A letter to a friend coming home by Michael Clark
I recently wrote a letter to a friend’s daughter who was incarcerated. When I wrote her, she had just got her time and was still in the throws of understanding what her future looked like. I felt it was necessary to write her to discuss some things I knew she was soon to encounter, something I needed to hear when I got home.
“I hope all has been well since my last letter. I appreciate the letter your response letter. Believe me when I say I completely understand what you are going through at this time and why there are things you keep to yourself for the sake of everyone else. It’s almost like unless someone was here, it’s hard for them to understand what goes on behind the wall. Couple that with the feeling that even if you were to open up about these experiences, you would get judged or looked down upon for a situation the free world doesn’t understand. All I will say is that we have all been there, and we all eventually make it out. It is only a matter of time.
I want to congratulate you on the great news of your speedy return home. I am incredibly happy for you and your family. I know so many prayers have been answered over these last few years. That time between now and your release date will fly by, and you will be home in no time. I’m sure your thoughts and feelings are all over the place in anticipation of what’s to come, of what you are going to do when you get home, and all sorts of other things. I know that feeling well and feel inclined to give you a few words of advice as you slowly reintegrate into society. Take it for what you want. I didn’t have anyone to tell me what I should prepare for when I got out, and I wish I had.
Most people look at prison and confinement as a punishment and altogether a bad thing to endure. True enough, it is both those simultaneously. That does not mean you have to treat it as such, however. You have had to go through plenty of hardships over these last few years, the likes of which few will understand. You got through this and were made stronger by these travails in more ways than you are aware. Do not look upon these last few years as being lost and all for nothing. Find the strength from this time, and look at how much you have grown instead of focusing on what was lost. Your mom has told me of all that you have accomplished while away. I must congratulate you on being one of the few who, while behind the wall, progressed rather than regressed.
Do not forget how many people you saw come in and out of those doors. How many of the same faces did you see occupy a bunk, go home, then come right back? I cannot count the number of individuals I saw stuck in that revolving door. You are better than that, and you deserve to see more of the world than rusty bars and gray walls. Never forget that door and how shallow the existence it is to be stuck there. It doesn’t matter how highly others think of me and how much my family believes I won’t go back; I know I am one bad decision away from falling into that same door, despite all I’ve done to the contrary. For me, thinking of such a possibility has been more than enough to stop me from doing something stupid plenty of times.
Another big issue I ran into often when I got home was not knowing how to talk about my past without inevitably talking about prison. As you can guess, there are not a lot of people who can relate, and even fewer who would care to discuss it. What I found was I had to have enough time and experience on the streets to talk about something different. Obviously, you can stay quiet and reserved, as is the MO in prison. Eventually, however, you will have to engage with the world. I can’t tell you how awkward it was when someone asked what I do/did, etc, and all I could say was, “I just got out of prison…” Not the best pickup line. I suggest you find a few things you are interested in and get involved with them. Get some time and experience under your belt and start to live life. Not only will you have a buffer of sorts over your recent past, but you will also find yourself regaining the emotional self that was dormant for so long.
The last thing I want to say (I swear) is that the longer you stay out, the longer you will remain out. I have looked at the statistics on reoffending and the first year to three years have the highest rates of reoffending. Years 3-5 are the second highest. All the way down to 6-10 years, after which the rate of reoffending drops considerably. Obviously, it is too early to think about the big future plans, but it is worth considering. I am not going to worry you with thoughts of the future, but I think you would do well with your experience to help people who are going through the same thing. That pursuit is both focusing and rewarding in ways you may not anticipate.
Be thankful, M. You are almost home. So many people have missed you and are looking forward to seeing you again. It will be one of the most memorable moments of your life, if not the most memorable! Your mom loves you dearly, as does the rest of your family. You will come out a better person for having endured these hardships.
Hope to hear from you soon.