by Kenneth Justice
~ A few weeks ago at coffee a mid 40ish man who I had talked with in the past sat down at my table. “Kenneth, I never told you this before but up until last year I had been in prison for 10 years”
It turns out he was arrested and incarcerated because he used to sell drugs and got caught. “The last year has been tough on me being out…my mother is nearly 90 years and has been letting me live with her…but she’s really one of the only people I have left in my life”
Although I spent a few years working at the local county jail, I can’t imagine what it must be like getting out of prison after a decade….all your old friends have likely moved on to different facets of their lives and getting a good job is next-to-impossible.
“My parole officer helped me get a place to live and I have a minimum wage job but I feel like I will never escape the sins of my past” he said
For many of us, the little mistakes or failings we made when we were younger helped us to grow and mature into the adults that we are now today. Making mistakes helped us to learn and grow…..but for this guy, making the mistake of selling drugs might end up haunting his life for a long-time to come.
I didn’t have any profound thoughts or pieces of wisdom to share with the guy. He had learned via another acquaintance that I had worked with inmates at the county jail years ago and that was why he had come to me looking to talk…looking for a solution to help deal with all the millions of feelings he is experiencing……
All I could say was, “It looks like you are going to have a long walk ahead of you….but if you can make it past today, maybe you can make it a week, and then a month, and suddenly a year will have gone by and you’re making positive progress forward”
It’s that whole ‘baby steps’ mantra. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just focus on today; get our ‘s**t done today’ and worry about tomorrow when it comes. But I’ll be honest…I don’t think that what I said helped the guy out very much, he left the table looking pretty down.
I’ve had a lot of screw-ups in my past but I’ve never been in jail. I’ve never broke the law and had the entire world know about what I had done. When I was working at the county jail one of the inmates put a letter in the pocket of my jacket (they weren’t allowed to do that) which I found when I got home later that night, he wrote;
“Kenneth, I got hooked on pornography when I was younger and by age 18 I was obsessed with younger looking girls. Although I never actually molested a child, I ended up getting arrested in a sting-operation; I thought I was meeting up with a 15 year old but it was actually an under-cover cop”
The entire letter was more than five pages long and the inmate shared how his picture was posted on the front page of his local newspaper and that then led to his entire church condemning him for his crime…..none of his family or church members would come and visit him at the jail…..none would return his letters or phone calls.
“I’m struggling to still believe in God because how could God let me do the things I’ve done….how could my church that I’ve gone to since I was a kid completely cut me off?” he wrote
I didn’t have any answers for him. Its not like there is some kind of simple thing you can say to people who are in such tough situations; is there? That particular man was in the county jail awaiting sentencing; he didn’t know if he was going to be sent to prison for 1 year or many years……..
Would his church ever forgive him?
Would his family ever forgive him?
I simply don’t know…..sometimes our past comes back to haunt us for many years to come….sometimes the mistakes we make in our youth live with us for years to come. Most of us don’t commit crimes that land us in jail….most of us don’t have to live with our ‘secret sins’ posted on the front page of the newspaper for the whole world to see. Most of us don’t have to go to a job interview wondering if they are going to see that we are an ex-convict and tell us ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
Its been a few years since that inmate ‘smuggled’ that letter in the pocket of my jacket. I can still remember sitting at home in my study reading the letter. Tears were streaming down my face as I read about the dumb choices he made….and how each dumb choice seemed to lead to even worse choices until finally…..he got caught by the undercover cop. I remember crying and wondering “what am I supposed to do for this guy? What can I do?”
Most of the time I simply don’t have the answers…..most of the time I’m simply trying to get through the day myself….
Perhaps that is why I’m so fond of my coffee; in the midst of trying to work through another day I have that one constant routine in my life, sitting down and having a steaming hot cup of coffee…helping me to sit down and chill out for a few minutes in the midst of a crazy world.
For those interested in helping out the children of prisoners this Holiday Season…one of the best programs out there can be found via this <link>
Categories: Culture & Society