First Date by Michael Clark

I gained a humble dose of wisdom after one of the first dates I went on when I got home. I had been on a few prior to this, but this woman, who I will call Cara (not her real name), was different. We had met during a New Year’s Eve party and had hit it off spectacularly. There was an instant rapport between us, unlike on any previous date. Cara and I shared many common interests, had an easy-going cadence, and had a similar joking style. Everything clicked well enough that we set up a date one Friday evening. She did not know about my incarceration, and it was my intent not to tell her, at least at the time.

We started with drinks and then went to dinner. The night and atmosphere were just right. The food was good, and the conversation was better. Anyone looking at us would have felt the kinetic energy building between us. As things progressed, our conversation led to a tangent I had not expected nor intended. I had made a comment along the lines of “We all have skeletons in our closet.” One question led to another, and I eventually told her I had been to prison. She was the first person I had shared this with who did not know me before I left. I could tell immediately it was a mistake to have divulged such information. She was nervous and fidgety but maintained our conversation until we decided to go. The next morning I woke up to a text that said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’ Shame on me!

After reading that text, I had a flashback to times when I would see guests of the administration of a prison walking through the halls or in the yard. There was a sense of dehumanization behind their eyes that pushed our spirits back into a shell. Cara’s response had a similar effect that whispered, ‘You are not one of us.’ I would be a liar if I said it didn’t sting a little to get rejected for reasons I could not change. The thing about approval is it signifies validation in the massive web of social interactions we engage. Who wants to get kicked out of the tribe to fend for themselves in the woods, right? To someone who was formerly incarcerated, who was told in so many ways, “You are not one of us.” being rejected again will almost always trigger a response of either ‘Maybe they are right,’ or ‘Screw the system!’. There is a third way to approach such situations, however.

The thought that consumed me for some time was a reminder that, despite acting like a gentleman, saying all the right things, and trying to be an upstanding citizen, you will still be judged by your past no matter your accomplishments or merits. As I cycled through the emotions of rejection, my spirits rebounded after reasoning with myself that I am not a bad person. My charges do not define me. Finally, I am starting to embrace an image of myself as a good person despite my sins. I am striving to act in a godly way these days. What bearing does another’s acceptance have on my path? The answer is none. We are all guilty of some offense. We will all go astray from our path. We will all need guidance at some point when we do go astray. Acceptance from a stranger who cannot comprehend our struggle is irrelevant to this path forward.

Rejection sucks, period. I don’t like being forced into the woods alone. It is hard to find the light at a time and place like that. Things are different now, however. I don’t have to worry about fending for myself in a brutal, unforgiving environment if I am ostracized. I have changed my ways and am not living a life that will lead me back to prison. Now I know if I am rejected or shunned, it is because that person has not taken the time to get to know me. I will be fine whether they accept me or not.  Now, I can say that will be their loss.