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Images courtesy of Jeffery Shockley

This story was originally published on June 7, 2021.

Dear Family and Friends,

You may be able to tell from the included picture that my dreadlocks are gone. Please do not be concerned about this drastic change. I am not seeking a new religion, nor have I lost a bet. Let me explain what happened. 

Around 2006, my hair was fashioned into dreadlocks and I kept it that way since it had become an easy identifier or a kind of signature. If another person asked about me, it was quickly said, “The guy with the long dreads.” Everyone knew me. 

Unofficially, I had the longest hair in the entire institution. It’s almost funny how now people have to take a second glance before they realize, “Ohhhh, you cut your dreads? I didn’t recognize you.”

The reason? How can I count them as they number more than a few? The main reason is that it was time for a change. There are situations we’ve gone along with for so long that we are no longer truly aware of them. They represent a certain captivity, like staying in a job or other commitment not because we enjoy it, but simply because it is what it is and we accept it as it is. We become so comfortable in our own captivity that nothing else, no matter the awesome possibilities, seems to matter beyond this thing that is. 

Some may say that doing time in prison is not that hard, at least in the age of corrections today. It certainly is not a physical challenge with threats of violence everyday, at least not to the same degree as it was back when there were only a few prisons in the state of Pennsylvania.

After some time here, especially with a life sentence, this becomes your world and you adapt. Some try to hold onto that something that sets them apart, that makes them different, if only in some minute sense. My hair became that thing. Call it a safety blanket.

Inside, we tend to be told what we can or cannot do, where, how, and what for. For my past actions, yes, it is fitting that I am here and that will never ever be disputed by me. 

But it was time for a change, to prepare for the next phase of this life.

In His Love,

Jeff Shockley

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.

Jeffery Shockley is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.