Reentry & Prison Stories and Poems

Reentry Is A Moving Target
(March 25, 2015)

So, after the trauma of my new roommate threatening to kill me in many different ways and almost setting herself on fire and then pulling a knife on me in the middle of the night. After getting the Temporary Restraining Order and having her removed by the police and then dealing with her violating the order and going back to the Court. After losing my case manager to dubious rational and getting the locks changed on my apartment. After putting my house in order (I’m really not quoting the Bible I mean literally), and trying to remember to breathe.

After all of this I realize I am terrified. I realize that I am failing and I hate to fail. I realize that this is reentry and it is never ending because normal screw-ups feel like the world is falling down. Because after all of the past two weeks drama and new trauma, I lost my fucking keys and SmartTrip card on the damn bus today.

I lost my keys and had the only extra copy on the ring because I was going to give it to one of my attorneys today. And I slowly fell apart. I mean it started as a quiet cry on the phone with said attorney. It settled into my middle during therapy today and then it just exploded in this downward spiral of feeling worthless and unworthy and full of shame. This is reentry.

I am terrified. I knew that coming home would be hard and overwhelming. I did not know that I would become this incompetent, sniveling, needy, incapable being. I did not know that I was going to be this afraid. And I didn’t arrive home this frightened. Let me tell you how I got to this fear.

This fear, that causes me to wake up dry heaving and gagging over my toilet. And as I told a Reentry Advocate, the last time I spent days on end waking with the dry heaves and gags, I got a baby out of it. Well I can assure you all that there is no baby coming from this morning and all day sickness. I’m not sure what is growing in me, but it is surrounded in fear that leaves me exhausted when my feet hit the floor.

This terror was created and has manifested itself as an image of a brick wall to high, long, and wide to conquer. Because of the fake reentry services, the traumatizing halfway house, the re-incarceration just because I had been set free, the poverty pimps and the marginalization of my already marginalized being—I find reentry to be a big, green, hairy, slobbering bully.

Returning is supposed to be work, but it should not be terrorizing and traumatizing. And losing my keys should not leave me huddled in a bump in front of my door literally pulling my hair out strand by strand and raking my nails over my body because I feel so unworthy and wrapped in shame.

And yet I am lucky. I am lucky because I reached out and once again people reached back. I was so ashamed that I felt incapable of asking for the money from anyone—because I know that everyone in my world has financial woes. I finally called my niece. My niece whom I forget is 30 and not 13. My niece who I want to still protect and take care of is the one I finally called and asked if she had a credit card. My niece is 30 years old and the amazing mother of a 4 year old. Yet I could not see her as a person with a credit card. [Which is an entirely different conversation of seeing people and how we are seen.]

But $388.00 later on her credit card and I was let into my apartment. $388.00 and four and half hours of waiting around because I was too ashamed to ask her for financial help and I entered into what I am trying to make my home.I gagged. I dry heaved. There was nothing in my stomach because I couldn’t make myself eat today. Then I pulled myself together. Made a very bad for me bacon and avocado pita sandwich and poured a very large glass of cheap Trader Joe’s red wine and sat down to count my blessings.

It is filled with trauma—this coming home. The simplest mistake is daunting. It is as if the world is taunting me and other returning citizens. And yet I am lucky. Lucky because I have people to reach out to, lucky because I sit here in this space that cost me and is causing me so much fear—but it is lovely. I am overwhelmed by people’s kindness. I am shocked by people’s stupidity, ignorance, hatred and meanness. But mostly I am grateful.

There is a line from one of my favorite poems—The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruefrock—that I say to myself and others when it all seems to be too much, “….and there will be time. Time for you and time for me…Time for a hundred decisions and revisions in which a moment will reverse…”

I need that time. I need to remember that things go skewing and screaming the wrong way, but “there will be time” I pray.

Amme Voz

2 thoughts on “Reentry & Prison Stories and Poems

  1. Amme, thank you so much for this blog and for telling these stories. As traumatic as your childhood, going to prison, and returning from prison were (and I believe all three are extremely traumatic) I know writing about your experiences is healing. And as hard as it is I believe your bravery and vulnerability is strengthening you.

    I feel like I am throwing meaningless accolades at you that contain little substance and I really don’t want to do that. I read your article in the Nation (I think) and was moved to read more about you. I was struck by your writing style as well as your honesty and vulnerability. I run an organization in Georgia called Reforming Arts. We teach arts and humanities classes in a women’s prison and have a Theatre Reentry Project for reentering citizens. I say all of this to say that from working with these women I know how difficult reentering can be, especially when you have no family support. I also believe that stories like yours is changing the discourse about Mass Incarceration in the US. Keep it up, I’m sure it is difficult. But please keep it up.

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  2. Can really identify with “the work waiting for me to fail”. How can I help women who are re-entering? I am not a specialist or clinician. Just a praying woman. What can I do or say?

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