Never cry in prison. Never. That’s what we’ve been taught.
Noah got the call. It is his turn to go home. He is being released early because of the COVID-19 virus. He’s written about the pandemic, he’s seen its effect on the world, but it had no impact on his life.
And then that truth began to change. He is getting out early because of it. And here I am, violating the inmate code: I have tears in my eyes as I hug him and say good-bye.
Feeling close to someone is not normal for me. Most of my life I’ve been institutionalized. Affection, although shown occasionally by my grandparents, was overshadowed by their abuse. Just the idea of emotional attachment sets up battles of wanting it and not trusting it. Those battles make me want to run.
In my life, I’ve had people who I thought were friends. When I was young I ran away with my friends, I stole cars with them and tried to break out of the Youth facility with them. In the end, though, they betrayed me and sacrificed me for themselves. My friends set me up to take the blame for everything that we had all done as if it was only me. I was raised to think of myself as worthless so whenever I was told that it was all my fault, I accepted it. My friends went home and I got locked up.
Since then I’ve never had any real relationships in prison. Connection with people was “real” for inside the penitentiary but that was it. Not only could I not count on relationships continuing after prison, but I also did not want them to!
Most inmates, contrary to what we may tell you, are guilty. Most are guilty not just of the crime that we are in for, but numerous more in which we were not caught. A lot of us are drug addicts, thieves, and people who’ve made a bunch of bad decisions.
While inside, many of us pursue rehabilitation: we take classes, do recovery programs, learn skills. But the recidivism rate for inmates is high. The inmate begins to believe that they have been fixed, that they are not who they were and that life will all now be different. But the programs and the treatments have all happened in this controlled environment of prison. We can look back on our lives and see when or what we might have done differently, but this awareness does not alter the past and it doesn’t give a solution for the future.
The present is fluid. Real coping skills and behavior patterns are only found here and now. Just because you can grow plants in a greenhouse during the winter, does not mean that they would survive if you put them out in the cold. If you want to know if plants can grow outside in the winter, they have to be outside in the winter.
In 38 years of doing time, every time I’ve gotten out, I went back to doing what I was doing before I went in — and so does almost every other inmate that I have ever known. Doing time is punishment, not a cure. Real change doesn’t happen by being punished.
I believe in rehabilitation but it’s not a hard endpoint. True change and real rehabilitation is something you must constantly be doing. Recovery and reform are actions that can be started in prison but must be steadily carried on outside where life is more complicated. A hockey player might learn some things playing around with sticks and pucks in a gym but a hockey player gets better at playing hockey by playing hockey in a rink with skates. And then by playing more and more and more hockey.
This is why today when I hug Noah and say good-bye, I cry. I believe I have found a real friendship. I believe that our friendship will support both of us in our ongoing recovery and that it will help me continue to heal.
Noah is getting out.
The world is getting back a participant.
A mother gets back a son.
A daughter gets back a father.
Siblings get back a brother.
And I? I have gained a friend. And for me, that changes everything.