As I expressed in my initial blog entries, a commitment to prepare for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release drove my adjustment throughout the quarter century that I served. Had I not made that commitment to prepare for reentry early in my term, I’d now be living a life of complication and struggle.
When I surrendered to the halfway house in San Francisco, I met many men who served time in either the California Department of Corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They had not prepared themselves well and it did not surprise me to hear some express intentions of returning to confinement. They found life too challenging in society, where they weren’t prepared to answer demanding questions from prospective employers. Those men were used to the structure of confinement, but they were not ready for the complications associated with transitioning into society as law-abiding citizens.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that my adjustment has gone smoothly, much more so than anyone would’ve expected for a long-term prisoner. I attribute the seeds I sowed early in my term as the reason for my easy return to society. For decades, I thought about ways that I could prepare for the complications upon release. Although it was important for me to lead a law-abiding life, it was not so important for me to live in accordance with expectations or preconceptions others had about men in prison. My goal was to emerge from prison successfully, not to live as an “inmate” or a “convict,” but to live as a man, a responsible American citizen.
If I hadn’t taken preparatory steps throughout my term, I knew that I would emerge like many of the individuals I was encountering in the halfway house. I wouldn’t have had financial resources, clothing, a support network in place, or plans for shelter or employment. As recidivism rates showed, currently falling in California but still hovering around 67 percent according to recent reports, those kinds of challenges influenced many offenders to revert to the types of relationships or behaviors that could bring them back into the criminal justice system after an initial release from prison.
With that in mind, as I began my final decade, I gave a lot of thought about what it would take to establish myself in society upon release. I thought about how much it would cost to rent an apartment, to purchase my wardrobe, to find transportation, and to establish myself. If I could build an after-tax savings account that would allow me to emerge from prison with sufficient savings to meet all of my expenses for a year, I reasoned, I would enhance my prospects for success significantly, despite the quarter century I served. Such a plan would mean that I could avoid the pressure of a dead-end job and all of the instability that came with it. Building financial resources and enhancing my support network, I concluded, would be the best way to prepare for reentry. By the time that I reached my final year, various writing projects that I created enabled me to satisfy both prongs of that reentry goal.
During the final year prior to my release from prison, I put a plan together that showed my wife how I wanted to allocate financial resources I had set aside to fund my reentry. I budgeted a total of $20,000 in initial expenditures. Those funds would pay for clothing, a vehicle, and computer equipment I would need for the career that I wanted to build. I reserved the same amount to cover incidental costs that I expected to encounter during the year I expected to serve under conditions of community confinement. As a consequence of my having those after-tax savings in place, I could begin life in society with significantly less levels of pressure than other men who had served lengthy terms.
In addition to financial resources, the support network that I had in place was equally important to my easy adjustment. Key members of my support network assisted me in monumental ways. Besides loving support from my wife and family, relationships that I cultivated and nurtured during my imprisonment led to my having a job offer in place for full-time employment before my release. I had temporary housing lined up and opportunities to advance the career I wanted to build around all that I learned while traversing a quarter century in prison.
With those many blessings, I can say that my initial transition into society could not have gone better. Even so, I’ve had to navigate some complications over the first two months that have given me a higher level of empathy for those who were not as well prepared.