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The Sweet Taste Of Freedom

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The Sweet Taste Of Freedom

"Shortly after getting out - not necessarily the first day, since I was taken to a halfway house at first until I could show I was employed. About a week or so later, my first day of true freedom, with a key in my pocket for a place of my own, I walked. I mean, I walked all day, just looking around and walking. Went into places like Walmart, which didn't exist when I was convicted. Spent the whole day in a constant state of amazement at all the new things, and the way people had changed. Other than stuff to eat along the way, I acquired a library card and some stuff for my apartment, and I bought some jeans and shirts to work in."

Grateful To Have Grown Up

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Grateful To Have Grown Up

"I did six years here in Missouri. My first day out, my dad picked me up. We ate some McDonald's on our three-hour drive home. Considering how long I was gone, I desperately needed new clothes. After three minutes in the mall, I had to leave. Other than seeing my parole officer, I stayed at home, inside with the windows all closed. Something about the pace the world seemed to be moving at really threw me off. Everything and everyone seemed to be moving in hypertime. It made me disoriented and anxious. I've been home six years, off parole, had a son and have a great woman who keeps me in check. All bs aside, going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to me. I came home a better person than when I left."

Steak Time!

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Steak Time!

"I have never been to prison, but my father has. The day he got out, he decided to get a steak dinner, and not just any dinner but a good steak dinner. Baked potato, green beans, salad, the works. He walks into an upscale restaurant in his jeans and tee and asks for a table. The host first tells him that his attire is not up to par and asks him to leave. Glancing down at his clothes, he explains that he just got out, and all he really wants is a steak. My father is quite persuasive when he wants to be, and convinces the host to get him a table. He orders his steak and waits for it to be brought out.

When it comes, he looks around just noticing that there is no silverware on the table. Stopping the first waiter to walk by he asks for some. The waiter responds that he would be right back with a set. While he's waiting he puts the butter on his potato, picks up and surreptitiously eats a few green beans with his fingers. The waiter never comes back. So he asks another. Dad gets the same response. He eats a few more green beans. Looks around. Picks off a piece of potato. That waiter never brings him any silverware either. By this time, my dad is pretty hungry and the steak is smelling pretty good, so the glances around and picks it up with his hands. Being a T-bone, it has a pretty good handle on it, but it's still a little messy.

He takes a few bites before the manager comes over all huffy. 'Sir! You can't eat like that here!' My dad responds that he wouldn't be if someone would have just brought him some silverware. Seeing that as grounds for removal, the manager asks him to leave. My dad stands up, says fine and grabs the steak in one hand and the potato in the other and walks out. He crosses the street, sits down on the curb and finishes his steak dinner enjoying his reacquired freedom."

A Sympathetic New Friend

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A Sympathetic New Friend

"August 31, 2010:

Just a few minutes before being released from prison, I was given a $50 check and a voucher for a bus ride to anywhere in Texas. The rest was up to me.

The day I got out of prison was beautiful. The August heat in Texas is usually pretty unbearable for most, but I didn't even feel it. The sky was clear, and the birds were happy to see me. I knew so because they were singing a song just for me. I walked across the street and cashed my $50 check with my prison ID and bought my favorite soft drink and a pack of bubble gum.

Man, I really missed bubble gum!

The person picking me up was from the entrepreneurship program I'd graduated from on the inside. His name was Pat, and I'd never met him before. All I knew was that he was a really big dude driving a little tiny Scion, so I didn't think I'd have a problem finding him.

There was a park just across the street from the front door of the prison, and they had picnic benches and a pavilion and plenty of other places for people to sit and wait for their loved ones who were soon to be released from prison. I didn't have anyone there just yet, so I decided to sit at one of the picnic benches and enjoy my Tahitian Treat and bubble gum in solitude until I saw Pat.

After a few minutes, a lady old enough to be my grandmother came over and sat across from me. The prison gave me regular clothes, and this old lady didn't realize that she was sitting across from a violent offender, as my paperwork had described me. I felt a little bad for how naïve she was for sitting next to me. I wasn't going to do anything to hurt her, of course, but I thought she'd be scared out of her mind if she knew who I was or what I'd done.

I hadn't been out of prison a full hour, but I was already within arm's reach of a normal person. She was perpendicular to me. She was sitting sideways facing the prison and using the table as an armrest. I was facing the side of her head. It was weird. But it got even weirder when she spoke to me.

Without really looking at me, she asked, 'Get out today?'

'Excuse me?' I heard her words clearly, but I was sure I'd misunderstood her question.

She chuckled and looked over at me, enunciating clearly to prove a point. 'I said did you get out today.'

I smiled and replied, 'It's that obvious, huh?'

She hadn't offended me. She was a sweet old woman who just wanted to make me feel comfortable in a world where I obviously hadn't existed for quite a while, but it made me a little anxious that she could so easily tell that I'd just gotten out of prison. Thankfully, she obliged and answered the very question I was wondering. She held up her iPhone and said, 'You're not playing on your phone. The only people who sit here without a phone are people who just got out.'

She made a good point, and the humor was not lost on me. I was impressed by her observation, but I was mostly just happy to be having a conversation with someone who wasn't an inmate or a guard. It was nice, and I savored every second of it. It was also quite reminiscent of the old man who had sat next to me on the bus back to Texas the day I had turned myself in. She turned back to face the prison and went on to tell me that she was picking up her son. Again. This was his third time in prison, so she knew the routine pretty well by now. Without looking at me, she offered a quick piece of advice that was both unsolicited and completely welcome. 'Now you stay away from this place, young man. This isn't the way to be.'

'Yes, ma'am,' I agreed and smiled along with her. She was mostly just making friendly chitchat, and I enjoyed it. After a few minutes of this, the conversation trailed off and we were left sitting there; her facing the prison and me facing the Nutritional Facts on my Tahitian Treat bottle. I'd never realized how much sugar was in those things. Then again, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Besides, my bubble gum was sugar-free, so it probably all evened out anyway.

The old lady caught me daydreaming and interrupted by saying, 'Would you like to call somebody?'

The thought had never crossed my mind a few minutes earlier when she'd mentioned me not having a phone and showing me hers. I wasn't worried about Pat. I knew he'd get there soon enough, and if I only had the chance to make one phone call, I'd preferred to call my mother anyway. 'Yes, please. I live in Dallas though. Is that going to be long distance?'

'Oh, honey, you've been gone a while, huh? Long distance is free on these things.' And with a friendly cackle, she took out her phone again and asked, 'Who do you want to call?'

'My mother, if that's okay.'

She handed me her iPhone and said, 'Sure thing. Go right ahead.'

The iPhone came out in July of 2007, but I was arrested in May of 2007. I had only seen them on TV and in magazines. I'd never held one, and I definitely didn't know how to operate them. Before I had gone to jail, phones still had buttons. But this thing was little more than a rectangular piece of glass.

Almost immediately, she realized her mistake and held out her hand to take the phone back. 'Here, I'll dial it for you. What's her number?'

For the first time in well over three years, I was able to talk to my mother without being preempted every five minutes by a recording reminding both of us that this call has been placed from a correctional institution. When my mom answered the phone, I was all smiles.

'Hey, mom!'

'Hey, son!'

Just another reminder that I was free."

Locked Up Abroad And Barely Alive

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Locked Up Abroad And Barely Alive

"I served just under two years in the Dominican Republic. Having been born and raised in the US and knowing essentially zero Spanish, I can tell you it was the single most frightening time of my life. The living conditions were less than ideal, to say the least. Most of my time was spent in sheer terror and uncertainty of what was going to become of me in that foreign country.

My quarters were windowless solid slabs of damp, humid concrete. My eyes almost never adjusted to my surroundings, as blackouts were a daily occurrence. If power was restored, it would often be so low that the light would only give a dull yellow tint or a quick surge would burn it out in a sudden flash. At times I was so disoriented, I didn't know if it was day or night. I eventually began trying to count the nights by keeping track of when the rats would show up. I had to wrap my shirt around my feet at night so they wouldn't eat the dead hard skin from my heels and toes.

The food was so bland. The beans tasted more like the dirt they were grown in than anything else, but you'd be thankful for it. On rare occasions, you'd be given a meaty animal product which now I can only assume was blood sausage made from pig intestine. What little flavor it had would quickly evaporate and you'd be left to chew a rubbery greyish section forever. Despite how hungry I was, I didn't have the strength to chew it until it broke down enough to swallow it.

I eventually lost the strength and ability to swat at the endless onslaught of mosquitoes. One of the only pleasant thoughts I had was when I thought I would be allowed to die after I contracted dengue fever, but even that semi-pleasant thought was plagued by excruciating pain. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to blink, it hurt to think, it hurt to move. I laid against the wall for an untold amount of time drifting in and out of reality.

My dreams were filled with memories that confused me. People I knew and loved from 3000 miles away, but they were all angrily speaking Spanish now, and I couldn't understand them. Waking up was never a relief, and I'm sure I would have cried if my body had any liquid to spare.

I experienced monsoons, hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding more often, but less frequently than I hoped.

It's difficult to recall the look on my mother's face when I saw her for the first time walking out through airport security. My entire family was there and one of my friends. My 10-year-old brother was holding a sign he had made with my name on it, and I immediately began to cry. The first thing my mom told me was that she loved me and that I'd lost weight. I went from 185 pounds to 120 pounds. We drove straight home, I took the first hot shower I'd taken in years, put on some new clothes and they took me to Outback Steakhouse. I was so hungry, but the food was too rich. After eating a few bites I got sick and couldn't eat anymore. I tried to sleep in my bed that night, but I couldn't sleep, so I pulled my sheets on the floor and slept better than I ever have.

The next morning, I was woken up by the smell of breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice, toast, jam, cinnamon rolls, milk. Two bites and I was sick again. I sat on my parent's new couch and watched my brother play some Nintendo game and before I knew it, it was lunchtime. Already time to eat again? I wasn't hungry, but I was forced to eat what I could. I fell asleep on the couch afterward, and didn't wake up until dinner, which I also could not stomach."

A Woman Changes Her Life After 11 Years In

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A Woman Changes Her Life After 11 Years In

"When I was a stupid 17-year-old girl, I was talked into being an accomplice in a robbery that went bad and our victim died. We got arrested a year later, and I was given the maximum sentence of life in prison. I was in prison from 18 to 29, and then got paroled. My family had drifted away somewhat. An advocate for prisoners gave me a job and took me into her home. When she picked me up and we were riding down the road, I felt a hotness rising up to my chest, and I burst out into tears of relief.

What I did on my first day out: mundane essential stuff actually, getting a driver's permit. Got a few thrift store clothes, and just sat around inhaling free air. That was 21 years ago. To this day, when I lay down in my own bed at night, I feel a sense of gratitude and joy to be able to do that, among many other things. Being grateful for our freedom is the moral of the story."

Happy For The Normal Things

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Happy For The Normal Things

"I spent just shy of two years in prison for substances. Lots of them. When I got out, my wife picked me up, and I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to use her iPod nano with the touchscreen. I got motion sick for the first time ever. We went to our new house my wife bought right before I got out because the apartment complex she was living in wouldn't allow me to reside there due to the felonies. Took a long shower and put on real clothes. Went to a barbecue and saw almost everyone who means anything to me. Sat stonefaced through the whole thing because I was overwhelmed and had learned not to show anything. Gorged myself on the best homemade ribs and sides I've ever had. Went home and hung out. Used the remote control to watch whatever I wanted and got intimate with my wife. Cried for an hour or so. Slept like a baby in our sweet, sweet bed."

It Can Be Pretty Overwhelming

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It Can Be Pretty Overwhelming

"I was in prison for three years. I spent 18 months in a medium-high security federal prison and 18 months in a medium security state prison, back-to-back.

I had no family nearby, but the parents of my ex-girlfriend were close to me and would visit me sometimes. They picked me up when I was released. They sent in a nice suit of mine a few days before, so I was able to walk out of there with some dignity.

I remember riding away from the prison in the car, and everything seemed unreal, like a dream.

We went to a restaurant for lunch. The food was great, and I couldn't stop staring at the waitress. It was so refreshing to see a woman that wasn't affiliated in any way with 'inside.' Next, we went to the shopping mall to buy me some clothes and a cell phone. That was probably a poor choice. It was overwhelming. Walking around free was one thing, but walking around in a mall was too much mental stimulation. I grabbed a few pairs of pants, shirts, socks, underwear and a pair of shoes. We got a cheap cell phone and got out of there.

The plan was for me to stay with them in their hotel room that night, and the next day I was supposed to appear at the parole office downtown.

No sooner had we gotten into their room when I sat down on the sofa and cried. I just cried for a half hour or so. It was all the pent-up emotion from three years that I could never show inside. I think it freaked them out a little; the times they'd visited me I was generally cheerful and told stories and jokes to make them laugh. I mean, they knew prison was hard for me, but until that moment I think they had no idea how hard it really was and the stress I'd been under.

After a while, I calmed down, and later we went out to dinner. Back at the hotel, they asked me about it, and I didn't want to talk. I didn't really know what to say."

Haunted By The Time

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Haunted By The Time

"After 15 years, I got out on a Friday. Stepping outside was surreal. I could not believe I was out. All these ideas I had about how it was going to be went out the window. As I was walking around, I felt like I did not belong out there. I had to ask someone how to make a phone call at a payphone to call my family to pick me up. And getting in the car was kind of scary -- it felt like we were going too fast.

We stopped at Cracker Barrel to eat, and being in a crowd gave me a lot of anxiety. I had no appetite for a few weeks, but soon realized I was enjoying tasting good foods again. I didn't want to be out, so I went to my parents' home and soaked in all the changes. I had never seen the internet, never texted (couldn't understand why two people with phones in their hands wouldn't just talk to each other instead), didn't know how to pay at the gas pump or self-checkout, never saw DVDs, GPS, MP3s, iAnything, etc. But more than the changes in technology, it was all the experiences I had missed out on that haunted me.

Another thing that was odd is that I didn't sleep for 10 days! I was not tired. People were worried, but I felt great. After 10 days, I started taking naps here and there. It took me a couple months to sleep normally. I remember being weirded out in public crowded places, especially where people might touch me (like in line at a grocery store). After 15 years, your mind can't just snap out of it and get back to life out here. It's like a fish out of water kind of feeling. I spent almost all my adult life in prison and that doesn't go away overnight."

Having A Hard Time Adjusting

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Having A Hard Time Adjusting

"I served two years on an eight-year sentence. I got out on St. Patrick's Day, 2009, and have been on parole since. Due to a recent parole violation, there is a good chance that I'll go back.

I spent most of my first day of freedom making my way to my parent's home in Magnolia, Texas. It's only about 80 miles from Huntsville to there, but it took a long time. I immediately bought a Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks, though, and when I got to my parent's house, it was a croissant ham egg bacon and cheese sandwich that I really wanted.

My crime was 'Misuse of Public Information.' I hacked the Bexar County sheriff's office HR and payroll database. I didn't do anything with the data, but they threw the book at me. Since being released, I've relapsed and become addicted again. I'm clean now, though I don't have much time clean.

I'm married to a wonderful woman. I learned this weekend that she has Congestive Heart Failure. We got her implanted with a defibrillator Saturday morning and she came home today. Her son is one of the biggest parts of my life, my reason for continuing to try. If you could see the email I got from his science teacher on Friday, you'd understand the pride I feel and know why I put so much time into tutoring him every day.

No one will hire me, period. I have opened my own pizza shop though, and it has its ups and downs. It isn't profitable at the moment, and my family won't be able to keep on floating me the money to keep it open much longer. Its a shame, because the local newspaper lauded it as the best pizza in town, and everyone seems to love it. I just don't have enough sales to keep it going."

Getting Used To The Little Things

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Getting Used To The Little Things

"I was released on parole on a Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day. I had been waiting for this day, and I had it planned what exactly I was going to do. My eligible release date was actually that Saturday before, but you can't be released on parole on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. So, here I am on a Tuesday being released. I was told I would be released in the morning, but the front area was so busy. They finally called my name after what seemed like an eternity. I remember sitting there asking myself if this was really happening or not. I told my sister to record a video on her iPhone of me coming out and hugging my mother. I still have this video, and I cherish it a lot.

There I am sitting in the backseat of my mom's car exactly how I remembered it. My sister is in the back seat trying to show me something on her phone but reading the phone in a moving vehicle is making me sick. We immediately go to my favorite spot, McDonald's, on our way back home. We get back to the house, and while my mother has repainted and re-organized my old bedroom, the safe I left there is still there. My mother had taken out the envelope that was written in the language of '1337' that told me the code to open the safe. I open it and take out my old phone, my laptop, and a few other things I had in there.

I then go to the address I was given to check in with my parole officer. Everybody in there is rude and they are judging me, I feel like I am back to the old life I just left where all of these adults treat other people like dirt, 24/7. I am told I need to do a pee test where the parole officer is standing next to me. I pass after about five minutes of trying to pee. I am then told of all the rules; 'no being out of the house past 10 p.m. unless I am at work, I need to find a job and have a lot of hours or I have to go to programing all day every day; no he does not care that my license got suspended when I was arrested, and I live in the suburbs with no access to buses, and I 'need to figure it out'; no partying; no hanging around felons; he can show up whenever he wants and search me even at night time and ask for IDs of everyone around me and can send me back if they refuse, I need to pay $85 a month via a bank check ONLY, and I owed $175 in random fees and drug assessments I need to do in the next few days, and I need to take a drug test every week.'

Wow man, that was a lot, but I leave to meet my dad downstairs. We drive over to probation office a few blocks away at the courthouse which is very similar to being in parole office, except I take the drug test and test positive! Wait, what?! I told the guy I was just released and just took a drug test 20 minutes ago at the parole office. He luckily believes me and gives me back to my probation officer. This lady hated me on sight. Everything about me. She hated that I had an education and that I questioned what she was asking. She was annoyed that I took notes on what she said and kept everything in detail (months later she dropped and I got a new person because she was contradicting the notes I took and going back on her word.) Anyway, she gives me a similar spiel about having to find a job and I owe them $60 a month plus an additional $110 in some other fees for them. And NO, the parole and probation officers do not communicate with each other, so I need to take two mental evaluation tests, and two drug evals, and I pay for all four.

My mother had been saving change in this giant Snoopy Plastic Bank thing and before I went in and was on trial, I had contributed to the snoopy even putting in some larger bills. I open it and bring it to the bank where they count out $1,200. We then go to the Verizon store and purchase a new iPhone 5 for $199, and go to GameStop and buy the new Xbox One and some games. I need to make sure I stay on the straight and narrow and video games are the best way to do this. I have done so many things on just one little Tuesday.

I configure my new iPhone but have to go to dinner to get some food and see people. Before dinner, I am sitting in my room just channel surfing. I finally have access to so many channels and I immediately go to History Channel On-Demand because I missed that channel. I only had ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and now I have hundreds of channels.

I finally get to dinner and there are probably 20 people all saying hello and they miss me and the day was so hectic, but I was out and I was finally free. They were showing me videos and different things on my phone and all the new things that now exist.

I was laying in my bed looking at the ceiling thinking, like, 'I am finally free.' My bed was obviously way too soft and I had trouble sleeping and there were pillows. How do I sleep with pillows? It has been years without one so I go over to my closet grab a sweatshirt and neatly fold it into a square and use it as a pillow like I have been, thinking to myself 'will I ever get used to pillows?'"

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