Where does hope lie for ex felons?
He served his time.
He paid his debt to society.
Yet he found such a hard time trying to fit into this free society he was supposedly returned to. Even after 4 years from his release, and doing 8 years in prison, he was finding it very hard… and very unforgiving to find his place in life. He knew it would be tough to begin with, but he believed that with some patience, it would work out.
After working three different minimum wage jobs, he found that with his record, there was no hope in a small town of him finding any real freedom in his finances. On this course, he would always be barely getting by because a simple background check would always keep him from a good job.
But today there might be hope.
In the past few years he saw that there was a huge void in prison support, and decided to share what he could about prison. But not just about the fights, rapes and extremes of prison, but also to show that if he could get through it, then maybe someone else can. Thousands and thousands of parents, wives, girlfriends and others were looking for some hope in a hopeless situation, and he truly felt that he could give some of that hope.
In the past few years he has made himself available to talk to anyone who needed help with a loved one in prison. He often times came home from his minimum-wage job, tired and hungry, but would find just a few hours to spend sharing experiences and answering email. The emails went from one a week to a few a week to now, many each day. He could not turn anyone away that came to him for help.
But it came with a curse. More than once he has been challenged on his “authority” by members of many prison support sites. Some criticized his “expertise” because he “only” served 8 years. Others believed that a wife with a husband in prison for 10 years has more experience in prison issues than a man who had been in prison for 8 years.
Often times this resulted in arguments on the sites, and he was usually banned from the site. A prophet is accepted except in his own surroundings, he often reasoned to himself. Yet he wasn’t trying to make himself perfect, he merely wanted to help. And in doing so, he also found that it could be possible for him to sell his own prison book. Other prison books sold well at larger stores, and people on all the prison support sites always seemed to swear by these books written by people who never wrote a single post in their lives, much less answered an email from a person needing help. He figured surely there was room for him to create a respectable business in prison writing.
But today, he had a chance to change things. Six weeks earlier he was emailed by a member of a group of a prison support group in Atlanta, and they had put together a huge support get-together. He had been invited to come speak about his experiences, since it was so rare and hard to get someone with actual experience to come visit. He had proven himself over the course of the last couple of years by his writings, and was actually well known by those in the “prison support circles”, at least by his pen name.
Over 2000 people from much of the southern US would be coming for support, help and ideas to help a loved one in prison. There would be mothers, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends, ex felons, husbands, cousins, aunts, pen pals and many other people there. This would be one of the largest gatherings for prison support in a long time, although not largely publicized. Nevertheless, he was invited to speak, and there would also be many booths for people to promote their organizations, prison support sites and even products. He worked so hard at the two jobs he had to save money to make this trip, and have enough money to rent a booth to sell his prison books. This was as good a chance as any for him to make good in helping those that need his insight, and to establish some good contacts to make a living doing what he likes to do.
He strained his resources to borrow a good car to drive the 8 hours to Atlanta, and managed to get some extra money from his parents to ensure that he would not be there broke. The even would last two days and he was prepared to get a room for Saturday night, since he was asked to speak on both days. A lot was hinging on him making a good showing so that he could sell his books. Today could be the start of a great future.
He pulled up in the parking lot of the convention center, knowing that the prison support lectures and events started earlier that Saturday morning. He was on time, but he needed to set his booth up and get his books presentable. He registered in, got his booth set up and was now ready for his chance to make good. Everything was set up for this to work.
At 1pm it was his turn to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” started one of the hosts of the event, the same who personally invited him to this function, “I want to introduce you to the next speaker to help us understand about prison.”
He was nervous but took comfort that this is what he came to do.
“There ain’t a lot of guys that talk about prison the way he does. I have been following his posts for a while, and I have even pmed him on some questions about my son in prison. I asked him to speak because I don’t know anybody better in this situation. He’s gonna talk about his time in prison, and his time after he got out. Everybody here with a loved one in prison needs to hear what he has to say, and afterwards maybe he can answer some questions. Ladies and gentlemen, you know him online as Faithone99”
It was showtime.
He rehearsed everything he was going to talk about. It really wasn’t hard, since much of it was based on what he wrote online anyway. He focused on talking about how difficult it can be for a person in prison, dealing with anger, guilt, shame, stress, depression and everything else that deals with prison. He talked about how he gave up on life and tried to commit suicide. He went into detail at the thought process of what it was like to give up on life and God Himself, and place his neck in a noose and swing off the wall before fighting for his life. His words grasped the listeners as he saw many shed tears of great fear…wondering if their own son or husband or boyfriend would do the same.
He talked about giving up on God, how he knew he was not perfect, but thought that if God was a Being of Love, then surely there could be some mercy for a soul crying for help. He talked about how often he cried softly on his bunk in his cell, praying against all odds that somehow, someway, things could change. His words touched many people as they all understood that the faith of all persons can be severely challenged to the point that one wonders if they are truly loved by God.
But he also spoke of hope, and focused on how even in the worst times, Somebody never gave up on him. Even in the toughest times of his incarceration, somehow, someway, he got through. He explained that it wasn’t just because he was hoping…it was something far greater. He talked about how he was retaliated on in many prisons, mostly for helping another inmate who needed assistance. He explained many of the things prisons do that can easily make an inmate’s incarceration harder than necessary.
But through it all, he expressed faith. Even in the worst of times, he had to believe that things could get better. He talked about how he often had nothing but scriptures to rely on, and the hope for a better day. He would not allow these people to just hear only bad news, he would not let them leave on a negative note.
He talked about how he was able to get through prison, and how much faith played a part of it. He talked about many encouraging things that happened in prison, even some humorous things that had the crowd of 2000 smiling and even laughing. He clearly had this audience’s attention as they listened to every word he spoke.
He also talked about life after prison, and how hard it can be for the ex felon. He didn’t go so far about his personal life, because in truth he felt that it was worse than he should mention. The irony of everything he said was that as much as he encouraged these people, he also knew that life was very tough for him. He was counting on these people to see his sincerity and maybe find some support. If he could sell some of these books, it would be a major turn for the better. He needed a change because working the minimum wage jobs were not going anywhere.
After he finished his speech, he began to answer questions from the crowd… and they were numerous.
“How were you able to stay so positive in prison?”
“Why doesn’t my son call me?”
“How much money should I send my loved one?”
“What if my boyfriend leaves me after he gets out of prison?”
“How can my son continue to trust God while in prison?”
“How do I tell my son that his best friend recently died?”
“How do I tell my son that I just don’t have the money to send him every week?”
“How does the grievance procedure work?”
“What is gain time?”
“What can I do if my son gets assaulted?”
“Who do I write to about prison abuse?”
“How do I prepare my husband for release?”
“Can my loved one get a job after prison?”
“How do I keep from crying at the visit?”
“What are showers like in prison?”
“What if you don’t trust your loved one in prison?”
“How do I get his jail credit applied to his sentence?”
“What was it like being a first time felon?”
“What was the first day like?”
“What was it like the day you were released?”
“What’s it like being in the seg cells?”
“Have you ever been in a fight?”
“What do case managers do?”
“Do inmates really believe in God?”
“How has God helped you in prison?”
“What can I say to my loved one to be positive?”
“What’s your email address so I can ask you some more questions?”
So many questions, so much fear and anxiety, but he took as much time as much as he could. For over an hour he answered every question he could, making sure to explain as much as he could to help each person who needed his help. Although it was over 2 hours minutes of talk, it really seemed like 15 minutes, and almost as soon as he started, he was done.
As he finished he was given a standing ovation by nearly everyone in the room as he waived to the audience and moved to his booth. He had done it, made an incredible impression to these people, which will certainly bring him some much needed revenue for his prison books. This was as close to a grand slam as he could get, and was thanking God in his heart for the opportunity.
He took his place at the booth, and set as may of his books out as he could, his heart racing for the rewards he was about to reap. His was not the only booth though, there were many other booths as well. Some booths were for “phone cards”, others were for “legal advice”, others were for prison support site t-shirts. There were even a couple of booths of salespeople selling prison books. He noticed that those salespeople were not the actual authors, yet represented the writers, who apparently could not make it to this convention. Surely he could sell just as many, or more, than them.
At about 3pm there was a recess in the convention, allowing everyone to visit the booths to do business. This was it, he wondered if he had enough books to sell. As the people began to wander around the business booths, he noticed something.
No one was buying anything from him.
He noticed that people walked past him, going to some of the other booths. Lots of people went to buy t-shirts in support, many went to talk to legal representatives, and a lot went and ordered prison books from the sales representatives…
He was completely confused.
He had given his heart and soul to give the audience everything he could to help them, hoping that surely this would give him a reward in sales. He gave those people everything he had, and only expected to sell some of his books. But after 45 minutes of standing alone, he felt that nobody was interested in him or his books.
“God Almighty, why?” he thought as his faith sunk to the concrete floor.
Nobody was giving him any attention.
(to be continued)