This Is How It Feels to Walk Out of Prison After 21 Years
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The following first appeared on Substance.com:
I woke up on the morning of July 31 at 4 am, feeling apprehensive, elated and ready to take on the world. For most of the 2.2 million people behind the fence in this country, it was just another day. For me, it was the day I would leave prison for the last time.
I was scheduled to report to R&D (the Receiving and Discharge department at FCC Forrest City) at 11 am to be processed out. Those last hours seemed to take forever. It was all coming to an end, after two decades and counting. I was finally going home—or to the halfway house at least. I felt the immensity of it in my gut.
I went to R&D with four other men, all of us recent graduates of the Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). There was Machete, a 50-something Mexican who did 10 years on a meth charge; Turbo, a 26-year-old who did eight years on a meth charge; Curt, a 42-year-old who did five years on a cocaine charge; and Boosie, a 33-year-old who did nine years on a cocaine conspiracy.
My original 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for selling marijuana and LSD was by far the longest among us. It makes me angry to think of all I have been made to endure due to draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. As a first-time, nonviolent offender, I didn’t deserve the sentence I served. But I survived it, and now hope to add my voice to the movement against the senseless War on Drugs.
At R&D they gave us our street clothes and I changed into my blue polo shirt, red plaid shorts and grey Nike Shox. The other guys said I looked like I was going out to play golf. But it felt good to be in real clothes again.
As I sat waiting in R&D, a lot of thoughts ran through my head. I was 22 when I came in. A young, spoiled, immature kid, addicted to drugs and addicted to the criminal lifestyle. I thought I was above the law, an outlaw of epic proportions. I romanticized my life as a drug dealer. I was counterculture, off the grid, living how I wanted. At the age of 43, I no longer have those illusions. But I see myself now as a mature, educated and responsible man.
I have a lot of work to do. But I feel like I’m well prepared. I haven’t used any drugs for over 10 years. And being in the RDAP unit, a more restrictive and pro-social prison environment, for the past two-and-half years has helped me to unravel my convict/criminal mentality. I was practicing positive self-talk, rational thinking and self-analysis, and changing my thinking, behavior and beliefs. Like a football player, who practiced, practiced, practiced, I now feel ready for the game. Or like the dude in The Matrix, who just wants to be plugged back into the Matrix, I want to be plugged back into the real world and live as a regular, taxpaying, productive citizen.
As I waited, I was tense and stressed—not so much that I was freaking out, but I sure had some butterflies. For one thing, I knew the world I was walking into had changed dramatically since I last saw it.
In 1993, we had no Internet. There were no smartphones or touch screens or cars that drive themselves. Plenty of other things have happened to the world that I had read about or imagined, but never experienced. In this sense, I’m like a time-traveler. So I cautioned myself to proceed slowly and be patient. I knew I would feel overwhelmed, but everything would come in time.