In Four Part Harmony: Part 1 – Curves Ahead.

In July of 2019 I was thinking about two things. The first was how I felt about posting my last writing for this blog and wondering if it would be the last one forever. The second thing I was thinking about was the approach of my move to a halfway house.

Going back in time a bit, in February of 2019 my institution case manager explained that in December she would be submitting me for halfway house timing. The results of this request are two things: how much time you are awarded and where you will be placed. Hearing that I was coming to a change in life affected me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

The first thing I noticed was a change in how I reacted to my surroundings. What I hadn’t realized was how I had shut down my feelings about what I was experiencing. In essence, I had unknowingly moved into a “whatever happens I won’t react” mode. I would describe this as having numbed myself to my environment and those who populated it. After hearing about the prospects of moving to halfway house, which meant moving closer to home and into society, I found myself reawakening to the things happening around me and I began to feel emotions again. I also found that the ill behaviors and actions and words of those around me really irritated me as much as, or even more than, they had when I first arrived. Somewhere along the way I began blocking these things out. I suppose it was a defensive mechanism, but it allowed me to survive emotionally and psychologically. Feeling emotions again made life inside more challenging and burdensome.

In response to these changes and renewed irritants, I fell back upon my faith and my motto, “Joy In The Tribulation.” Admittedly, sometimes I found it hard to keep a positive attitude even using these. I repeatedly had to remind myself of my experiences upon arrival and the growth I had to go through {see Love Thy Enemy?! and The Road to Hell… ). Still, I am human and struggled with it all and with the emotion set that came alive.

Change is emotional.

Feeling again, even frustration or anger, was surprising and frankly a challenge unto itself. I wondered how people get through the day. I had to practice my coping skills even more often. I prayed a lot for myself and for those whose behaviors were less than desirable. It’s not for me to judge so I worked at accepting and reminding myself that not all of my behaviors are desirable to others. I worked to keep Matthew’s words in mind:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” [MT 7:1-4]

If I was going to set a standard for others, then I too must meet that standard and I knew I wasn’t, so instead I prayed for the health of all and asked God to know I was trying.

As time moved toward December, I found myself feeling an anxiety around leaving. Crazily, there were times I actually had the thought that staying in prison was preferable to living in the free world. After all, I had all of my basic needs met (sort of, kind of, maybe not) and a structured life which was essentially predictable. Also, I was accepted by most others and didn’t have to worry about someone finding out about my ‘crime and time.’ But I missed my wife, family and friends. I missed freedom. I missed having a purpose that helped fulfill my wife’s and family’s needs and gave back, in some small measure, to society.

Change is often a double-edged sword.

Stay or Go…Static or Changing…Scary or Joyful

Change is also a choice.

I Chose…GoChangingJoyful

When early December rolled around, I stepped into my case manager’s office and asked whether or not I needed to do anything in support of her submission of my halfway house request. She looked at me and said she’d already submitted the request and was awaiting a response. To say this stunned me would be an understatement. My internal reaction was not something I had anticipated. I was speechless for a moment. I doubt it was long enough for the case manager to notice but it was clear to me I was silent longer than I would normally be. Suddenly what had felt almost imaginary became real.

My case manager then went on to say that the halfway house organization had 60 days to respond which meant I would know something in late January. I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief because I “had time.” Time for what? I have no idea. It was yet another odd emotion I experienced. Looking back, I suppose the relief was grounded in fears developing within me concerning moving back into family life and society. It was a feeling that what I faced was somewhere out in the future and had just been delayed which meant the strength I would need wasn’t going to be needed quite so soon.

Change can be a snowball

………………rolling………………

downhill.

Remember how I said I was told I’d hear something in late January? Not so much.

On January 8th, I was called into the secretary’s office. This typically feels the way you felt when you were called into the principal’s office in school.  When I walked in, the secretary began placing paperwork in front of me for my signature. Then she pulled out an ink pad, asked me to place my thumb on it and to then place my thumbprint on one of the forms in front of me. I did this in a kind of fog of confusion. These things are required when the inmate is leaving the institution which in my case meant halfway house. She kept saying, “you’re so short we need to hurry through this.”

So, I asked, “do you know when I leave?”

She looked at me in surprise and said, “hasn’t your case manager told you?”

“Told me what?” I inquired.

She signed a heavy sigh and said,

“You’re leaving February 4th.”

I immediately began to cry. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t talk. Emotions exploded within me. I was unable to respond or sign my name. My vision became hazy. Sounds crazy, right? Thankfully she was very kind and said, “good news, right?”

February 4th…just 27 days from January 8th. I had less than a month to go until I finally moved forward. I walked out of her office shaking – literally shaking. I made a decision. I decided I would not tell anyone, other than my family, that I was leaving on February 4th. There are many reasons to keep it confidential; not the least of which is there are people who will purposely try to cause you an issue to keep you in prison longer. Another reason is people begin to prey upon you in terms of asking for your belongings and for you to buy them things, etc. Finally, it causes stress in others when they know someone else is leaving and they are not.

When February 2nd arrived, I began telling people I was leaving in two days. Everyone was happy for me. Some expressed sadness that they weren’t able to put together a going away party, but I didn’t want one. Parties are double-edged swords too when you think about them. They celebrate BOTH the way you were and the way you will become. Celebrating the way I was – in prison – seemed wrong. No one should celebrate having been in prison. [An aside: without his knowing, I did secretly celebrate my leaving by making and sharing a pizza bowl with one of my better acquaintances in my housing unit. He had expressed an interest in the pizza bowls I made and had commented that he’d like me to teach him how to make them and to have my recipe for the sauce. Well, the recipe I had for the sauce was “secret” and I used that secret to sell sauce I made to others. It made me a small amount of money but what the heck, you know? The night of February 3rd, I gave him the recipe. Anyway, I get off track…]

Those 27 days went by in a blur. I cleaned out my locker and gave away everything I owned except what I knew I could take to the halfway house or what I wanted to go home. In essence, I kept nothing. I had worked with the secretary to arrange for my wife to pick me up at the prison and so I even sold all my clothing with the exception of a pair of shorts and a single tee-shirt because my wife was bringing jeans, a flannel shirt and my winter jacket, after all, it was February.

When I went to bed the night of the 3rd, I hoped I’d sleep okay. Nope. I was awake all night. I kept thinking about how I was going to leave with my wife unlike saying goodbye to her when she left after a visitation day. I tried to re-imagine what it was like to be outside the fence looking at the world in all its wonders without the crisscross pattern of the fence and razor wire on top framing my every view. And what was it like to see stars again? What was it like to walk among people who weren’t dressed in khaki colored uniforms? What was it like to interact with people of less extreme personalities? What was it like to talk with people who weren’t working their own agenda in every conversation? What was it like to once again sleep next to another person? Would there be things of prison I would take home and leave unchanged? What would it be like to NOT wait in line to use the toilet or to NOT have to wear flip flops into the shower or to NOT have to walk 700 feet through pouring rain and driving snow to get a cold meal on a tray after standing in line for ten minutes? The “what” list was so long! My adopted life was going away and what was my old world, but now new again to me, was returning – and quickly.

After a restless night I sat on the edge of my bunk and took a breath and prayed. I thought about what I’d suffered, endured, and persevered through and I was reminded of these words:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

[Ps 30:5]

I’ll tell you all about the first leg of my trip home in the next posting. Till then, be well.

~jdoe

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