A journey home is worth the telling…
…join me and lend an ear.
As anticipated, the 17 hours I spent on the bus were incredibly cold and uncomfortable. February 4th was a tough day weather-wise. But I made it to the halfway house at the appointed time. My wife met me there and gave me all of the things she’d packed for me including jeans and a flannel shirt. She’s a true Earthly Angel!
Some history for my move to the halfway house: On January 8, 2020, I was told I would be going to the halfway house in the city NEXT to my hometown and not to the facility IN my hometown. I couldn’t understand why since the intent is for the inmate to get a job and get off of the BOP’s “payroll” and begin the reintegration into society. This placement would put me 45 minutes from home which would mean any job I found would require a long commute. This seemed counterproductive but I had no choice except to turn down halfway house in total and I wasn’t about to do that!
After arriving at the halfway house, my on-site case manager asked why I was there instead of the facility in my hometown. I looked at him in a way that said, “how the heck should I know?” Two weeks later he asked if I’d like him to put in for a transfer to the location near home. I told him I’d like to think about it for a day. Why?
Change creates discomfort.
One reason leaving prison caused me discomfort was I had created a life there. I had a predictable existence with structure and days that were planned and repetitive. Arrival at the halfway house required me to create a new life and in the two weeks I’d been there, I did. I found a guy to hang around with and I had integrated into the workings of the facility. I had an assigned job cleaning the bathrooms and a daily, structured schedule. Suddenly, I was faced with the closing of another life and the need to create a third in less than a month AND knowing that upon leaving the halfway house I’d have to build my life in the outside world. After thinking about it, and reading scripture around it, I decided to move forward with the transfer request. I figured that if the Israelites could spend all those years moving about then I could stand the moves I was experiencing.
When I agreed to the transfer request, the case manager told me it would take three to four weeks to get it done. I breathed a sigh of relief that change was somewhere in the distance. That was February 17th.
Change sometimes happens in the blink of an eye.
The next day, February 18th, at 3:45pm, I was told I was transferring to the second halfway house later that day; that I needed to be there by 6:00pm but that it was desired I be ready to go by 4:30pm so transport could be provided by the halfway house. I stood and laughed. My case manager laughed too. Three weeks? He said he was surprised at the quick timing, but the halfway house in my hometown had an opening and he wanted to fill it before they took in someone else. I asked if my wife could transport me and he said sure as long as it could be arranged such that I was in the new location by 6:00pm. My wife made it happen.
Upon arrival at the second, local halfway house, I was asked why I was there. Seems the on-duty staff had no idea they were going to receive a new resident. Consequently, neither a room nor a bed was available,
Change for you can surprise others.
To their credit, the staff ran around rearranging bed assignments and got me into a room. This created hard feelings in other residents. The issue was I needed two things: 1) a bottom bunk because I have seizures and 2) I had to be placed in a “Fed” room with other Federal residents (these locations serve both Federal and State offenders). In the end, they had to move me into a “State” room after moving an individual in that room to an upper bunk. Thus, the hard feelings created. I was told not to get too comfy in the room as I would be moved to a “Fed” room within the next few days. I left all of my belongings packed in the duffel bag my wife had provided. Well, a few days turned into a few weeks and eventually they turned the “State” room I was in into a “Fed” room. I never did unpack my duffel.
Before moving forward with my tale, a little more detail about what this halfway house truly is. It is actually termed a “Parole Enhancement” facility. That is, they provide a smoother transition from prison to your parole period. In addition, they also provide drug rehab for State offenders who are assigned to rehab in lieu of being sentenced to prison. State offenders are required to complete a 90-day period that includes courses with workbooks, called “Reentry to Society Skills” programming and finding employment. The facility also requires this same programming/employment rule for State and Federal offenders coming out of prison. Those coming out of prison all have different timing though the State people are encouraged to meet the 90-day schedule. Federal people are there until they move to home confinement or their actual sentence ends, whichever comes first.
Now, what is Reentry to Society Skills programming? Reentry to Society Skills programming consists of courses with workbooks for individual study These courses are focused on helping you to change your thoughts and behaviors through CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) methods. In essence, you are challenged to consider how the way you thought and behaved in the past lead to your imprisonment and then you are shown ways to change your thinking and behavior patterns. As you are challenged concerning your past thoughts/behaviors you are “forced” to see that you were solely responsible and accountable for the outcome and that you must accept responsibility for your actions. Then, you are “forced” to see how changing those patterns can lead to a fuller, happier, more productive life in which you have healthy relationships and are unlikely to reoffend. I decided to view this as an opportunity. I also decided I needed to make my time productive and to mean something beyond being in a “wait state.”
While in prison, I made it my purpose to help others. I did this by providing help to those seeking some form of education whether it be their GED, a college degree or just improving interpersonal communications. Having a purpose is existential for me and as such, I needed to find a purpose in the halfway house. My purpose found its way to me in the form of two learning disabled State residents who needed help with their Reentry to Society Skills programming. These two individuals had difficulties with reading, reading comprehension, spelling and grammar, attention span, staying on task, controlling anger, organization of thoughts and words and mental illness manifestations. To say working with them was a challenge would be an understatement. Thankfully, God has given me patience and I was “encouraged” to use this gift.
It was interesting how I met the first guy who I will call Sam. Sam and I along with about five others were sitting in the TV room on Sam’s first day at the facility. He and I were at opposite ends of the room, so we were about 30 feet apart. Suddenly Sam blurts out a question in which he wondered how he went about getting someone on staff to help him get his medications refilled. He just shouted this out to the room in general. No one even turned to look at him, so I took it upon myself to answer his question. I could tell my answer was not satisfactory because he said, “leave me alone, I don’t want your help. Just stay out of my business. You’re not telling me anything helpful.” I took a breath and replied, “I’m willing to help if you’d like to talk.” Again, he said, “stay out of my business, I don’t want your help.” Honestly, I got frustrated and said, “look, you asked the question and I answered. I can’t help that you don’t like the way things work here. If you don’t want help, don’t ask for it.” He stood up, mumbled some obscenities, and left the room. It was an upsetting interaction, and everyone looked at me and made comments like, “the guy’s nuts,” and, “what an a—hole,” etc.
Anyone who truly knows me knows that I really don’t like the kind of exchange I had with Sam. I feel as though I need to somehow make it better but while in prison, I learned that making it better usually makes it worse. I decided to let it ride but that I would not treat him badly when encountering him. Afterall, we were all in a state of transition and as I wrote earlier, change causes discomfort.
The following morning, Sam and I were in line to get our medications and he walked up, asked me how I was doing and apologized for his outburst. Frankly, I was surprised but I was thankful too. I introduced myself, told him it was no problem, that I held no ill feelings and that I was open to helping him if he needed help. I also welcomed him and asked if he’d like to have breakfast together. And so a strange acquaintanceship was formed.
Over the next few days Sam was told about the programming he would have to complete. He freaked out. He came into the TV room openly and loudly complaining, again to no one in particular, about how doing the programming was, “stupid,” and, “bulls—t,” and he wasn’t going to do it (I later learned he’d been through this program three times previously so he felt he shouldn’t have to do the programming again – I gently reminded him that it had apparently not worked previously and so maybe he should take it more seriously this time – but more on that later).
About a week later Sam came to me and observed that I seemed to enjoy doing the workbooks and that it appeared I did it well. I thanked him and asked how his workbooks were coming along. He looked at me for a moment and said, “can I ask you a question?” I said of course. He looked down at the floor and said, “I can’t read very well, and I can barely write.” That was it. That was all he said. Silence settled on us.
Change comes to all who seek it.
The thoughts that went through my head were of the people I’d helped in prison and how alike Sam was to them. My first reaction was to offer help but given Sam’s response to my attempt on his first day, alarms went off in my head. I paused a bit too long in responding and Sam turned and started to walk away. I stopped him and asked if he’d like help doing his workbooks. He stood with his back to me and said, “that would be great,” and he left the room. What was I to do next? Was I to pursue him, or would he approach me? Once again, I felt I was to lead and take the next step. And so began a relationship I found to be rewarding. Turns out Sam is a kind and funny man who battles ADHD and mental illness. I had a heck of a time keeping him on task. Consequently, when he dropped off into various rabbit holes, I heard his life story and learned a great deal about who he is and what he wants out of life. At his core, he’s no different from you and me. He wants happiness and family and friends. We talked at great length about how he needed to get certain aspects of his thoughts and behaviors under control. These were frank and honest talks in which I was pretty direct about how his behaviors affected me. These discussions were the impetus for Sam to pursue changes in his medications. This effort transformed him! As he worked on the medications and getting the dosages right, he became calmer and kinder and more thoughtful. We became “friends” in a way that I suppose only prisoners and cruise ship vacationers can relate to. Anyway, he completed all of the courses successfully and was discharged from the facility ten days early. I think of him occasionally and wonder if he’s made the needed changes. I hope so. Everyone deserves a decent life.
The second guy I helped, Al, came to me through one of the staff members. Al had asked this staff member if he would help him with his workbooks because he had issues with reading and writing. The staff member commented that I had helped Sam and maybe I’d be willing to help Al too. Again, I was sitting in the TV room and Al walked up and sat across the table from me. He asked about the help I’d given Sam and if I would help him too. He was even bold enough to offer me money to complete his workbooks for him because he could see how much I “enjoyed doing them.” I laughed and offered help but told him straight up that I expect the people I help to put in the time and effort required to complete the work and if they don’t, I walk. He sat and thought about it for a few minutes. After a time, he agreed and wanted to know when we could start. We started that same day.
Al was very different from Sam. Al was able to stay on task but his reading and writing skills were much lower than Sam’s. I asked Al if he’d like to use this as an opportunity to improve these skills while completing the programming and to my surprise he said yes. Thus, we embarked on a journey that tested both of us. He would quickly and easily become frustrated when he wasn’t mastering something quickly and he’d say things like, “see, I’m just dumb. I’ve never been good at this stuff.” I’d have to put on my Armor of Patience and remind him that everyone puts in some level of effort and that it has less to do with intelligence and more to do with commitment to one’s self. He’d get up and walk away but I learned that in five minutes he’d be back. I do think his reading improved and I know his writing improved because I could see this over time as he completed the workbooks. We never became “friends’ but we did spend time together.
The things these two men had in common included dropping out of school at 16, never getting their GED, coming from highly dysfunctional homes, parents who used drugs and spent time in prison, being financially disadvantaged growing up, lack of preventative medical care, drugs and alcohol and the resulting mental illness. However, they also share diligence and a desire to have a different life. They seemed genuine in these expressions and I do hope they are well and living the new life they were seeking.
Change can happen beyond our vision.
Back to my journey home. Every Federal resident in a halfway house has a “home confinement eligibility date.” This is the date at which the inmate can move from living in the halfway house to living at home. My date was April 7. When I spoke about home confinement with my case manager she told me that even though I was eligible to move home on April 7th, it wouldn’t happen until late May due to restrictions written into the contract between the halfway house and the BOP (remember how I said the BOP wasn’t done taking bites out of me?) concerning the number of people placed on home confinement at the same time. The BOP limits each halfway house to no more than six at a time. It’s also a first come – first served system so I would have to wait until my turn came. My arrival date of February 4 determined my place on the priority list. February 4 translated to late May. While it was better than my October 7 final incarceration date it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Once again, I put on my Armor of Patience.
Change: sometimes curse and blessing combined.
As we all know, COVID-19 is best controlled through limiting exposure to others and social distancing. Places like halfway houses aren’t built or populated to minimize exposure or provide social distancing. Staff is rotating, residents are going to work or other outings and you’re housed in rooms with two, three or more roommates. You are literally never six feet away from another person. Given this, the BOP instructed the halfway house to move all qualifying Federal residents to home confinement. When my case manager told me on April 2nd that I was going home the following week, I cried. Like my case manager at the prison, my current case manager said, “good news, right?” All I could do was nod my head and say, “I miss my wife.” It took a few minutes to regain my composure and listen to the details of the restrictions on living at home. Then she placed a couple of documents in front of me to sign and it was done. Note: she DID NOT take my fingerprints!
And so it is, I arrived home on April 7, 2020, where my heart has always been. Coincidentally, April 7 was my original home confinement date! I wish I could express what it feels like to live with my wife again and to have family and friends back in my life; the English language is lacking. I was released from the halfway house at noon on the 7th. Since my wife had moved while I was incarcerated, I had no idea where I was going or what our house was like. Thankfully, I have a Garmin and was able to follow its guidance home. When I pulled up in front of our home I stopped and took a breath. Seeing my wife at the front door waiting for me was one of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve ever had. Home truly is where the heart is and my heart is anywhere my wife is.
Change can bring you home.
Following are links to two songs connected with my feelings about coming home. These songs ran through my head as I was driving home on April 7th.
The first is a campy Elvis Presley song from his movie “Kid Galahad.” As it is with many of his movie love songs, it’s sappy and brief and the words are simplistic BUT it has been with me since I was a kid.
This next link is to Gordon Lightfoot’s song titled “Fine as Fine Can Be.” Of the song, Lightfoot wrote: “Dedicated to my daughter Ingrid, who…has given me two grandchildren. “ It’s really a lullaby, however the first time I heard it, all I could think of was my wife.
Coming up in the last installment of this series: God’s hand…and His words…in bringing me home.
Till we meet next week; be well, be blessed and be content for He is with you always.