Monday, July 2, 2012

Extended Family

I walked around the corner with my golf bag on my shoulder, seemingly weighing about seventy pounds. My eyes are watching the ground as I move to an open spot and set the bag down. As I looked up, I was immediately greeted by a smile and open arms pulling me into a bear hug. It was none other than my friend Paul. I’ve only known this man for a little less than five years, but it seems like it’s been forever. I met Paul through our church where he is on the board and is the leader of our Men’s Bible study group. Since then, he has become like a brother, and in fact my sister Deb calls him “our” brother.

Only two nights before, I was invited to dinner by my boss and his wife. I met Lee and his wife Luann through one of our pastors three months after I was released from prison. Over the course of the past four and a half years, my relationship with Lee and his family have become much more than simply co-workers. We have a friendship that borders on a “familial” relationship. Lee will be 78 years old this fall and is almost like a father to me.

About a month ago, I received an email from Jamie, my probation officer. Attached to it was a copy of a new policy that had been put into place regarding church services. As I read through it, I was a little shocked by how restrictive it was. It almost seemed as though they were trying to discourage church attendance. I have to sit in the front row. I can’t go the restroom without a chaperone, and in fact I am encouraged to “plan ahead” so I don’t even need to use the restroom at the church. But it was the last item on the list that really hit me. “You shall not attend any (bold is theirs) church parties, potlucks or other functions (regardless of location).” By the letter of the policy, this would mean that I couldn’t attend my Men’s Bible study or the monthly Men’s prayer breakfast that I had attended since I got out of prison. I sent an e-mail to Jamie and she gave me permission to continue to attend those two events, but it made me think about the men who follow me out of prison now.

It is extremely difficult so assimilate back into our society when you leave prison. Not only do you feel isolated by your own guilt, our culture doesn’t exactly welcome us back with open arms. For me, it was through my church that I have been able to make new friendships and establish the strong relationships that I have. And I believe it is through the relationship with people like Paul and Lee that I am anchored to something stable and will help prevent a relapse that would send me back to prison. They see me daily or weekly and off me encouragement and love. Without them, I would most likely isolate myself.

I’m sure the Department of Justice has their reasons for making policy. Unfortunately when they do, they usually throw a strict policy that is the result of an isolated incident over a broad group of people. As a result, I think it has the unintended (I hope) consequence of pushing those individuals that need to be assimilated back into our society and culture in the darker corners of our society. When you know that you are not wanted nor welcome, it’s easier to go to those places and people who will welcome you. Our gangs are full of young people for just that reason.

I feel fortunate to have the extended family that I do. I’m also fortunate to have the biological family that I have. I feel completely loved by both groups. When I see my probation officer, she often compliments me on how well I’m doing and how easy I am because I do everything that I’m supposed to be doing. I think I can thank my family…ALL of them, for that.