The Ex-Inmate’s Question to Society: How Many More Ways Can We Apologize?


At the moment, the only experience that seems harder than serving seven years in prison is being free. Yes, you read that correctly. Make no mistake. “Gratitude” doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to  be home, reunited with my family. I can finally eat, sleep, and bathe when I want. I don’t have suspicious guards staring me down when I hold my mom’s hand too long. Nor do I have to endure the degrading commands to “open your mouth, bend at the waist, and spread your cheeks” after visits with my family. While my release has physically freed me from this traumatizing environment, my criminal record still shackles me from reaching what I most desire: medical school.

When a recent opportunity for a hospital volunteer position was rescinded overnight, I was not surprised. They had discovered my blemished record. This was probably the fifth hospital rejection I had received since I’ve been home. Other hospitals saved me the time of fruitless interviews since their applications automatically disqualify  violent felons.

This series of rejections in the year that I have been home can be quite discouraging. Medical schools place a high value on patient care. What better way can a person gauge their love for interacting with the sick? But the more onerous thought is the one that suggests that years of effort to redeem myself pale before one major misdeed I committed nine years ago.

I was sixteen when I made one of the worst decisions of my life. It’s embarrassing to admit my ignorance now, but at the time, I was enmeshed in a life of perpetual violence. Knee-deep in gang life, I foolishly chased after a false sense of power. To no surprise, that chase ended in an eight-year prison sentence for Attempted Murder and a host of other charges.

 I have served my time and, I’d like to believe, paid my debt to society. At the very beginning of my incarceration, the guilt of nearly taking a life became the driving force for becoming a healer. During my seven years inside, I committed myself to education and the service of others, pursuing several degrees and taking on leadership roles in the religious community. My decisions and involvement always centered on the  hopes of establishing  myself as a competent future healer. These were two of the ways I could affect change in the lives of my then community while being accountable to myself and others.

Unfortunately, spotlighting my growth and evolvement does not guarantee me immediate access to others’ trust. As I continue to navigate through my journey, I observe my intense focus on the future does not stop others from being stuck on my past. These experiences have challenged my definition of what “prison” really is. After all, my struggle to gain hospital volunteering opportunities calls attention to a grim truth about reentry: inmates who serve their time and live upstanding lives for years frequently step out of prison and face another prison. Not only are they separated from others by time and space, but they are restricted from accessing basic rights to guardianship, housing, and other public services.

Reentry is often marked by an exit from one prison following by entry into another. Legal and social exclusion prevent former inmates from fully reintegrating into society. 
Credit: Pixabay License

For sure, “banning the box” on many applications and restoring felons’ suffrage is an admirable step toward integrating former inmates into mainstream society, but it falls short of a complete integration where individuals are free from being perpetually haunted and penalized by their histories. If people have taken significant steps toward becoming responsible and contributing members of society, why should they continue to confront restrictions and penalties? A better question: when can we stop apologizing?

Now, this story isn’t meant to evoke pity for a girl whose light was extinguished by an “unforgiving” society. I do not expect an overnight transformation in the way society thinks, but I also cannot surrender my vision. Life’s too short to settle for a career that does not interest me.

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo, Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

 

 

Over the past year, I often laid awake in bed most mornings, vacillating between determination and doubt about whether my medical aspirations would ever come into fruition. But with my latest bouts of rejection, I have shifted my stance on these challenges. I now see them as a metric of how far I am willing to go to achieve my goals.

I believe in myself and that I am more than a mistake I made. I am willing to tackle whatever obstacles come my way because life, for me, does not make sense outside of a white coat. My faith in God and my intentions, matched with consistent effort, will be the real determinant of my future.

My message to my peers trying to navigate their own professional goals is that you will also confront obstacles and people not so agreeable. You may question who you are and whether you are deserving; you are. If you have a vision and you’re unwilling to compromise it, persist and find ways—not excuses. If you cannot find a door to opportunity, build one. Dealing with the aftermath of incarceration is teaching me that if you can’t find a place for yourself, you make a space for yourself.

I have spent way too much time trying to figure out how many ways to apologize when I know that the best apology is changed behavior.

4 thoughts on “The Ex-Inmate’s Question to Society: How Many More Ways Can We Apologize?

  1. This is such an honest and well overdue point of view…. what is the point of reformation in the prison system, if people are unable to become genuinely apart of society again in at least almost every way…. if one is truly reformed, they deserve a chance just like everyone else.

    • I have SO been looking forward to this piece, and it was well worth the wait! Continue to make ways, you deserve it!

  2. True indeed. We return and we are Free-iish. There won’t be a time where the nature of our crime will change because what’s done is done but we can always change the nature of ourselves. The idea of a background check lets you know that your past matters as much as your future. One thing I can say about those that are truly on the mission to be better is that we will not ever quit and neither should you. You will preserve. It’s A Process….

  3. At the end of this missive, where the author says, “If you cannot find a door to opportunity, build one,” I sense the same fervour I had after my release from prison set me up with several failed opportunities. I found out just how damming American society can be towards felons, thereby creating a sub class of people. What I realized is that America was built on the same atrocities that they damn former felons for, which is brutality and pillaging. I realized also that they never saw fit to apologize to the “Native Americans”–many of whom have decents still bottled up on reservations–or Blacks, or any of the other peoples the four fathers of this country stepped upon on its way to becoming a superpower. I then realized I am a product of that environment, and that I have no need to apologize either. All I need to do is just move forward as if nothing ever happened, and just become exactly what society taught us to be; an unrelenting capitalist. I began starting companies, rather then seeking to be employed by other unrelenting capitalist. Now I have two companies thriving and a technological advancement underway that will be business number three. So my answer to this author is stop apologizing. These people don’t care about that because your past behaviors are the foundation of the land in which we live–and likely where the first dollars that went into building those hospitals came from. Start your own PC (Professional Corporation) and create jobs for others who will be faced with a need to make capital from a group of people who act as though we formerly incarcerated persons did something other than what our society taught us. Then you not only will have that white coat on, but you will also be shrouded in a cloak of true freedom. Because the fact of the matter is: Sovereign immunity is an entitlement only derived through the establishment of corporations, LLCs, sole proprietorships, and partnerships. Get that education, and then establish a company doing what you love to do. If you cannot get the necessary licenses to begin your company alone, then network amongst your classmates to find someone who can secure those licences and offer her the job of being acting administrative doctor. Good luck sister.

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