As a person who has been incarcerated and spent a couple years in TDC, I have an automatic mark against me. I am a felon. Everything from being disqualified for enlisting in the military or for benefits like food stamps or public assistance in housing are denied a felon living in Texas. I have worked hard and I don’t feel it is necessarily holding me back today, but it most definitely has an affect on me and my family in some form or fashion. There are plenty of jobs and positions I cannot even consider due to this label of felon. It doesn’t do any good to complain or feel like I got the short end. After all, it’s pretty much my own actions and choices that landed me in that position. I would never play the “it’s not fair” card anyway, because life isn’t fair. And, in this case, it’s just the way the law reads so it’s the consequences of my actions and nothing to do with fairness. The only thing I can do is to keep doing the next right thing. I just need to keep working hard, keep providing the best I can for my wife and children, and keep trusting that with time I will erase as best I can any stigma that being a felon holds. I figure if I keep up the way I am going, there should come a day that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I once made some stupid mistakes.
The main thing I try to remember is how sweet my freedom is, and how I would really hate to lose any of it at this time in my life. I wish I had a bottle of the pure awesome feeling I had the day I walked out those TDC doors. It is something you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t been locked up and stripped bare of all their rights and freedoms. And it’s something a lot of us felons do start to forget. Life gets easy, or life gets hard, or life gets boring – whatever – just something makes us start to lose our gratefulness and let’s a seed of bad thinking into our head. That’s the danger. It’s important that every one of us who did some time and now walks free never allows themselves to forget. Don’t forget those shitty days and nights stuck in a shitty, overcrowded, stinking, loud, and dirty hell called TDC. Don’t forget being mentally and physically challenged in ways that made you a little more afraid than you would like to admit. Don’t forget how achingly lonely you could be, wishing to hear just a word from someone you left behind at home. Don’t forget.
Having said that, it is my opinion that it’s time for some changes in the way we treat those arrested for drug charges. Not dealing, but personal possession. There are far too many folks just like myself that have a felony record because they messed around with drugs and got caught. I have a guess there is an equal number of people who messed around with the same drugs but didn’t get caught.
Once a person convicted of a drug crime gets home, they might already have other factors working against them like no family support or living arrangements that are unstable and somehow they just never get it together after that first stint doing time. They end up being part of the recidivism revolving door. I don’t have the answers. I don’t think it’s as simple as just shipping every one off to rehab because I personally went to rehab a bunch of times, and I can’t say it got me straight. But the fact that the US has the absolute highest percent of incarcerated individuals tells you something. Our system needs a major over-haul. Maybe the fact that Obama himself visited a federal prison a few months back is a good sign. It’s the first time any acting president has done so. Here’s to a good year in 2016, folks. If you have a loved one who is incarcerated, keep the faith. If you were once incarcerated yourself, don’t let yourself forget. And if you are somehow engaged in activities that might end with you locked up – take my advise and just quit now. Whatever you are doing, it’s not worth it, really.