A Letter From My Past

Person writing with pen on paper

Sometimes, a destiny imagined can become your truth.

Sobriety has given me many things, but to be able to reflect on my journey from the person I was, promising myself to become the person I am, is truly a gift. It’s very rewarding when someone hands you an essay you wrote 12 Years earlier, but it’s truly Amazing when it was written from prison, nearly two years before getting released. How often do we get to reflect on the thought process we had years earlier?

How often do we get to reflect on a period in our lives that we would rather forget? It’s incredible how I can look back on the goals I had then and match them to the goals I encourage for other people today.

This was an essay I wrote as a prison inmate for a criminal justice magazine about how I felt a prisoner’s mindset should look upon their release from prison.

Erecting Barriers to Re-Entry
Sometimes, the main obstacle that stands in our way, is ourselves. Of all the men and women that go to prison; only 10% will die there after serving life sentences. Re-entering society is inevitable for 90% of all people who enter prison. Yet, few prisoners seriously prepare for re-entry. In fact, few prisoners prepare for reentry at all! To me, preparing for reentry is not an option. To me, reentry should begin at entry.

As soon as one is sentenced to prison, one should begin preparing for the day that they are released. This opinion might be lost on those serving lengthy sentences, but what a prisoner does with all that time they serve will have a direct influence on their life afterwards. A prisoner must design a strategy for his exit from prison. He must do this on his own volition and with the help of the plethora of resources that are available to him. This will enable him to be prepared for release. More importantly, this will enable him to remain free. The design of this strategy is critical. In fact, the devil is in the Exit Strategy.

Coming out of prison gives you a certain drive, but where that drive takes you determines where you end up. Without preparing for his release, an ex-offender will likely not remain free. Clearly, release is inevitable for 90% of those in prison. But to stay continually free is determined upon the successful reintegration into society as well as the maintenance of a crime-free, drug-free, balanced lifestyle. The prison wall is not the only barrier to that person’s reentry. There are many other barriers that must be overcome.

These include lack of affordable housing, absence of marketable job-skills, financial illiteracy, lack of a support network, poor ability to become self-supportive, scarce social skills, low self-esteem, misdirected focus, mental health and physical health issues, and of course substance abuse problems. I call these barriers to reentry Causal Factors of Recidivism.

I believe these factors affect each ex-o ender differently and I’m convinced that they can each be overcome if the offender just commits to it. But he must have more than simple desire; he must have a plan. He must analyze the path that took him to prison in the first place and develop a strategic plan to not only find another path, but also travel that path. And he must not only seek out the help and resources available to help him to overcome these barriers, he must make these resources the foundation of his life-plan. By not analyzing the path that led you to prison (or, for that matter, to anywhere you do not desire to be), you run the doomed risk to repeat traveling that same path again. The same path will obviously lead to the same destination. So, if you wish to find a new destination, you must first find a new path. Failing to find a new path is by proxy self-erecting these barriers to reentry.

The ultimate goal for the ex-offender is continued and sustained freedom. The o ender must break down barriers to reentry that stand in the way of that goal – first analytically and then physically with a plan. It must be part of every prisoner’s exit strategy, and this plan needs to begin while in prison – long before the prison gates open up upon release. At that point, when freedom is at your feet, it might then be too late to choose a new path.

Michael DeLeon August 31, 2005

As I read this essay nearly 12 years later, I can’t believe the irony in how it applies to the field I am in today. The same goals a prisoner must embrace prior to release from prison, an addict must embrace upon entering treatment. When we look at successful sobriety after treatment for addiction, we don’t often point to the addict themselves as building their own recovery barriers. I rarely hear people talk about how the client themselves set their relapse in motion while in and even before entering treatment. It’s always, “treatment didn’t work”. I often hear, “treatment is broken”, “there’s no continuum of care”, “treatment wasn’t long enough”. While all that reasoning might be contributable, I believe at the core of all of those causal factors is the motivation of the addict. Why in a system where we teach a client that a new path will bring a new life, do we not teach them that the most important ingredient in their recovery is their very own responsibility? Recovery is a multi-faceted opportunity. Personal engagement and personal commitment to that opportunity is the key to opening the door of recovery.

We don’t need to build our own barriers to recovery. Where you’ve been is not a prophecy of where you’re going. Where you’ve been can prepare you for where you’re going if you don’t get in your own way.

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