by Georgia McDade
Before you shoot and kill someone accidentally or intentionally, know that your life will be forever divided into Before the Shooting (BTS) and After the Shooting (ATS). Regardless of what ails you now and how bad you think life is, life will be worse ATS. If you think you were bored before, consider being confined to an 8ft by 6ft cell indefinitely. Although you may be released early, you may remain much longer than decreed.
If you peruse all the activities listed in the Thursday and Friday newspapers and see “nothing to do,” imagine—you probably can’t—not knowing how long you will be confined 23 of 24 hours, 7 of 7 days doing what someone tells you to do.
Think what your confinement does to your mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, anyone who cares about you. How often can they visit? What do they have to do to get to you? Is there a car? Is the car in good shape? Must your mom, sister, aunt, wife or girlfriend—female visitors outnumber the male visitors by a large number—get someone to bring her at that person’s convenience? Is there money to pay that person? Did you ever visit a prison? Do you know what visitors endure before they can see you?
Granted, some officials are kinder, more respectful than others, but treatment of the visitor depends on the person in charge. At any time, a visitor may be taken to another space to be patted down. Believe me: this can be embarrassing, humiliating. With so much on their minds, visitors do not always remember to wear certain shoes, clothes, lingerie.
Prepare to accept a culture new to you. Persons you might never have met, never wanted to meet, you now encounter. Respect? Understanding? Concern? Who cares about your needs? For the most part, forget your wants. Learn to be on guard—your waking and sleeping hours. Count on yourself for protection. Stay healthy—there is no guarantee you will get health care, adequate health care. If you are blessed to have someone send you something—know there is no guarantee of getting it. There’s a long list of what you may or may not receive. Your mail is read and may be returned to the sender if it violates the code.
Everything you were accustomed to for holidays— your family or a houseful of folks or just your boys—has ended, at least for now. Forget celebrating birthdays, checking cellphones. If you can afford the cheap cable, you may get to watch some of your favorite television programs or see new movies as they come to television. Forget dining at your favorite restaurants, any restaurants. No more going to church on special occasions if only to please your mom or grandmother.
Nieces and nephews may forget you; others won’t meet you until they are too old to be thrown in the air or ride on your shoulders or back. You’ll miss all kinds of events that cannot be repeated. If a loved one—mom and dad, sister and brother included— is sick or dies, there’s a chance you will not be allowed to visit or attend the service. If you are permitted to go, you will have very limited time before returning to prison.
If you are released—3479 persons died in prisons in 2013—you have another battle on your hands. Know now that “freedom” does not mean you are free; it means you are no longer behind physical bars. You will forever lack the freedom of those who did not go to prison. Where will you stay? If you do not have family willing to take you in, you must go to a group home, find a room, or apartment. Getting an apartment won’t be easy. Landlords ask, “Are you a felon?” Some landlords stop when they get a yes answer; others say, “Did you assault or murder anyone?” A yes most likely means a no for that place. Some states won’t let you get Section 8 housing, probably all you can afford with the Social Security benefits you may collect.
The few hundred dollars you may have accumulated while in prison does not go very far. Some states demand restitution which may be thousands of dollars, and garnishment is not uncommon. If you managed to get a GED, an associate, a bachelor’s, a master’s while confined, your education will not give you the boost it usually gives a graduate. Finding a job won’t be easy. No experience, no work history creates problems. Some states will not let you vote—ever. If you do not have a job or only a minimum-wage job because you have no training or experience, you do not have much money.
Because justice so often sits, stands, lies beyond so many in our society, especially persons whose skin has a certain degree of melanin and persons who have little or no money, persons who have little or no education, you should make not entering the “justice’ system your goal. One instant can change your life, the lives of those you love, the lives of persons you do not know. Be careful. Many innocent persons are incarcerated. Many persons who are guilty do not deserve the sentences they receive. So, if you commit a serious crime, one with a gun, you are putting yourself on a negative course that you may never be able to make positive.
Just think about this.
Georgia S. McDade, a fifty-year resident of Seattle, participates in and sponsors a number of activities she believes may help people cope in a positive manner. She hopes if persons think about the possible consequences of their actions, they may act positively. With this thought in mind, she finished the essay she began about two years ago when she met a young, clean-cut, intelligent, courteous man who is in prison for life.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo: “Out of Darkness, Light” attributed to Justin Kern