It’s been a little more than a week since I was released from prison. Yes, getting out was amazing — as good as I expected, and then some.
Walking out of Yankton Federal Prison Camp to my waiting family was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Once I saw my mom crying and felt my girl in my arms, I knew there was no point in trying to hold it together. Those were hugs seven years in the making.
Going from prison to home is a huge transition, and a lot has happened in my first week home. Some expected, some not expected, some I want to do less of, and some I want to do more.
The first thing I need to do less of is swearing in front of my family, especially my 9-year-old daughter. I’m not in prison anymore, and some conversations are not appropriate for her, and I have to remember how intelligent and curious she is. It’s amazing what she picks up on.
The second thing is I have to quit using so much toilet paper. As inmates, we use toilet paper for everything, cleaning up spills (5-8 squares), bathroom maintenance (15-20 squares/wipe), as napkins (10-12 squares), blowing your nose (8-10 squares), attaching a mirror to the shower wall (6-8 squares). Just about anything you can think of, I guarantee we use toilet paper for it. This soft and fluffy shit (oops, I mean stuff) at my mom’s house is probably way more expensive than the 1-ply I am used to, so I better ease off on it.
Next, I have to accept that my mom is going to treat me the same way she treats my daughter. Within a couple of hours on the drive home, she tried to downgrade my Blizzard from a small to a mini, but luckily my big bro, Jesse, was there to veto her request. But Jesse doesn’t live with me, so for now: Mom’s house, Mom’s rules.
When I imagined home confinement, I was hoping for 6-8 hours of video games and Netflix, 2-3 hours of playing with Melrose, and 1-2 hours of talking with friends, and the rest of the time hanging with the family.
News Flash: home confinement means that you are still in BOP (Bureau of Prison) custody. The BOP, the halfway house, and my family all have clear parameters about what I can do during the day that does not include eight hours a day of screen time.
The ankle monitor I wear contains a GPS, so the halfway house can monitor my every move. I have to stay near the landline (yes, they do still exist) and answer the half dozen calls that come in randomly throughout the day. The ankle device is connected to a transmitter box, and I have to stay within 300 feet, in every direction, of this box. What happens if I don’t? A self-destruct sequence is initiated, and if I don’t get back inside the perimeter within 30 seconds, it explodes! Just kidding. The truth is, I don’t know. I assume a computer is notified, and the halfway house tracks me down.
The most devastating news was that I couldn’t work for construction2style, and at first, initially, I couldn’t write on the blog. They also said I couldn’t be on social media, so my dream of being an Instagram star and getting in a Macklemore video are out. And yes, I do know what Instagram is and there was texting before I went to prison, even though my sister and mom thought I’d be completely lost with this “new” technology.
The good news is after I had informed them that I had been writing for just shy of two years while incarcerated, and the guards and warden encouraged it, they took it to the higher-ups and granted permission to continue to write. I was relieved! To think about all we had done over the past couple of years and to now have to shut it down temporarily would have been devastating, so I’m thankful they gave me permission as writing has only been a positive impact for my recovery.
For now, the only time I can go out is for walks one hour a day, every day, with anyone I choose at any time before 3 pm. Most days, it’s my daughter and me, but today, it was my sister, sister-in-law, and all the kids. Before going on the walk, I phone the halfway house to inform them I am leaving, and they say, “Okay, be back in an hour.” After the hour is up and I return home, I phone the halfway house again to tell them I am back.
Of course, I knew that there would be setbacks when I got out, but I didn’t know they’d come so fast. Right away they told me I couldn’t have a smartphone, only a flip phone. My brother had to search far and wide to find one, and then I had my first meltdown trying to set the damn thing up.
Pulling my hair out, I looked at Jesse, “Man, I thought I had everything figured out, but here it is day four, and I feel like I’m losing my mind.” He said, “Bro, you got out yesterday. It hasn’t even been 36 hours.”
Second big bump: I can’t work for family until I am off home confinement on March 8th, 2021, and I can’t take any job either until the BOP comes off of lockdown. I was disappointed since I wanted to hit the ground running after my release. For now, though, it’s a blessing since now I have time for the most important thing, family.
Without work or a smartphone or Instagram, I’ve been focusing on writing and the new resilience2reform website. For the first time, I can start seeing the responses to what we’ve been sharing. My sister showed me the comments, messages, and emails from my I’m coming home post, and there must have been at least 500 messages.
I was blown away and asked her, “When did this post go live?”
“6:00 am.” (It was 9:30 am — holy crap!) I had no idea how many people were responding and the impact the posts are having. Morgan is amazing and passionate about her readers. She reads every single message and responds to every person. I’m ready to join her in providing resources for people who need them.
Beyond resilience2reform, once the lockdown lifts, there will be plenty of options to expand my freedom. When I start working (for non-family), I will be allowed to work 40 hours a week, plus overtime, and I will have a time that I can leave in the morning, probably around 6:00 am, and a curfew at the end of the night, around 9:00 pm.
I will also be able to earn weekend passes, contingent on good behavior. Everything will be scheduled ahead and submitted at the beginning of each week, with my case manager. Gym visits, grocery runs, schooling, and sporting events are a few types of activities I will be permitted to do.
I have loved catching up reading posts from Chris, Dennis, and Mike (I wasn’t allowed to read fellow inmate posts while in prison). It would be even better to be with them, but this is a close second. I understand why readers are so touched by the honest stories my friends are telling.
Maybe not surprisingly, it’s the small things that I love the most.
Chipotle was amazing, and the burrito with chicken, guacamole, cheese, salsa, and black beans was well worth the wait. Throughout my incarceration, when asked what the first thing I wanted to eat upon my release, the answer was always Chipotle, and it did not disappoint.
It’s the small things that make all the difference in the world.
When you are free, you might not give them a second thought, but this week I’ve been blown away by not having to wear shower shoes, the feeling of carpet under my bare feet, hell being able to walk around in my bare feet! I love having access to TVs and computers, all the smells, no more push-button sinks, the feeling of soft fabric on my skin.
Best of all, on my bedside stand in my room, I found three Christmas presents from Melrose: a drawing, a hand-decorated coffee mug (which I drink out of every day, of course), and an ornament. I wasn’t allowed to receive these type of gifts while incarcerated.
Her drawing is called “My Dad Rocks,” complete with all the reasons I rock. And while I was sad that everything she said was from our time in the prison visiting room: play monopoly, get Dad food, and coloring. Sometimes the simplest things can make us and our kids happy.
The Christmas ornament is a clear plastic ball filled with little messages inside. “I love my dad because he cares for me and makes me laugh.” “I want to be a vet when I grow up.” “My favorite color is red.” That last one has changed three times since she made it.
As I am wrapping up my first week as a semi-free man, I’ve already learned a ton. First, the words “I’ve got this all figured out” will bite you in the ass. There are so many details to this transition, figuring it out is going to take a while. Second, watch out for expectations. I expected that setting up a cell phone seemed like it would be no problem…and that’s not how it turned out. A bigger expectation was thinking that I was going to be free. I’m not. I’m still in custody. Even though I wouldn’t have chosen this situation, it’s allowing me to ease back into my life, with training wheels on.
I can get so eager for the future, that I forget to focus on today. There is so much in my life to be grateful for, from the fabric of my t-shirt to tucking my daughter in at night.
I know the key to this phase is surrender and communication. Over and over, I have to do my best to let go of expectations and the ways I thought things would be. And I have to stay honest and open with my family and the halfway house staff even when it feels uncomfortable. Of course, there are going to be roadblocks, but with the right attitude and all the support I have, I will make it.
Thank you again for all of the support you have given.