The following is a speech from January 2015 that the writer gave at the first graduation of the re-entry program at Liberty Correctional Institution in Florida, for which he was on the curriculum committee.
In a place like prison there is no dearth in faltering and malfunctioning men.
The malfunctioning man is the man who does not operate in accordance with the purpose of his design. To the same degree his approach to life is contrary and in conflict to what’s required of him.
Let us agree that there is no such thing as a born wretch. That no womb ever debuted the face of deplorability. That every man’s life was granted by our life source with the general intention of proper function.
So what gives rise to the malfunction?
He has internalized an image or version of himself that is alien to his original intention and design. He has lost sight, grown blind and forgotten that stabilizing truth about who he is.
Ignorance is his malfunction.
He needs to encounter some apparatus instituted for the purpose of addressing his dilemma and produce a functional citizen.
But make no mistake about it; re-entry by itself is no magic wand or panacea. Re-entry ultimately presents a man with a golden opportunity; an opportunity to pivot out of a destructive life cycle into a healthy and successful direction.
From anger management to victim impact to transition and release planning, this is accomplished through a variety of classes designed to develop skills, strengthen character and create comprehensive plans that won’t guarantee a flawless life with no difficulties, but will fortify and equip him with the knowledge, information and tools to persevere and progress through the many storms and seasons in life as an ex-con.
You can recite the correct answers; you can know right from wrong and know all the felicitous responses and yet still remain unconvinced that any real amending to yourself is necessary. And here is where Liberty Correctional Institution’s re-entry program excels.
After being interviewed and accepted into the program, the participant is brought into the Re-Entry Dormitory and immersed in an environment modeled to represent a microcosm reflecting the attitudes and accepted norms of an ideal community in society.
You can’t escape it. And one’s supposed ingeniously hidden malfunction and issues will find him out. Out of all the devices used by man to advance humanity, in my opinion, all pale in comparison to the mirror! The mirror precludes a man from lying to himself. The mirror is analogous to the environment of our community. When confronted with oneself, there are no more viable excuses and there is nowhere else to run to.
I don’t mean to oversimplify, but do you know why recidivism is so high in many places? Because many men are retreating back to these hiding places, when the world requires that they produce their true selves and they can’t.
So once a man is brought to the mirror and glimpses his true state and condition, meaningful transformation can take place. He can begin to apply what is being taught in re-entry at that very moment and in that very community.
Now the participants’ eye begins to perceive the correct and real image of self and begins to accept all that that image implies.
A sense of direction and purpose rises within him. For these men, the only way to leave prison isn’t to just walk out when their time is up. It’s to outgrow it. It’s to become that image, in mind and heart. That’s so in such contrast and so incommensurate with prison that the very scope and concept of prison can no longer contain him.
Free of debilitating malfunction, free from wire fences and free to live the way his Designer intended.
On a personal note: I was in the middle of my freshman year in college when I was locked up. I had just turned 19 years old. Tomorrow I will turn 34. Many of my friends from back home in New York have graduated and started careers or gotten married and started families. My parents are at that age where I should be doing more for them than they do for their son.
And I’ve seen too many men come and go and come again to this place, squandering the core meaning the rubric of grace is rooted in … a second chance!
But what good is a second chance if you won’t do right by it? Or don’t know how to?
Do you know how many men I’ve encountered who have told me, “If only I had someone to show me and teach me, way back when, what I’ve only recently realized.”
As a facilitator in this re-entry program I have the opportunity to be that person, that voice, and that impetus that comes before, not after, that man’s second chance passes him by.
Because just like how only the loving heart can cherish a love returned, and just as only the seriously ill can understand what a healthy recovery really means and represents, only the reformed man with new vision can truly appreciate a second chance.
Men of re-entry, the man sitting on your left or your right may or may not be that man.
But, if you really want to find that man, and have it within you to stop at nothing until you do, all you have to do is look in the mirror.
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.