Friday, January 24, 2014
J. is out. Out of prison, that is.
After many years behind bars, the long-term member of the writing workshop was waiting for me outside my university writing class yesterday.
The man I was used to seeing on the yard was standing there in his government-issue jeans, flannel shirt, and starchy new black baseball cap, smiling. His sharp gaze, the perceptive eyes of an intellectual, musician, writer, one-time film student shone through self-consciousness. He looked uncomfortable in his new duds, but not at all like the prison type. He does not wear the sleeves and ink so often the mark of time in prison.
Neither of us could believe it. I brought him into the class and introduced him to students who were packing up, already off to their next class or job or other commitment.
I stood there between two worlds -- the world of university teaching and prison workshop. I could not reconcile them.
A lot has changed since he was first locked up. He has culture shock. He responds by trying harder, speaking a bit too fast, trying to anticipate the next phrase, thought, idea.
He wants to work, to have some purpose, to be left alone, to do something good. He wants to shake off the con life, meet new people.
He doesn't know how to get there from here.
This free world is baffling, frustrating, strange. J. looks at things the way they are.
I wish I could help him.
We talked about possible projects, jobs he might do. I said I would help him look for a place, and maybe some handyman work. I did not know if anything would come of my queries.
His life right now is the limbo of half-way houses, parole officers, and bureaucratic wrangling.
He walks a lot and has large blisters from the trips between the house and public health-care, social security, and reporting to overseers.
It's a life that saps confidence, that waits for a mess-up, a miss-step.
Prison looms over him, follows him everywhere.
The odds are stacked against him, but it is his life to make.
Freedom can be terrifying.