Inside the mind of an inmate awaiting parole, there is extreme conflict.
There is more to worry about than re-entry services like housing, food and clothing. There are expectations placed upon you when returning home from prison from your family and community — whether that be gang ties or old school buddies. And there are expectations from parole and probation officers.
Oftentimes, though, these diverge from the way that you see yourself or want to be recognized when you return to the community. And herein lies one of the greatest difficulties of parole.
What to expect upon parole
As someone who’s been paroled before, take it from me: Everyone will first analyze you for damage. People expect that when you come from prison you should appear hard and callous.
They expect to see a big, muscle-bound man bearing tattoos all over his body. One of the first things new parolees must do when they meet their parole agent is to strip so the agent can take pictures of your prison tattoos.
The agent, as a matter of course, will expect you to be affiliated with a gang and will document that affiliation. In my experience, if you are Black, even if you have no tattoos or connection to a gang, you get typecast this way by default.
Next, your agent will tell you your parole conditions: prohibition on alcohol, for example, or mandatory drug-testing requirements.
The whole process is unfair from the beginning. And it continues even when you leave the office and finally get to spend time with family.
They do the same thing. They will want to ask questions about prison, and will treat you with high regard for the fact that you have been to prison and come home successfully. You will be looked upon as a hero. They will glorify the exact behaviors you have learned to avoid.
The moment they recognize that your mentality and that your lifestyle has changed is the moment you will lose respect.
What awaits me when I’m out
I come from a society of people where ignorance is praised, rage is normal and anything less is weak. My own family and friends expect that I will return home a hardened criminal. My parole agent expects me to be hardened too, when in reality I’ve worked hard in prison to become human.
I’ve learned to think before I speak and listen while others speak. I’ve learned the value of life and why it’s not okay to victimize others. I’ve learned empathy and forgiveness.
My mentality has changed, and because of that, I will be alone upon parole. I have friends who will embrace me only if I continue to live in madness, but who needs friends like that?
Of course, I’ll need all the basic support like housing. Even though I don’t want to live around other people on parole or recovering addicts, these are likely my only options. The reality is that I must choose the lesser of the evils. There are plenty of people willing to assist me, but it all comes with a cost. Everyone has a suggestion for the guy on parole. Everyone wants to tell you what to do, where you should look next and who you should be.
People fail to realize that I have had years to visualize a plan. I know exactly what I want to do, who I want to be and where I should look for help.
Everyone has an idea for me that goes against my own personal goals. The parole agent may want me to take anger management and mental health classes during the day, while I had planned to go back to school to learn a trade.
I am mentally preparing myself for parole. I have been paroled plenty of times, but never with this new, improved mentality. Given my personal experiences, I now have the ability to foresee challenges. I am excited to be getting out of prison.
I am also aware that this is when the real test begins.
I look forward to the challenge. For me, the pressure comes from being a father and getting to know my children again while maintaining focus, not giving into their requests nor the requests of their mother if it will set me astray. The challenge is to be true to myself while showing my children, my parole agent, my family and my community that I am not a statistic. I am a survivor. And I will not be defined by my past or by other people.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.