Update APRIL 10, 2021: Many things in my life have changed since I wrote Electronic Chain over two years ago after I finally completed a 420-month federal prison sentence. That day was a long-time coming and one I often wondered if I would live long enough to see as a free man.
When I look at the photo that I took of Dismas Charities in Atlanta, Georgia, on the day of my release, I am reminded of the times I had to have permission to walk out the doors and through the gates to walk down the street to catch a bus to go to an approved location, such as the Georgia Department of Labor to continue my fruitless job search, or to Grady Memorial Hospital or to the Mercy Care Clinic for health-related issues.
Free at Last, Kind of
The first time I got a pass to leave the premises, when I was kind of free at last for a few hours, I remember standing at the end of the street at a bus stop, feeling like a dog must feel when freed from its leash.
It had been thirty calendar years since I had walked in the free society without a chain strapped around my waist, handcuffs on my wrists, and leg shackles biting at my ankles as I tried to act normal while wearing such unfashionable jewelry.
Returning to Dismas Charities was not always as bad as what one may think for a man who spent decades of his life bound by chains, who lived behind concrete and steel walls, with the outside perimeters decorated with row-upon-row of razor wire designed to slice the flesh of anyone crossing over it into a different world.
Sometimes it was a relief to walk back inside the gates of the halfway house, after walking up a long hill in one of the less-favorable neighborhoods of Atlanta, where the prostitutes and dope fiends hustled the streets to meet their needs for survival in a cruel world.
For me, returning to the boundaries of Dismas Charities was a relief because I was back into a more familiar atmosphere, where I didn’t feel like an alien or caveman.
Behind the gates was where I was supposed to be until told I could leave and not return; the day I longed for but somewhat feared because of the risk of returning to a jail cell if I failed to meet the expectations of the United States Department of Justice or any of the many local law enforcement agencies in Metro Atlanta.
I thank God daily for me not having to live in that environment anymore, where my activities were governed and regulated by program statements and policies, often interpreted by people who lacked the required intelligence to grasp the concept behind broadly-written words.
However, to be fair, I need to clarify that not everyone in authoritative positions lacked intelligence or abused their authority because the policies gave them the power to do so.
Some were good men and women who did all they could to help me and others to walk out of the prison doors and to become better individuals.
I am grateful for several staff members who fell into the latter category, as well as for the ones I have dealt with since my release, none of whom have shown any ill-intent toward me and have helped me to successfully reintegrate into society.
LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE
Today, I live and eat well and don’t have to do a lot of walking to go to and from desired locations. That is because I own and drive a vehicle; work 40-hour per week, have automotive, life, medical, dental, and vision insurance. The walking I do is by choice, or necessity, not because it is my only option.
My life today is a walk in the park. Though not always easy, I do not complain. Several times this past week I spoke to others at the Goodwill Store where I work and said, “My favorite saying is that I complained of having no shoes until I met a man with no feet. So even if my feet hurt, at least I have feet, and the pain reminds me that I am alive.” 🙂
I am ending this update with a few photos to show that life is good and with the hope of inspiring others who have been released from prison to never give up and to work towards finding a better way to live out here, even when times get rough.
It took me eleven months to find a job, more so because of my age than criminal history, but I never gave up or thought about reverting to my old behaviors.
The God of my understanding has bigger plans for me than being in a cage, and for that I am grateful.
The Night Before I Lose An Electronic Chain
Anticipation may be one word to describe what a person experiences in knowing he or she awaits the finish line of a challenge that took thirty-years, six-months, and twenty-two-days, to reach.
MY DAY: March 8, 2019: On the day of my total release from the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, my weary mind recalled sleeping from about 1:00 am until 3:30 am.
My eyes popped open and refused to close, so I succumbed to the pressure and got out of bed to begin a day I had awaited; a day I didn’t think I’d ever see after my arrest on August 18, 1988.
Miracles Do Happen! I believed I would die in prison or be killed escaping. I was wrong! 🙂
When I went to sleep on March 8, 2019, I slept longer than I had in years, maybe because of having completed my 420-month federal prison sentence. Being relieved of the pressure from carrying a heavy burden for three decades of my life, lightened my load.
Not having to worry about getting up to charge an ankle monitor helped me sleep better, too, I’m sure.
(I viewed the ankle monitor strapped to my ankle as an electronic-chain, which I had to wear to go on home confinement. If I had not agreed, I would have had to stay at the halfway house (Residential Reentry Center.))
That morning I signed some papers and a staff member at Dismas Charities removed the electronic-chain. From that point on I was technically freed from the custody of the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, an agency I spoke out against for years while under its control.
Leaving Dismas Charities, a loved one invited me to a celebratory meal at a Waffle House. I accepted! He treated me to steak and eggs, with hashbrowns smothered and covered.
And high-dollar coffee, in comparison to the cost of a cup in 1988!
I was shocked to learn a cup of coffee cost $1.50 at a Waffle House!
[Breaking News: On March 13th, I drank coffee at a Waffle House in downtown Atlanta and paid $2.00 for a cup. My brother-in-law said the previous cup was $1.90, not $1.50] Much cheaper than StarBucks!
Then the next day, I ate even better. I’ve been treated so well by family and friends since my release, it’s hard to say when I ate the best. I have eaten a lot of tasty food, at a lot of high-dollar-restaurants, none of which served better food than what I ate during family gatherings on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
March 9, 2019: Food-wise, I liked the food at a couple other restaurants better than what I ate at an Outback Steakhouse, where we celebrated my return to the family, but I enjoyed the experience tremendously.
That is because of the time I spent with most of my loved ones, and without me having an electronic-chain strapped around my ankle.
Having an electronic-chain strapped around my ankle, embarrassed me when it showed while I was out in the public; however, I preferred dealing with embarrassment over the alternative (sitting at the halfway house or in prison).
Family Time Made Everything Wonderful!
From FaceBook: I am blessed to have a family who still loves me. This Yummy, Great American Cookie was the final part of my special night out at an Outback Steakhouse to celebrate having closed one chapter of my life and for beginning a new one.
The evening meant a lot and was one I enjoyed, as it was the first family outing I experienced in decades without an electronic-chain strapped to my ankle.
There were other loved ones who couldn’t attend for various reasons, but I do want to say that the Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings were really special to me because I got to meet relatives I had never met and to just really experience the gratitude of love.
God blessed me with a wonderful family and I love ’em all!
Roaming the Streets Without an Electronic-Chain
UNLEASHED: My day in the Big City without an electronic-chain
Leaving the Waffle House, my brother-in-law carried me downtown to the Grady Memorial Hospital for medical appointments.
“Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. is rated high performing in 1 adult procedure or condition. It is a general medical and surgical facility. It is a teaching hospital.
“Rankings and Recognitions
“To help patients decide where to receive care, U.S. News generates hospital rankings by evaluating data on nearly 5,000 hospitals in 16 adult specialties, 9 adult procedures and conditions and 10 pediatric specialties. To be nationally ranked in a specialty, a hospital must excel in caring for the sickest, most medically complex patients. …”
Grady Memorial Hospital held the Top-Spot for U.S. Trauma Centers for decades, and still does, I believe.
The above I wrote because of how impressed I’ve been with the level of health care provided at Grady, where I had to go upon release from prison because I had health issues and did not have insurance and could not afford it. I still can’t afford insurance because I’m unemployed!
[My experience at Grady does not coincide with other patient ratings. August 7, 2019: Since writing this post in March 2019, my opinion of Grady has lessened but I still give it props for the greater good the hospital serves to the Atlanta area.]
Though my brother-in-law was willing to wait, I did not want to hold him up as I went about my scheduled affairs. Leaving Grady I needed to check in with the United States Probation Office.
I left Grady Memorial and walked to the Richard B. Russell Federal Building. Many things changed in society since 1988.
Going into the building I ran into a metal detector, with several government officials guarding its entrance. I had to surrender my possessions, including my SmartWatch, SmartPhone, and backpack filled with a variety of items I knew I needed to venture into the Big City.
Once I cleared the metal detector, all of my possessions were returned, except for the cellphone, which I had to leave with the staff members guarding the entrance. I was given a numbered-token to hold in exchange of my phone until I was ready to leave.
As it turned out, I wasted my time going into the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, because I learned I had to report to another office on Monday, in another town.
While in Atlanta, I gave a urinalysis, but still had to give another one at the correct United States Probation Office. It’s all good, though, I’ve been clean and sober since April 5, 1995.
At the Atlanta office, I did get to speak with the most beautiful probation officer I’d ever seen.
She was a young African-American female who was very intelligent and very pretty. I wanted to propose but saw a wedding ring. 😦
Darn, some guys have all the luck! Perhaps I was too old for her, anyway. I didn’t even get her name. 🙂
I planned to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous that night, but I was so tired by the time I got home at 6:30 pm, after having run around the city and walking over five-miles, that I didn’t even do my typical social media activities.
Maybe all the walking lead to me sleeping as well as I did, without the burden of that electronic-chain and all of the associated factors strapped around my mind and my ankle.