Friday, February 26, 2010

#70 Prison Talk: After the sentence (retro)

Prison talk: AFTER the sentence…

Before I talk about what life can be like after your incarceration, I send my very best wishes to some friends in Texas. After Hurricane Ike, I know some are going through some tough times. One of those people is a reader who has supported me in my writings, so I obviously wish her very well. I can almost always count on her reading my blogs, so I wish her well, and everyone else in that area.

I also wanted to say hello to the new blog sites that I am sharing m prison writings with. What I will probably do is jump start those with some of my older blogs to give those venues a bit of my past blogs. As I said before, you have been warned because I do write a lot.

Also, I always ask those that have been reading my works for awhile to support my writing with your support. You can email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask about that, or visit my book site at the end of my blog.

Now today I happen to be writing with no soda in the fridge, so life isn’t starting out so hot (that IS a light joke folks). But today while reading my email, another of my supportive readers asked me about how life was for me after I got out of prison in 2001. I figured this might be something interesting to talk about, because many people have loved ones that did time and are trying to adjust to the “free” society. Others may have loved ones close to release, and are concerned about how to get them back on track.

So let’s talk about that.

What WAS life like for me after prison?

If you have been reading my other blogs, you know I have addressed this before in different ways, but if you are new, then all this may sound unique. I personally think our society has a very backward and condemning approach to how ex felons ought to live. They seem to forget that the punish WAS prison, not the life after they get out. If a person goes to prison and does his or her time, it is said that he or she has SERVED THEIR DEBT…meaning they owe nothing more.

Ah, but then there is restitution, parole and probation, and then background checks and all that kinda stuff. Kinda makes you think that the incarceration process never really ends.

And in a very sad way, this is true. Society will honor a man who is unrighteous but not a criminal, but won’t honor an ex felon trying to do right. Case in point, how many of you saw how fast those gas prices spiked before Hurricane Ike hit? Even here in North Carolina, we saw gas shoot up about 60 cents more inside of 48 hours.

I don’t believe for one second that those in charge of that oil was afraid of “losing money”, I believe they used that excuse to drive up prices, KNOWING we have no choice but to accept it or not drive. To me that is damn near criminal, taking advantage of people who need that product. But those gas stations were packed with people trying to get that gas.

We just call it business.

But if an ex felon tries to start a business, society will shun away from him because “he’s a con”. Or if a man desperately trying to get a job get turned down because of his background, we say “shouldn’t have broken the law”. We have almost no sympathy to an ex felon when he tries to get his life back, but when he resorts to the only things he can do, and ends up in jail, we are often the first ones to say, “see! I KNEW it! Once a con, always a con”.

We have a lot to learn about humanity.

Now I don’t sit here with a halo around my head typing this, but since I have been out I have lived how very difficult and hypocritical society can be to an ex felon. And the sad thing is that it isn’t just the ignorant people, the ones who think every person in prison ought to be “busting rocks”. It also comes from churches and so called prison support groups.

When I got out in 2001, I had dreams of starting my own business again and making some good money to not only enjoy life, but to also help others. What do I mean by that? Well, I would love to make enough money to take some of those nice trips I see on the Travel Channel, or maybe get season tickets to some football or basketball team, but I also wanted to make sure my family and friends were enjoying life too. Further, I wanted to be able to help some people in my neighborhood.

It sounds corny, but I wanted to be one of those guys that sees a mother window shopping at the toy store, knowing she can’t afford much for her kids this Christmas, and I could help her buy some toys (and groceries) to make it better. I know it sounds corny, but I always thought that financial abundance gives you the responsibility to help those that don’t have it.

So my new life after prison was on this dream that maybe I could start up my fragrance oil business and in no time, be making $100,000 a year. Well, that’s what I hoped, even though I had probation for the next 3 years and a near $10,000 retribution. Still I just believed it could be done. I mean, why not?

But sadly, it just seemed that everything I tried to do was falling apart. I didn’t have the money to do what I needed, and the first job I got as an ex felon was working for a so called Christian radio station that felt it right to pay me $3 an hour…well below minimum wage.

But I needed the job because I have a degree in Radio and Television, and knew radio, and the job was close enough to walk to. And I needed the job to verify that I was working under probation. But it didn’t go so well (those who read my older blogs know this story), and I ended up getting fired for asking for more pay.

I got a job bagging groceries at a local store, which paid slightly better, but soon lost that job when the “pastor” made a stupid remark, not knowing that the local paper was going to print it. I had to call the Department of Labor on their sorry butts while I was still working at the station because they were paying me illegally. They got on the case and asked the “Christian” radio station if I was an employee. They lied and said I was a volunteer.

But the Department of Labor said if I have any check stubs, it verifies that I am not a volunteer, but an employee, and as such they MUST pay me back pay for minimum wage. After I gave them the proof, they went back and asked the “Christian” radio station again if I was an employee, and with the proof they had to tell the truth.

Weeks later the local newspaper did a story on it, on how a guy (me) was paid poorly by a Christian radio station but still went back to help them when the station needed help. I did a phone interview for that story, and it seemed like a “feel good story”. However, what I didn’t know was that when they asked the pastor of that station about it, he tried to deny it and said, “you can’t trust anything an ex con says”. Apparently what he didn’t know was that what he said was going to be printed, and it made him look bad.

So this jerk comes out to the store where I work, and tries to make peace with me. Until then I didn’t know what he had said to the paper, so he was actually trying to apologize for what was ABOUT to happen to me, not for what happened in the past. I didn’t think nothing of it, and was glad to forgive and forget…until the paper hit.

It was a front page story, and now I am out there, as an ex con. Yeah, that was true, but I tried to keep that discreet so I can get my life together. But now with this story out, and with me doing nothing wrong, I was guilty because of my past. The so called pastor told me in that store he tried to get the paper to not print that story, and even threatened to sue, but he had no grounds to do so. But he never told me what was said…I had to read it in the paper.

The paper didn’t say anything bad about me, in fact, it was pretty good, but the fact that the pastor put me out there like that was the death of my current job. Because I was an ex felon, the store felt that it was not in “good business” to have me working for them, so I lost my job.

My background was destroying my chances of getting my life back. Life got very hard for me, and I was going nowhere. It was about that time I was online looking for some prison ministries and found one with people asking questions about prison. I read it and said to myself, “hey, I can answer that!”.

I remember reading another post by someone who wrote some things about prison, telling the readers how terrible and horrible it was, and I read it thinking, “he may be right in what he said, but there’s gotta be a better way to share this info and give these people some hope”.

It was then I started prison writing, and since then I have continued to do so. It’s weird, in the midst of all my misery, I was writing to HELP others. I had no job, trying to do my best to make something, but nobody giving me a chance, and being embarrassed by of all people, a PASTOR, it was very hard to find a way to pick myself up.

But I felt if I could start my own business, even a small one, it would give me the authority to control more of my life. I had that experience before, why not again? But with my oils not really selling like I wanted, I needed another product. That was when I started getting lots of comments from people saying “you ought to write a book”.

I had written for several prison sites, and this was kinda common. I had made so many posts I was becoming one of the best writers on the site (I say that humbly, I am sure there are better prison writers than me).

But the idea was there…why NOT write prison books? If there are people who value your writing, and you are answering tons of emails a week, then there is a demand for your talent. Perhaps this is what you need to be doing. I mean I have always loved writing, but I never figured on writing about prison stuff.

But the opportunity was there. So I started writing “Grades of Honor”, in some anticipation that maybe this is where I turn the corner, this is where financially I can start living and seeing that dream I once had.


Nobody was buying my books.

I found it absolutely weird that the very same people who praised my posts were nowhere to be found when I completed “Grades of Honor”. I even sent 2 or 3 of my books FREE to some of the moderators of those sites, hoping for some nice comments on the site…they loved the book, but never talked about it on the site. I wasted my time.

Further, now I was being banned from some of the very sites I had helped so much. Before people were always reading and commenting on my posts, now moderators were literally making me a witch in Salem. Sites like Prison Talk, LostVault, WriteAPrisoner and others were banning me for even mentioning my books. The misguided owner of LostVault banned me in one day because she read ONE post and banned me from the site. Problem was she didn’t read the other 5 or 6 I had, and completely missed the sincerity I was sharing.

It just seemed that these so called prison support sites were not as sincere as they let on. As long as I was spilling my guts to them for their benefit, that was cool. But as soon as I talk about my books, or cards or support, the room empties like there’s a bomb threat. Yet people kept emailing me, wanting my help or advice, or wanted me to post again on this site or that site.

If I was doing so much good, then why can’t I earn a living?

It was so frustrating because I was trying to do right, I was helping people and doing the best I could, even though in my personal life it was falling apart. I was way behind in my restitution, and it could result in my violation and send me back to prison. How can a college grad with a degree in Radio and Television have this many problems?

In 2004 my probation period ended, but because I owed money in restitution, my probation officer had to turn me in. He didn’t have a choice because it was part of my probation. I held nothing against him, I actually had 3 probation officers during that time and all three spoke very well of me. It’s just that I could not afford to pay the thousands of dollars in restitution.

Imagine that…going to prison for being poor…

And the irony of this was I was still writing positive posts for prison support sites, while hoping that SOMEBODY would support my writings. Nobody did. I’m sitting here drowning, with thousands of people looking, and not one of them bothers to help.

It took a great miracle (and I DO mean that) to come up with the money at the last minute. That is a heart touching story maybe I will share again someday, but we came up with the money at the last moment. We managed to pay the restitution but I still had to go to court. Even with the money paid, I could STILL be sent back to prison for not paying on time.

As it turned out, the probation officer spoke very well of me, and because the debt was paid, the judge gave me my freedom. I walked out a free man…which was of course a great thing, but free to do what?

I still needed money, and I was disappointed that all those people I helped at Prison Talk, Prisonforum, Prisonsupport, prison this and prison that, none of them bothered to lift a finger to help me. But they expected me to keep writing for their sakes.

Things soured for me with the entire genre of “prison support” as I started to see that it really wasn’t about support, just people with fetishes about convicts or self-righteous moderators who want to be claimed as the “expert” of a site, just because they have 50,000 posts (and 99% of them cut and paste messages). I got sick of moderators who claim that they know more than me because their “man” did more time than me. I got sick of how correctional officers can make more risky comments than ex felons, and get away with it. I got sick of how some stupid members can spit on another person’s post, but if I defend my own post, I get warned. It really ticked me off when the moderators of the NC forum of Prison Talk jumped on my case when two idiots tried to argue on my post about whether inmates wear regular clothing all the time in prison. It is very strange how a moderator will take the side of two idiots who never set foot in a prison over one who has been there…stupid.

All of this was becoming a hypocrisy and was begging the question of whether all this was worth doing. I honestly believed that if I helped others, then I could make a decent living, which would in turn support my work to help those people. Why can’t I get paid for being a prison writer? Thousands of people read my blogs, thousands read and comment on my posts, tons of people email me. Why couldn’t I turn that into a profit and make a living?

It was hard…hell, it IS hard, because I am still there. In fact just about a week ago I was a finger nail away from erasing all my blogs off the internet. Now, some of you that are reading on the newer blogs might not think that is much, but we’re talking about 700 pages worth of writing…in only about 5 months!

It’s very hard for an ex felon to get back into the flow of the “American Dream”, because it’s like I am cursed. Oh, it’s fine when I share a blog and people email me and want me to answer this and that. And I don’t mind doing that at times. But it gets frustrating when I say in my blogs, “ email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask how you can support my writings” and people ignore that.

And then there are those who “lure” me by asking me a question after promising to buy one of my books or cards. Of course, once I answer their question, they don’t come back, or they keep luring me with promises to buy my products only because they believe they can get me to help them.

It’s hard, very hard, to continue to look ahead when it has been so troubling. But having said all that, I can say this; there have been some that really took pity on me, and really cared about me. There is one very nice lady in Texas that supported me when most people didn’t care about me at all, but copied every blog I wrote. There is a guy who I am actually writing this particular post for who supported me when most just wanted the free advice…

Think about that…what is REALLY free…

There is a lady with a son in prison who also supported me when most did not. In fact, last week when I closed my blogs, these were the three people out of THOUSANDS that read my blogs, that emailed me to see what was going on. Now there are a couple of others who have bought a book from me, but if even 1% of my readers supported my writings, there would have been so much more I could have given.

So it’s hard, very hard, to look at this “free” life and trying to do right, but seeing very little harvest. Lord knows I wanted to give this prison writing up more than once, because sometimes I feel that nobody really cares about the person, only the info. And the funny thing will be some of those same people who read my blogs and never supported me will have similar problems when their loved ones get out and have similar problems with them. Then I’ll get those emails about “please help me, my son has been out of prison for 5 months but it has been so hard for him. How did you make it through the first year of your freedom”.

The answer I’d probably give is, “I did it DESPITE you”.

And society does not understand the bitterness that builds when an ex felon continues to fail. Heck, you see it in sports all the time. When a team is winning, everybody is happy, even if the players don’t normally like one another. But once the losing starts stringing up, maybe 2 losses in a row, or 3, or 5, then communication breaks down. Guys get bitter because they are disappointed.

Now you know how ex felons feel.

I think I would have been all the way pissed off by now, except I understand that even though 5000 people may not give a flip about me, there have been many people that emailed me with very sincere thoughts of thankfulness. I know there are lots of people that could if they would, support me, but all they can do is send a “God bless you”. I understand that, and I know the ones that are sincere. Many a time I get emails from mothers or wives or girlfriends that are really at the end of their rope, and have nowhere to go, and nobody on those prison support sites can understand.

It’s times like that I remember why I write, and even though I have a very hard time finding financial support, I know that it is always helpful to help another person in need. Heck, nobody can call me a con artist, I’ve not made much money at all from my books and stuff because the very people I write them for won’t support me. But if it was free, those same people would be knocking down my door for it.

There is a balance of the expectation of reaping and the necessity of sowing in my life when it comes to these writings. I expect to get some support (because I NEED it), but I also understand that not everybody’s bank account has two commas in it (think about that).

So as you have read in my blogs, there are times I fell ok because I do get some financial support once and awhile, but then there are dry times where I get frustrated. I don’t mind blogging that because you get to see what life is like through my eyes, through the eyes of an ex felon.

So if this is your first couple of blogs or if you have been following my blogs for months, I hope you understand where I am coming from. Ex felons often have to do things 3 times better than the regular person just to be considered equal… and even then it does not translate well. My hope is that I can get readers to support my writing and my works. Even after 700 pages, that is only a fraction of what I can share.

Gotta go, email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask how to support my works or visit my book site.

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