FEATURE STORIES

The Re-entry Chronicles


by Belinda C.
June 2008

 

In these “The Re-entry Chronicles,” writer Belinda C. details her personal experiences with re-entering society after her 20-year incarceration in prison. Ms. C. was released from Franklin Pre-Release Center (FPRC) prison in Columbus, Ohio on June 12, 2008, and now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. A 2007 graduate of The Psychology of Incarceration program in FPRC, she has already become a mentor and encouragement to a group of women she has met.


6/29/08

Wow! What a ride this has been so far. I have been out for 17 days and with the exception of not having found a job, life is great! A few days ago I was very frustrated about the job situation. I have been diligently seeking employment. But to no avail. It’s one thing to be turned away. But it’s a whole other ballgame when you’re turned away because of the nature of your offense. Nowadays, it’s not impossible for a felon to get a job. But it’s harder for those of us who have violent crimes attached to our felony.

The most difficult thing for me to accept is that the wreckage of my past has so much influence on my future. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago. But, like I said earlier, I’ve only been out for 17 days. I’ve been concentrating on the possibility of someone being compassionate toward me. But I realize that I need to be patient with myself. God didn’t bring me this far to leave me. And if I don’t know anything else, I know that I can count on Him.


7/1/08

Today, I obtained my birth certificate and got the first state I.D. I’ve ever had. It was hard for the clerk to believe that, at 43-years old, I had never had an I.D. before. I wondered whether if I had told her I had been in prison for 20 years it would have made a difference.

I’m really excited about tomorrow. I start looking for a job again. Perhaps I’m a little delusional. But there’s just something about being able to show my state I.D. as opposed to my “release” I.D. that makes me feel a little more confident. At the same time, I feel like I’m hiding something. I don’t like that feeling. Someday I’ll be able to just be me – prison record and all.


7/2/08

Usually I write at the end of the day. But this morning I just feel so grateful. I’m thinking about my first day out. It was wonderfully bittersweet. Donna sat there with me [at FPRC] and cried when the Corrections Officer made her go back to her dorm. Jessie snuck up there to see me off. It broke my heart to leave her behind. I put these jeans on and my new beginning felt so real. I don’t know how many years it had been since I wore real clothes. It was scary when I walked out the door. As soon as I saw Michelle, I urged her to help me with my things. I just wanted to go as quickly as possible! Michelle and Dot were so happy for me.

And then I saw my brother. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. We spotted each other at the same time. We both jumped out of the vehicles we were in and just held each other and cried. Veronica took pictures. It was so emotional. We went to eat breakfast and Veronica took me shopping. I was so excited. Roni made sure I had everything I needed. Then it was off to my mom’s house.

Wow. I’ll never forget what that was like. My mom held me so tight for about ten minutes and wouldn’t let go. She kissed me and touched me and looked at me. It was surreal. My little brother could barely contain himself. He hugged me and with a quivering voice he whispered in my ear, saying, “Sis, I just died when you left.” I get emotional every time I think about it.

My daughter came to visit me the following Saturday. She is so beautiful. Our visit was a little awkward, but it didn’t take long before we were talking and laughing and enjoying each other. It was the same way when I first saw my son after my release.

But now, I can actually feel that, even after all these years, my babies don’t just love me, they still need me.

Everybody keeps telling me that my little brother and my son are doing so good now that I’m home. If my presence makes a difference for them, I can’t do anything but thank God for that. They must sense Him in me. Thank you, Jesus. With my whole heart, I thank you. 


7/2/08  p.m.

Well, Jeff called today with great news. Ivie wanted to talk to me. I called her [about work] and we have a meeting scheduled for this coming Thursday. God is good! I believe I’m going to be working very soon! Praise the Lord!


7/3/08

Today was a day filled with temptation. I saw an old friend for the first time in over 20 years. And he is still as handsome as ever. We had a wonderful time together. But I can see how easily it would be to get distracted. Sometimes – well, oftentimes – God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. I’m not saying that God would hurt me – but, I broke my foot after seeing him. Talk about luck! Now I’m down for at least three weeks. Can’t look for a job or anything for awhile. But, I can hang out with God. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


7/4/08

My first 4th of July out. It’s rainy and I’m not allowed to go anywhere. My foot isn’t hurting too badly right now. But, even if it was I definitely wouldn’t take the narcotics that were prescribed for me. A friend will be bringing me some Ibuprofen a little later. That’s safe for me. All I need is to get hooked on pain pills and start this addiction all over again. I don’t think so.

Life is challenging out here, though. It’s easy to “be good” in prison. But when you’re out in this big “free” world, the choices are often difficult to consider. There are only two choices for me, though: life or death. I choose life.


7/6/08

Yesterday was by far the worst day I’ve had since I got out. My son and daughter, along with all four of my grandchildren, came to visit me and things didn’t go very well. A very bad argument transpired between my children and it turned really ugly very quickly. I was so embarrassed and so hurt. There was nothing I could do to contain the situation. I indulged in self-pity, along with blaming myself for what happened. But that didn’t last very long, because I know that I am not responsible for who my adult children are or what they do.

I know that my being in prison for so long had a tremendously negative impact on their lives. But after a while, every person has to take responsibility for himself or herself. I hate the relationship between my children. All I can do is be who I am now and love and respect them no matter what. At the same time, I will continue to be true enough to myself as to not subject myself to undue treatment regardless of who it is that is dishing it out.

I am so grateful for all the things that I learned while I was in prison. And I appreciate more than ever the words Khalil [Osiris] spoke to me. He said: “It’s important to get out of prison. But more importantly than that is getting well.” If I hadn’t begun the journey of getting well in prison, I would still be trying to get free even though I’m out. I thank God for the strength to be able to embrace it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It just is what it is.


7/10/08

Feelings aren’t necessarily facts. But everyone is entitled to his or her feelings regardless of how those feelings might affect other people. There is only one Truth. Everything in between is perception. Today the sky looks pale blue. Yet it looks powder blue to my child. Who’s right? Is she right or am I right? We both are. It’s not about being right or wrong. We have taken the same situation and managed to view it in totally different ways. Her view breaks my heart. But I can’t do anything but respect how she feels. At the same time, I have to remember to honor my own feelings. I embrace me. Good, bad, and ugly. And I continue on this unending journey and I believe that someday we will be able to agree, even if it means to disagree.


7/11/08

What do you do when someone you love is someone whom you don’t really know? A Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde whose life you feel is in danger? What do you do when you know that intervening can mean death? Do you take the chance that just maybe things will blow over and ignore the elephant in the room? What do you do when blood is supposed to be thicker than water, and your blood constantly violates another? I love him so much. And I don’t want to lose him to prison or the grave. But, she doesn’t deserve that. And I don’t want to see her in prison or in the grave. So – what do you do?


7/12/08

God is good! Today has been a great day. I went to the “women’s issues” group and was able to impact several peoples’ lives. I count it as such a blessing that God works through me to get a message to others. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to help someone. In fact, doing so helps me more than it helps them. One young lady asked me to be her mom today. Wow! How do you respond to that? All I know is that blood truly is thicker than water. Jesus’ blood covers us all. And I am willing to be a mom, a sister, an aunt or a friend to anyone who needs me. That’s the way it is supposed to be.