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I write this with tears streaming down my face, a contrite heart and a hopeful spirit. Divided from loved ones, devoid of freedoms, downgraded in the caste system of society. My actions — my own actions — put me in this position. There is not a day that goes by that I do not lament this, not because of the pain of incarceration, or because I ought to, but because of a fundamental failure on my part to live up to my own values.

I have had to learn the hard way, and learn I did. Before my incarceration, I earned an MBA, but my greatest education came in prison through self-education and through my peers. I made prison my university: partaking in a treatment program and introspection; devouring books by history’s greatest leaders; examining mathematical formulas, scientific concepts, foreign languages and spiritual pursuits. No genre was off limits as I traversed the world one subject at a time, sometimes while lying down on a balled-up jacket — which I used as a pillow — or while debating my peers though the cold metal bars of my cell. I kept up with learning to liberate my mind and to invest in myself, hoping that one day I could use this knowledge for good.

The use of such knowledge to help others invigorates my heart and has given me my daily bread, enriched by the ingredients of hope and purpose. At the beginning of my incarceration, I went almost three years without a visit. What helped comfort me was the thought that somehow, if I worked hard enough, my fingertips could one day touch those of my fellow human beings in a spirit of harmony and dignity. Enveloped by loneliness, surrounded by chaos, overrun by anguish, I thought to myself, “Maybe, just maybe, one day…”

I am overjoyed to say that day — the day of my release — is coming soon. All that I have learned, been through, beaten myself up about, cried about, written to silent audiences about, is coming to a conclusion. 

These sentiments are countered by the headwinds of a society that is still reluctant to give a second chance, that still sees a person through the lens of the past, ambivalent to the supplications of a person humbled by his experiences. Yes, people can change, especially when they’ve encountered a life-altering experience.

But now what? Where do I work? Where do I live? How can I give and contribute? How can I soar above the ever-prevailing stigma of being a formerly incarcerated person? 

All I can do is take a leap of faith into the sea of humanity and say, “I’m here. Can you please help me?” This leap is scary. Some will be willing and some will just turn their backs, but I will make the leap anyway — believing that the basic nature of people is that of good. I want to use all that I have learned and experienced and be a productive member of society. I am hungry to make a difference, knowing that in this world, all of our destinies are ultimately intertwined.

I know that my debt to society and to my loved ones is not paid back simply because of the years I did in prison, but is a debt paid back through perpetual acts of human decency, love and compassion. All I ask for is a chance.

 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Paul Grossman

Paul Grossman is a writer incarcerated in Marcy, New York.