Its not just what prison does to us. It’s You.

Recently reading a scholarly article regarding the negative impacts of prison conditions on people made me think about what really holds people back after we get out of prison.  The article focuses on the inhumanity and brutality of prisons, how we are kept apart from families and love while thrown into this lion’s den to survive among gladiators.  The mental illness spawned from spending hours and days and weeks and longer in solitary confinement, with nothing other than a wall and (maybe) a Bible.  The health care, unhealthy food, fear, hate, and all that which truly exists.

But that is not even the main thing.

When we get out, many of us are reborn.  The sun shines on our face in a new way, we start over, we feel blessed.  We want to believe we survived the punishment and it has come to an end.  But that is naive and foolish, as this is where the next phase begins.

After prison we enter a world where we are pariahs.  We are distrusted and hated and, at best, tolerated as long as we stay on our side of the street.  Some of us may be able to put on a suit or walk down the street undetected, but as soon as anything of consequence happens, like a job application, housing application, voting, or dating situation, we are found out.

In prison we are at least equal members of a society.  There is a societal structure and internal outcasts, of course, but the majority of us are average “citizens” behind bars.  We are unprepared for the negativity.  People have their personal opinions, and so too do the laws that enforce our lifetime of punishment.  Those of us who did a long time in prison, who think we completed a lifetime dosage of suffering, come out to a world of new walls.  Those of us who did short stints for petty offenses face this shunning as well.

Would you hire a person who had been in prison- and for what crimes could they be convicted?

Would you live with someone with a criminal record- and how long would you want them to have been out?

Would you let us sit on the nice furniture at home?

Would you allow us to marry your child?

I won’t speak for all formerly incarcerated people, but the affects of prison life don’t impact me in free society.  What holds me back are the people who fear me.  I get it.  I’m not even going to judge it- I never have.  I’m just calling it like it is.

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About Bruce Reilly

Bruce Reilly is the Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender in New Orleans, LA. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School and author of NewJack's Guide to the Big House. Much of his writing can be found on www.Unprison.org.
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