On Leaving Prison: A Reflection on Entering and Exiting Communities
Date:  05-31-2017

Coming back to the community can be as traumatizing as entering prison
From Truthout:

Returning from prison after 20 years has been nearly as traumatizing as being in prison for that length of time. Trying to rebuild my life and reunite with my family after my long absence from their lives, and to keep my sense of self that I'd managed to reclaim while in prison, has been daunting and difficult. The community to which I returned was so different; after 16 months out of prison, I am still struck by how much changed during the time I was incarcerated.

I'm from the Uptown neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Those of us from the north side have called it the North Pole for decades. Most of the families I knew while growing up are gone. Buildings I knew well are no longer there, and the ones that remain are largely unaffordable. My own family no longer is in Uptown; they moved out of state in 1998 just before I was sentenced to prison. A few of my favorite places are still around: It is a comfort to me that the Uptown People's Law Center -- a nonprofit legal organization that specializes in prisoners' rights, tenant rights and Social Security benefits -- is still in Uptown, and Jake's, a restaurant I'd gone to since childhood, is right down the street from the law center. So much, however, is gone. The times when I feel home, when I feel free, are few and far between.

The Communities I've Lost

I've lost two communities. The first is the one I grew up in, sitting on the lake, walking along "the rocks" just off Montrose Beach, being a student of the long-gone Uptown People's Learning Center, working with the Heart of Uptown Coalition and the Chicago Area Black Lung Association as a teenager, going to the movies with my friends at the Uptown Theater and the Riviera, and buying my favorite music at Topper's, a record store in the midst of what used to be a bustling shopping district. There was Survival Day, when the whole of Uptown would gather on the mall to celebrate another year of survival of our community.

The other community I've lost is the one I was a part of in prison. I was part of that community for so long -- almost as long as I lived in Uptown. It was a community composed of deep, abiding, loving, affectionate, mutually beneficial, supportive friendships and kinships. Our solidarity was borne of shared sorrows, grief, guilt, shame about our pasts, regrets for our failings. Together, we suffered the indignities of being in prison. Out here, I am missing my prison family as much as I missed my family while inside. Continue reading >>