I was a bit worried, scared I guess. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My release date finally reached reality. I had ideas and plans but I knew, especially then, that circumstances don’t always fall in line with plans. Desires and life aren’t engaged in a symbiotic relationship. As I stepped through those gates, my feet touching free ground, it was like entering a new world, like I had never before experienced freedom. I was unfamiliar with it. I’d forgotten what it was like to be free, what it was supposed to feel like.
I wore the clothes my mother and sister sent me in a “release package,” an orange t-shirt, dark blue jeans, very baggy, and the pair of Timberland boots I requested. There’s a picture of this moment, somewhere, I don’t have it with me now, but I remember it because I once framed it. I even taped a thin slip of paper with a message (from a fortune cookie) in the upper right-hand corner. It says “A person is as free as he believes himself to be.”
That day, June 1, 2002, possessed a dreamlike quality. I was floating. During the course of my 9 year bid, I was never completely certain I’d ever make it out. It was a horrible reality, going in at 16 years old. I was a kid. I was supposed to be in high school, 11th grade. Instead, I had resigned myself to the thought that my future held only two possibilities: (1) I would die in a prison cell, or (2) I’d be given a life sentence for killing someone, for protecting myself.
Today, June 1, 2017, does not possess a dreamlike quality, but I’m thankful for this day. That I’m writing this post, it’s almost a miracle. I thank God for this moment. After this post I’m going to grade some tests from my Tuesday evening class, then I’ll create my lesson plan for tonight’s class. It’s the first week of a new semester. I always enjoy the first week, meeting my new students, getting a feel for their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses.
About 18 months ago I was visiting friends and family in Florida. I was talking with my cousin. He turned to me and said, “Dude, I still can’t picture you as a teacher.” He laughed.
“Congrats,” he said, and raised his drink. We clinked the necks of our bottles then sipped.
He said, “Seriously, I can’t believe you’re a teacher.”
I laughed. “Sometimes,” I said, “I can’t believe it either.”