A careful study of the TRUE HISTORY of the United States leads us to a time when it was inhabited by the Native American, yet invaded by the European. Columbus discovered nothing. He was an alcoholic slave trader and a thug by all accounts. Once he got word to the European Aristocracy about this “new land”, they decided to empty the prisons in Europe and they sent the “dregs of society” to inhabit this country. That’s right! The land of the free began as a dumping ground for Europe’s prison population. America was “Europe’s Purge” and one big re-entry project.
You would think that since this great nation was founded by ex-cons that there would be more empathy for those coming out of prison after paying a debt to society. Instead, those entering into America’s so-called “Free World”, experience a life of indefinite discrimination, constitutional rights violations and third-class citizenship. They call it the free world, but if you have a criminal history, it’s just a prison with no bars. My heart bleeds for my sisters and brothers who can’t walk into the brightness of their future because society keeps reminding them of their past. Here are 10 points of encouragement for ex-offenders to consider.
1). HAVE A PLAN – If you come out of prison with no plan, you may as well have a plan to go back. American society is designed to limit opportunities for ex-offenders and ultimately send them back into the system. America is building prisons with the expectation that your frustration with “free world life” will lead you back into criminal behavior and ultimately into recidivism; going in and out of the revolving door of her penitentiaries. Every day behind bars should be spent carefully crafting a success plan. Once you’ve been released, it will take great focus and discipline to carry it out. But, if you can discipline yourself to follow the dictates of prison life, you can use that same discipline to execute a plan for your future. You can do it!
2). ENVIRONMENT – Once you have a plan, you must keep yourself in an environment that supports the manifestation of your vision. The same ole’ friends can sometimes encourage the same ole’ habits that invite into your life the same ole’ consequences. Place yourself in the midst of positive influences. Create a mastermind group. Make a pledge to hold one another accountable. Run with a circle that “keeps you on your square.” Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it by yourself. None of us can.
3). FAITH – I’ve seen many people find God in prison and drop Him off around the corner as soon as they get released. Big mistake. It’s easy to remain faithful to your spirituality while you are locked up, because there is not as much temptation as there is out here. What does this mean? If there is more temptation in the free world, you need God just as much (or more) out here than in jail. Feed your soul and your spirit. The worst form of poverty is poverty of the spirit.
4). TECHNOLOGY – Do everything within your power to close the technology gap. Depending on how long you were imprisoned, the world will have changed dramatically when you come home. You must learn to use computer programs, smart phones, apps, etc., if you are going to move forward in this age of information. Do not be intimidated by the digital age and don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get by without it. Many of the doors society closes in your face can be replaced or reopened if you learn to use modern technology. Some of the best teachers are children. Go digital as soon as you can. It’s the only way you will keep up out here.
5). GUILT – Do not allow your soul to be haunted by guilt. Guilt is a very dark place. Guilt, itself, is a prison. You cannot afford to let it ride your back and strip you of your self-confidence. If you’ve made a mistake in life and paid your debt to society, you have got to train your mind to move on. If you have hurt your loved ones, then you don’t have time to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. Get busy moving out on your plan. You have lost enough time already. There is none to waste feeling guilty. The best way to address the past is to create a better future. Get busy!
6). DO FOR SELF – I will be honest with you. There are not enough jobs out here for citizens with no criminal record; and there are even less for those with a criminal history. You must make a plan to make a job for yourself if you want job security. Many of our people get into trouble with the criminal justice system because they were engaged in illegal industry. This means there is a business mind at work. Simply, find another product and “legalize your hustle.” If they won’t hire you; hire yourself.
7). FAMILY – Be very patient with your family; especially your children. Rebuilding and repairing those relationships might be your biggest hurdle. Understand, this will take time and lots of energy, but have faith that it will work out. If you are blessed with a family who loves and encourages you despite your past, you should count your blessings. If not, still count them and work toward reconciliation with your loved ones.
8). SUBSTANCE ABUSE – The smart move for ex-offenders is to stay as far away from drugs as possible. Alcohol too. This is a trap and a gateway to a sure “U-turn” into the cell you just got out of. Keep your mind, body and spirit clear so that you can recognize opportunities and be ready to take advantage of them. If you have a history of substance abuse, make sure you check in with your sponsor or support group regularly. It is imperative that you stay focused. You can’t stay focused on reality if you are always trying to escape it through drugs and alcohol.
9). RE-ENTRY RESOURCES – I had the honor of serving as co-chair of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s transition committee on Criminal Justice. In the process, I learned of many re-entry programs designed to assist men and women trying to put their lives back together after an incarceration stint. Find these programs; see what they have to offer and take full advantage of the resources. Sometimes, obtaining what you need is a matter of resource information. The City of Houston has a program that assists in this way. (www.houstontx.gov)
10). HOLD YOUR HEAD – To believe in yourself costs you nothing. Failure to do so could cost you everything. The enemy wishes to discourage you by making you feel you are a third-class citizen because of your past. Some of the greatest men of our time spent time in prison. Your past does not define your future. Keep your head up.
(If you know someone in the re-entry process, please share this information with them. It could mean the difference between re-entry and recidivism. Thanks.)
Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based Activist/Author – www.dericmuhammad.com