Blog administrator’s note: The members of RISE UP! are frequently asked what prison is really like or if it’s really as bad as it is portrayed to be. Here, James answers that question for those who are curious.
Is prison really that bad? I think it all depends on how you think about life and what your expectations of yourself are. For me, my answer to this question comes as a 36 year old who received a life sentence at the age of 17. Prison sucks man, that’s the truth of it. What’s so bad about it? For me:
- The worst part about being in prison is the total separation from my loved ones. When my mom is in need, I can’t be there to help her, which really hurts because over the course of my 19 years of incarceration I’ve wanted so badly to make her proud again. The biggest fear prisoners usually have while incarcerated is the death of a loved one, and unfortunately it happens all the time in here and is something that was close a time or two for me with my own mother. It’s a very hopeless feeling to sit in prison when I know my family needs me.
- Prison is a lonely, cold, and unforgiving place and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being real with themselves. When you’re alone with your thoughts, when you can’t run from the fact that you’re here because you’ve harmed others, you really stop and think about the things you were doing and the choices you were making. They become regrets that you constantly struggle with. When self-honesty is at the forefront you’ll immediately admit to yourself that all your poor choices weren’t worth it. They just weren’t. I think it’s safe to say that when we’re out there on the streets and doing dumb shit we’re in some way trying to mask our pain, or we’re trying to get our needs met in ways that maybe aren’t the best, right? Peer-pressure, wanting to fit in with the crowd, wanting to escape from our inner pains, I mean, when we’re doing dumb stuff there’s a reason behind it if we stop and think about it. So. Stop. And. Think. About. It. Sitting in these nasty ass prison cells isn’t the place to finally have your light bulb moment. T.V. shows like to portray prison as tough, and masculine, and whatever else, but the truth is it’s heartbreaking. I dream of so many things that you guys on the outside take for granted, and I may never have a chance to regain my freedom in a way that would allow me to make some of my dreams come true. We spend a lot of time thinking that second chances will always be available. I’m here to tell you that sometimes those second chances never come so it’s important to make choices wisely in each and every moment.
- Another thing that’s really bad about prison is how fickle friendships are in here. You’d be amazed at how quickly your “boys” will turn on you. It happens all the time over really petty stuff. Everyone in prison is in pain, usually over self-reflection and regret for the poor choices made. So what happens when you have 2,100 men who are in pain, in the midst of depression, dealing with anger issues, and who have a host of other things going on in their minds and at home? You get a lot of confrontations, a lot of fights, a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of mental abuse, a lot of broken friendships, and a lot of stressful anxiety over not being able to get away from this environment. There’s no time outs, no options to get away from those 2,100 other men when you finally realize you’re tired of this life, nothing other than day after day of the same ole stuff.
I think it’s important to say that right now, whatever you have going on, there’s still time to get your stuff together. Be authentic to who you are when you’re alone with your thoughts and contemplating your dreams, break away from false friends, start making repairs to your relationship with your family, and set some goals that you can meet realistically.
What I wish I would have realized was how critically important an education is. I thought of school as a drag, and I made excuse after excuse after excuse as to why I was skipping, failing classes, and being a clown. Everyone back then told me I was smart. Everyone told me I had potential. Everyone told me back then that 10 years down the road I would end up regretting not taking my education seriously and you know what I did…I laughed at them because I thought I knew everything. I thought I was invincible. I thought I was young and everything would be easy, and that life would just magically be level ten awesome without any real preparation or effort on my part. But they were right. I was so wrong and I regret my approach to school immensely now that I’m humble enough to see where it might have taken me had I only applied myself.
what I hope for you to hear in my message is that your life matters, and it’s up to you to reach out and make the efforts required to ensure it will be a wonderful one. Will you? You can start today.