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[ Personal Narratives ]

Letters To Myself After Leaving Federal Prison 5 years Ago

Today I came across my very first blog posts, starting from May 16, 2011. I had just been released from federal prison that day, marking the end of a two year era, filled with fear, hope, and gratitude. In total, I spent a year incarcerated or under house arrest, and that is where I began writing. It’s when my freedom was striped away, that I grasped to the things that cant be taken. You can lock someone away, keep them away from loved ones and the rest of society, but there are no locks, no fences that can be set on the freedom of your mind. The details of those thoughts, are mostly remembered in the hundreds of hours I spent writing in the prison, and especially my reflections on my first few weeks outside. Here are my first 3 blog posts, I will post more in the coming days.

Day of Release May 16, 2011

70%.. That is the current recidivism rate for those who leave the federal prison system. In simpler terms, this means that 7 out of every 10 people who walk out of federal prison, end up going back within three years of being released.

It’s a sobering statistic, especially for myself, having just been released from Taft Federal Correctional Institution. I don’t use that statistic to scare anyone, but I use it to remind myself of the seriousness of my situation. Over the next two to three years, my life will be under the microscope and scrutiny of the United States Federal Government. Any “slip-up” will almost surely land me back in prison. A quasi-legal business deal, a failed drug test, a conversation with another convicted felon, almost anything outside of a traffic ticket could send me back as I live out the next couple years on federal probation (and the next 6 months on house arrest).

I will not be discouraged, I am confident and determined to beat these odds. For some, simply remaining among the 30% might be an adequate goal, but I have my eyes set on something much larger. I’m aware that such an outcome will not materialize by accident, rather, the outcome requires deliberate choices on my end, on a daily basis.  I will need to continue to live each day to grow spiritually, physically, and emotionally, that’s my foundation, If i’m not moving forward, I’m not moving in the right direction. I’ve worked hard for the past two years to reconcile with society for the bad decisions I made in my early to mid 20’s. Having gone through the past few months to finish my prison sentence, i want to renew this commitment to live as the best man that I can be, to live as the best member of society that I can be, the best son, the best brother, and the best husband that I can be. I owe this commitment to the many many people who love and support me.

Speaking of support, i’m reminded of my friends I left behind at prison today. Who would of thought that leaving prison could be bitter-sweet. I think about Scottie, whom is serving the last year of a 6 year sentence. I will miss his support and his friendship, but I wont soon forget his advice. I remember asking him if he was fearful of entering back into society after being institutionalized for so long, if he was worried about living an honest lifestyle for the first time in his adult life (he is 29).. He explained that there was no reason to be fearful, that he has been preparing for the day he gets out, since his first year of his current confinement. I say current confinement, because Scottie is part of that 70% who didn’t get it the first time around. After doing a 4 year stint for robbing a pawn shop (at only 19 years old), Scottie lasted but a few months on the “outside” before getting lured back into making some fast cash. Less than a year after getting out, he was caught trafficking a few hundred pounds of Marijuana, and was sentenced to a federal prison sentence of 6 years. Ironically, leaving behind his girlfriend and 3 month old son that he had been trying to support through his illegal dealings. 

It’s obvious to anyone who knows Scottie now, that he is a changed man. Upon getting arrested, he simply told his girlfriend to move on, and accepted the start of a lengthy prison sentence. It was soon into this sentence that he decided to turn his life around. Accepting the consequences of his actions, and asking God to transform his life into one of authenticity and integrity. I met Scottie a few months ago at Taft, and I can attest to the remarkable person he has become today. I didn’t know the old Scottie, but I know for sure that he didn’t resemble the Scottie I came to meet. He was one of the rare-breed of inmates I met at Taft, who spent his time productively preparing for re-entry into society, as well as taking the time out to help and assist other inmates to make similar changes. Instead of spending his hours sleeping the day away, or spending his time watching TV or playing cards, Scottie’s days consisted of working out, taking classes, reading his bible, and writing his new wife (last year in prison, Scottie married the same girl he had told 6 years prior not to waste any more time on him). He always has a smile on his face, and he is always eager to lend out his help in any way possible. I remember asking him about how he failed to succeed the last time even though he seemed to have a lot of support.. I asked him what would be different this time. He didn’t hesitate with his response “My life today is transparent”. It hit me.. What good does it do to have a support network, if you aren’t being open and honest with life as it happens?

I am hopeful that my writings here will help to serve that purpose, of living a transparent life. And I urge others to hold me strictly accountable. I hope also, that this blog can help with others who may be coping with similar issues. Wether it be someone dealing with the despair of incarceration, or a friend or family member dealing with addiction, I hope my writings can assist and provide hope for those searching for it. Who know’s, maybe this blog won’t even get read, maybe it will simply serve me with the therapeutic value that derives from writing it. Whatever the case may be, I feel compelled to continue writing now that I am released and beginning my six months of house arrest and 2-3 years of federal probation. I will continue to write about the growth and experiences I encounter through what has been an ongoing journey of addiction, crime, and the federal judicial system.

Thank you all for your continued support as I work my way through a new chapter of my life.

BLOG Entry #2 (2 Days out of prison)

Humility is a tough pill to swallow, it’s a lesson that I continue to face on a daily basis. Amanda and I were at church last Sunday and our pastor quoted an author by the name of Max Lucado, who says:

“Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself, but that you think of yourself less.” 

Those words stood out to me today as I begun to accept the reality of just how much control the Federal Government has over my life these days. But this is all perspective, and I get to choose the way I look at the situation. Sure they own a lot of my money, and they own a lot of my time, but they do not own my thoughts, or my attitude. Today, I choose not to ignore adversity, but instead I will embrace it. I’ve become convinced that strategies exist to allow me to come through these trials much stronger.

I have a restitution order for the remaining amount of $78,000, and I was reminded today that until it’s paid, I will have the government involved in almost every aspect of my financial dealings. Limits on what I can purchase, to what I can spend on a car or on a house, travel restrictions, even something as small as limiting my cable bill to not having premium channels such as HBO or ordering pay per view events. I’m required to pay a minimum of $1600 per month toward this, and at that rate I should have them all payed off in about 3 years. Though I am hopeful that my preparation will meet opprotunity and that I will find a way, a legal way, to pay this off much sooner. Still, I am prepared to live with the restrictions that I am incurring for the next few years. Im thankful it is only that long, I look back to some of my friends at Taft like Tom Johnson; he’ll be there for another 3 years but when he gets out he has a restitution order of 5.5 million dollars. I cant imagine having to deal with a number like that, i’d assume that’s a life sentence from a fiscal stand point. Needless to say, the Feds have forced my direction on this road to humility.

It’s exceedingly difficult coming from a time just a few years ago, when I was receiving enough money to support an $800 a day drug habit, along with a $500 a day hotel suite in Mexico. Actually I shouldn’t use the word “receiving”, lets call it what it was, it was “stealing”. But that is what I served my time for, and that is why I am still facing major restrictions. Im reminded again, that I have everything i need. I am no longer in prison, and even when I was there it wasn’t the steel cots, nor the cold cement cells, that made things unbearable. It was being away from my loved ones that made things difficult. Missing my friends, my family, and my fiancee, that’s what made my time at Taft a “punishment”. So looking forward, I am not discouraged. I once again have those people in my life. I’ve been sober now going on two years, and that may have been an even bigger sentence to my freedom. No matter what else happened, today was a success, because I have my sobriety, and I am surrounded by my loved ones. 

Blog Entry #3 (3 Days Out of Prison)

“I’ve read through your file, and I don’t know you, but on paper you look like an asshole”.. 

Those were the words I was greeted to yesterday by my case manager at my first drug testing appointment, which is mandated by federal probation. I was initially offended, but now I realize that it is just a microcosm of how our judicial/prison system too often operate in this country. 

Non-violent offenders are often given sentences that don’t reflect the true nature of there potential for rehabilitation. I was very fortunate, my judge looked beyond what was described of me on paper. You see, my case manager was correct, on paper I do like like a jerk. 

However, on paper, there is little to no mention of my life over the past two years. No mention of my efforts to reconcile with society and no mention of my commitment to live in accordance with the values and principles that I now choose to identify myself with. No mention of my 23 month commitment to sobriety. I will always remain grateful to Judge Guilford for looking at me as more than just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper.

One of the dismal realities I experienced in prison, is that my outcome is not the norm. I think about folks like Michael Santos, who I shared a dorm with in prison. Michael was convicted of crimes relating to cocaine distribution when he was 23. A first time offender who admitally made some bad decisions as a young adult. Michael did not get a chance at rehabilitation, he was not provided an opportunity to reconcile with society. At least not for the next 30 or so years, because that is what he was sentenced to (back in the early 80’s). He is now serving his 26th consecutive year of incarceration for a non-violent crime that he committed three decades ago. He has now lived more time behind prison walls, than he has outside of them. Unfortunately Michael’s story is all to similar to many that I came across in my dealings with the bureau of prisons.

I don’t see how society benefits from sentencing nonviolent offenders to such lengthy terms. Besides the $40,000 per year that it costs tax payers to keep someone locked up, I don’t see much rehabilitation going on in the prison system. I was lucky, I was surrounded to the few inmates that wanted freedom so bad that they took it upon themselves to make prison a time of rehabilitation. But most people in jail are there for non-viloent drug offenses, they are there in a large part due to addiction. The actual DSM definition of addiction, talks about it as a disorder that people will continue to engage in despite the negative consequences. Yet, this is how we treat addiction? By putting people in a prison system that actually conditions the continuing patterns of struggle in society that so many inmates face

While the prisoner serves his lengthy sentence, he loses meaningful connections with family, friends, employers etc.. When he finally returns to society, he is now going to struggle with acceptance. Not only has he lost touch with his possible support networks, but his prison record is now going to serve as a significant barrier to be considered for substantial employment. I don’t know, maybe i’m biased, even a bit jaded from having seen these people first hand, but it just seems like there’s gotta be a better way to do this for non-violent offenders.

Despite my views on the current prison system, I remain optimistic. I am still grateful for each day I get to live in this country, and I am proud to call myself an American. I have spent some considerable time outside of our country in Mexico, and I’ve had the unfortunate introduction to their “justice program” as well.. Let me just say, while we may not have a perfect system here, i’t would be extremely ignorant and irresponsible for me to discount our system all together when compared to nation states filled with corruption.

Hopefully we can improve on our imperfections, but until that time, It’s simply my hope that I can provide assistance to those dealing with adversity, in making the most out of any situation that presents seemingly difficult circumstances.

It is human nature to look at the difficult things of this world as unfair. However It’s our challenge as individuals not to engage in our own selfish fantasies of what we wish the world looked like. Rather we must persevere through the conflicts that interrupt our lives, and not dwell about the things outside of our control. I for one have found my hope in the universe, it may not seem fair, but I tend to believe things balance out.

Two years ago, I thought my life was over. I remember being driven by the Secret Service from Mexico to an Orange County jail, it was the longest most demoralizing drive of my life. However I can look back now and point to that day as being the start of what yielded the most joyful and productive two years of my life. As I remind myself of that, I can once again say that today was a good day.. I feel blessed.