I had a strange moment. I guess I've had many strange moments, but this one was a bit scary. My transitional home is beautiful, the people are friendly, and everyone around me-including parole-has been helpful. But, I've been home alone a lot. I started to get lonely. Real lonely. I'm in a strange city, I'm not working, I don't have transportation, and I don't have any where to go. I began to miss prison.
I didn't want to tell anyone because I was embarassed, and I was worried about being punished. In prison, your encouraged to express your thoughts and then your punished for doing just that. For example, if your feeling suicidal you should tell someone right. The reasonable response would be to interview the person and then to determine the seriousness of the "feeling". In reality, by making your feeling known, serious or not, you are also making someone write a report and that means they have to stay late. Your brow beat, if not chastised. Your stripped butt naked, usually in the cold, and stuck in a filthy holding tank with no mattress or clothes-well, you get to keep a heavy smock. If your real lucky, you are in a room with a toilet instead of a hole in the floor. Every inmate knows that prison rewards bad behavior and punishes good behavior (a bold statement that I promise to elaborate on, but I'm digressing).
I was feeling an overwhelming sense of depression. I typed into Google and Quora questions like, "why do I miss prison," "am I crazy for missing prison," "what does it mean when an inmate misses prison." The first thing I realized is that I was not alone. I saw some really good answers that explained my anxiety and my depression. I couldn't believe how normal it was to feel that way. In fact, I didn't quite believe what I was reading, but it did give me the courage to start talking to some of the men I live with. Each of them told me about going through the same thing.
I have not gotten through my little slump. But, I am very aware of the good fortune and support in my life right now. I am a recovering meth addict. My pattern of behavior has been depression, despair, apathy, needle! I have been clean a really long time, but life and freedom are new to me. Learning to handle problems out here requires a new set of cognitive tools. It's not easy, and I'm not sure I could have done it on my own. It is really comforting knowing that I have people I can talk to. It is also a tremendous help that my basic needs are taken care of: if I had to worry about survival and safety on top of these other stressful thoughts, I think I would be overwhelmed and I'd probably start using. It's obvious to me now why the inmates who don't accept the help are quick to recidivate.
I miss prison, because I spent more than 40% of my life locked up. Its familiar to me. Everything out here is unfamiliar. Its exciting one moment and stressful the next.
I've never written a blog. I've never seen a smart phone. I've never used social media. I knew I was missing out on a lot, but I had no idea just how many things would be foreign to me after serving fifteen years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In prison we want what we don't have--everything. I've seen inmates go crazy over a green rag because it was the only one on the yard. Eventually there are two green rags then three and so on. Now everybody wants the first yellow rag. It seems ridiculous to you because you've never lived in a world of greys and blues. Everyone wears the same clothes: grey shorts or blue pants, grey sweat shirt or a white t-shirt, grey hat or white hat. Even the walls are grey concrete or white "ish". All day every day the same three or four colors.
Now that I am out of prison, I am overwhelmed by all the choices. It's funny because I heard it can be stressful, but I didn't think it would be that way to me. How could a guy be overwhelmed by the choices of cereal. Just pick the one you missed the most right. Now that I am staring at them, I realize I didn't even know half of them existed. Prison conditions inmates to be mindful of other peoples personal space, yet in the grocery store that lady is the third person to bump into me in the past five minutes. How can I choose a cereal with all these people moving around me. Why does the clerk on the PA sound like he's saying, "get down". Am I sweating, my glasses are fogging up. God I'm making a fool of my self, I feel like everyone is staring at me. You know, I don't need cereal.
Everything is new and every new thing is a lot more complicated than I imagined it would be. People tell me I'm doing great-- I don't feel that way. Inside, I am often frazzled, anxious, and afraid. I'm getting more comfortable each day, but I imagine some effects are permanent. And that is one of the many reasons why Stepping Stones to Success is here - to help all of those, like me, who need to be able to navigate this new-to-us world.
Getting the story for Stepping Stones to Success out there is of utmost importance to us. There has been (and is) such a tremendous amount of erroneous data and misleading statements about those in transition that we long to see replaced with simple truths about the men, their lives, and what we are doing to help. Below is one short interview. Enjoy.