Five years ago today, I was awaked at 4:30 AM from my upper bunk in a prison unit in California. I stuff the few belongings that I had into a double bagged garbage bag and grabbed the 4” thick mattress that I had been sleeping on for past three years. My legs were still wobbly from the vertigo that had kept me in bed most of the previous day. I took all of the extra bedding and laundry items that I’d accumulated back into the laundry room and tossed them into the hamper. I knew that by 8:00 they would have found themselves in a different inmate’s locker.
At 6:00 AM, the yard opened for a short movement and I carried my stuff over to “R & D” (receiving and discharge) and began the process of being released from prison. I was given a stack of papers from the guard and in exchange, I gave him a few drops of blood for the National DNA database and waited in a holding cell with three other men who were being taken to the bus depot for their ride home. Because my friend and Pastor Cal was coming to pick me up, I was held until 8:00 AM. Then an officer came and escorted me to the front and said I was free to go.
I simply stood outside the front door of the Taft Correction Institution for several minutes taking in the moment. My ride was there yet, but it didn’t matter. For the first time in 1086 day, I was outside of a locked facility. Unless you’ve been there, you really can’t appreciate what that feels like. Even having been there, I don’t have the words to describe what that moment was like when I stepped out through those doors, except to say that my life changed in that moment.
At 12:01 AM on August 15, 2012 I will have another one of those moments. From the minute I stepped out of TCI I was on supervised release. I had 72 hours to report to my probation officer and begin what I would call “phase II” of my sentence. For the past five years, my life has been monitored and restricted in ways that haven’t always made sense to me. I’ve endured the stress of multiple polygraphs, never knowing for sure if the stress of “fear of failure” might actually cause me to fail. I spent two years in “group” with a counselor that wasn’t all too helpful and seemed more concerned with the checks that he received than getting to the root issues of why we were all there. And found myself surrounded my other men who had committed crimes that involved illegal sexual contact with minors who had served a fraction of the time I had and each week worked in my mind to rationalize that it was “fair”.
My life was like a yo-yo being allowed to wish that I was going on a golfing trip with my best friend Paul, with tickets purchased and plans made, only to be pulled back at the last minute because my probation officer hadn’t bothered to actually check with the State of California to see if they would allow me to visit their fine state and find out that they didn’t want me there. Out of state trips that had been planned and had to be cancelled at the last minute because the probation officer didn’t get me the travelling papers in time. And learning with a month to go in my supervised release that many of the things that I had been doing in my church with choir and teaching Sunday school and volunteering for activities probably wouldn’t have been allowed now.
When I wake up on Wednesday morning, the sun will come up just like it did on Tuesday. The coffee will taste the same and the dogs that I’m house-sitting will wag their tails and love me in the same way that I have all week. But the day will be different. I won’t be taking unconscious looks over my shoulder. I won’t be wondering if I’ll get a call to go take a polygraph or drive out to the house for an unscheduled home-visit. And best of all…when I go to Battleground, Washington this weekend to visit my sister Deb and her husband Walt and go watch them play in a drumming performance, I don’t have to worry about whether it will be held in Vancouver or Portland. I’m free.