he has to be on probation or parole? Who is going to help him get back on his feet? What if he gets in trouble again?

See, lots of people think they know it all by saying crap like “well, just stay out of trouble”. Last I checked, nobody is perfect, meaning we have all be in SOME trouble in our lives, some more than others and some much more serious. But to an ex offender being released, it can be a frightening thing, especially if you have been locked up for more than 5 years. Things change while you are locked up, and when you are released, you are likely not prepared for that change.

Imagine an inmate who has been behind the prison walls for 10 years, and is due to be released at the end of this month. You assume he would be so excited and ready to jump out, and maybe he is, but he is also afraid of what the future holds. Prisons call themselves making a “home plan” for inmates, but that is garbage. All they do is get your contact numbers just in case you break the law again.

So with the excitement of freedom comes the fear of the unknown. I am not saying this so you can pity them, I am telling you what I felt and how prison can and does play on your mind. It also does not help that prison does almost nothing to prepare an inmate for release, and much of society are quick to turn their back and refuse to hire ex offenders anyway…

(I once had a reader criticize me on saying something like that, thinking that I am saying that “it’s never the inmate’s fault”. If you think I am saying that, you have not understood one thing I have ever blogged about)

When a guy feels like that, it can cause some mood swings because he is caught literally between two worlds… that of the prison that he has had to embrace fully in order to survive, and that of society of which he will have to shed his prison mentality…something they DON’T teach you in prison.

You can’t just “turn off” the prison and “turn on” the real life of society, it does not work that way, and to an ex offender, it creates problems on what he believes and how he is going to make it “in that real world”.

But one way of defeating that anxiety is by reinforcing his possibilities. Remember that an inmate is very limited on what he can do, so you may have to find those positive. You may have to be that information source he needs on leads for a job, cost for clothing, how to get transportation and things like that. I am not saying that you have to bankroll his new life, I am saying be a strong support that he can get his life back together.

That is a debate an a number of different ways, especially for some who may not really be sure if their loved one is serious about changing. To be sure, there are some who have no plans to change, and are just using people as his crutch, while selling them the idea that “he has changed”.

That is a dangerous thing. Lots of inmates do that, and you need to be aware of those that do. But sometimes the difference is paper think and cuts emotions. How do you know that your loved one is serious about wanting to change? What if he is lying and just using you?

Check the fruit.

Not to sound corny, but you can usually tell a tree by the fruit…hmmm, sounds like some scripture, doesn’t it?

But think about it. If I blindfolded you and handed you a fruit off a tree, and asked you to feel it, smell it or even taste it, you might have some idea of what that tree is. You can pretty much tell if you have an apple, an orange, an acorn or pine cone. You most times don’t need ALL your senses to identify most trees. I mean, would YOU bite a pine cone if you didn’t have to?

But when it comes to relationships, we often don’t recognize that, especially with prison relationships. There are many strong and binding relationships of men in prison and their wives or girlfriends on the other side, but there are some that are bogus. Some guys like to use women to be their crutch until they get out, then they go their separate ways, leaving a broken heart.

How can you tell if he is sincere and honest? One way is to check the fruit.

If he is due out inside of a year, check his mood, see where his head is, what his plans are. Offer him some suggestions that you are willing to follow up on. That does NOT mean saying that you will buy him a car. That is too much on YOUR end, and not enough on his end. If you are unsure of his sincerity, you have to find out where he really stands. If not, you could end up being his supply until he gets out, not knowing that he only wanted you for what you have and what you could give him.

You’ve got to know if that person really wants to change, or just wants to get out of prison…there is a difference you know.

Ask him what he wants to do when he gets out. If he does not have any idea, then HELP him get some ideas. He’s gotta have something to do when he gets out, otherwise there is little to keep him from “going back to check out the fellas”.

Where is he going to live? If he says he wants to live where he can’t get in trouble, that is cool, but understand this simple fact…moving does not necessarily change the attitude. It’s not enough just to move, you still need a plan to fill that void with something constructive and positive. If not, you can live in North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, South America or the Southern Hemisphere, it still does not change the fact that you have not improved yourself.

This can be a very soul-searching question that many of you may have to think on, but it is a start. I could go on for another few pages but as I see it now, I am already over 3 pages long, and from what I read on some sites that may be too long. Yet I am comforted by one person who encouraged me to write as much as I wanted. After all, if it is too long for you, copy it and read the rest later.

Anyway, please email me about comments and about my books and other stuff, It is a strong encouragement to me, and ask how you can support my writings. You can get in touch with me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com.

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