Prisoners Resources: The Unnecessary Scenic Route

Finding prison was the easy part. Finding a way to get anything done while here... a long road.

I was told by my admissions counselor to try to find a hobby, or make the time pass with a positive endeavor. Study something that interested me. "Civil war history," he said, as if that would somehow spark an interest in me I didn't know existed. 

He told me that the resources existed to do whatever I wanted to accomplish right from the 'comfort' of my cell. "The walls won't hinder the freedom of your mind," he said. 

I left his office rolling my eyes, as I usually did when an authority figure tried to impart words of wisdom. But internally, I was somewhat encouraged, thinking that I just might do something positive with my time here, maybe make my mom proud. But then I instantly became distracted with the real life behind bars. 

Little by little I grew up, though. It always gnawed on me that mom had nothing positive to tell her friends about me yet. I was still the smudged mark on my families name. So I decided to erase that smudge and make something of myself, a 'positive endeavor' as the counselor had pitched years ago. I was motivated. More than that, I was excited. Passion for the idea wasn't too far off. 

I didn't yet know what I was going to do. Study something that interested me, perhaps. Mom always made a big deal about my potentially being the first one in our family to go to college. Maybe I could even get a degree! A smart neighbor told me I could do that from here. 

Exactly how to go about it, I wasn't sure. But my counselor had said that the resources existed to do whatever I wanted. I was sure I'd be able to pick up some sort of prisoner resource guide to find my way. But the resource guide they had at the prison was over a decade old, and mostly just some legal resources anyway. Nothing that interested me. 

I wrote places listed in there anyway, hoping someone could point me in the right direction. Most of what I got were my own envelopes back, marked 'Return to Sender' -- the resources had either moved or ceased to exist. Every mail time was a frustration. It was discouraging. My motivation was on fumes.

The counselor's idea of finding a positive endeavor was like being given a map with no compass or legend to distinguish North from South, no way to navigate but to guess, or just walk in some direction until I bumped into a trailhead that happened to be going in the right direction. Only, wandering this particular walk was beginning to feel like a hamster wheel... going nowhere. 

I was destined to be a smudge.

Over time, more years of wandering aimlessly, I found breadcrumbs of resources -- a resource in the back of the prison pamphlet, a school that offered some personal enrichment classes to prisoners, a news story that had interviewed the head of some nonprofit that helped the incarcerated through health awareness. I wrote them all. I subscribed to newsletters of every advocacy group I happened upon. I grabbed onto each, using the next crumb to lead me to the next, and the next, and so on, hoping they would lead me somewhere, half figuring that I was wasting my stamps, if not my time. 

I found my path.

It took years, but I finally got here. I'm studying, majoring in science for my bachelor's degree. I'm in the middle of my positive endeavor, and it feels better than I ever could have thought it would. Walls aren't hindering the freedom of my mind. I've never felt more free.

Mom told me she was proud of me at my last visit. 

The unfortunate reality: the information and resources were there all along. I could have been here years ago. I just didn't know where to look.

The irony: one of my classes is 'Civil War and Reconstruction, 1848-1877,' and I actually like it.

Bill M., California prisoner serving 9 years

> There are a world of resources available now, right here, ready to help prisoners find their path. What used to take years of wandering can now be delivered in one gifted package.

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