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Ex-Prisoners Share What It Was Like to Finally Become Free

Sammy Tran

Serving time in prison is something very hard to imagine for those of us who haven’t experienced it. Nevertheless, it is probably safe to assume that when one spends a large portion of their life in a closed, regimented environment filled with constant threat and danger for an extended period of time, leaving that environment can make for some crazy results.

Whether it’s adjusting to changes in society, dealing with the ups and downs of the rehabilitation system, or even just trying to make sense of the whole experience, the transition is one worth trying to understand.

Here are some thoughts and stories that Redditors have had to share about this fascinating subject.


38. A Long Awaited Snack Time

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—Tahitian Treat—and a pack of bubble gum.

Man, I really missed bubble gum!

helloiamCLAY

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37. All You Need Is Love

I had 10 of my friends who found out I was home show up to my house five minutes after I got there myself, and that was the best feeling I have ever felt. It is so very nice to have the reassurance that the people in your life love you, even if you already know it. I will never forget sitting on the bench in my neighborhood, catching up with two people that were already there, when all the sudden my closest friend ran out of nowhere and tackled me with a hug.

Surprisingly, it took about a week for the novelty of being home to wear thin, and then daily life just kind of picked up right where it left off without even skipping a beat, and suddenly I was no longer a “client,” but rather a normal kid worrying about school starting up again.

Ya_Boy_Bill

36. Nighty Night

I was laying in my bed looking at the ceiling being like “I am finally free.” My bed was obviously way too soft, I had trouble sleeping, and there were pillows. How do I sleep with pillows? It had 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?”

13times5plus4

35. Squeaky Clean

I went home and had some alone time to myself and took a shower without shower shoes.

username911

34. This Guy Can Relate

Wasn’t prison for me, but I can relate with that feeling of liberation when I received my discharge papers leaving the Marines. That final drive out of the base gates knowing that I’ll never have to return again. The freedom to drive anywhere and do anything with no distance and time restrictions. No one I’ll have to report to to let know my whereabouts or weekend plans.

And when I finally returned to my hometown, it felt like I’d time-traveled five years into the future. Construction work that was going on when I left were now fully paved streets. New shops opened or old shops closed. Younger family members were now young adults.

The culture of how you interact with people in the military was always very direct and rank structured. Took me a while to readjust and take it easy in social situations.

I appreciated my time in the Marines but when I left the base for that last time, I never looked back.

PsychoAgent

33. It’s All in the Game

Not a former prisoner, but a friend of a former prisoner. We got home and he was already a little bit of a gamer but hasn’t played since the PS3 Slim was released. I have a gaming PC and showed him what it could do. And boy was he shocked. I showed him Tomb Raider 2013 and Battlefield 4. I’ve never seen someone more excited to play video games in a while.

aquacharge

32. Nothing Says Romance Like Red Bull

My wife picked me up with a new smartphone, two Red Bulls, and a Starbucks coffee. After seeing my parole officer, we went straight home and well, you can guess how the rest of my day/night went.

twistedmjc

31. The Irony

I finally put down the keyboard and went outside. 2/10 it was overrated.

CheifDash

30. Cherish the Special Moments

Oh boy, I was released on parole on a Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day. I had been waiting for this day, and I had planned out what exactly I was going to do. My eligible release date was actually the Saturday before but you can’t be released on parole, because you need to check in the same day, on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday…

So here I am on a Tuesday being released. I was told I would be released in the AM but the front area was so busy. After what seemed like an eternity (really 1.5 hours) they finally called my name. I remember sitting there asking myself if this was really happening or not. I had 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.

13times5plus4

29. Safe Keeping

There I am, sitting in the back seat 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 while in a moving vehicle is making me motion 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 reorganized my old bedroom, my 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.

13times5plus4

28. Dealing With “the Man”

I go to the address I was given to check into parole. Everybody in there is rude and they are judging me, I feel like I am back to my old life just where I left off, with all of these adults who 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 four or five minutes of trying to pee.

I am then told of all the rules; “no being out of the house past 10 pm unless I am at work, I need to find a job and have a lot of hours or I have to go to programming 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 consuming alcohol or illicit drugs, 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, 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 darn, that was a lot but I leave to 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 parole. 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 very 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 evaluations, and I pay for all four.

13times5plus4

27. Putting the Pieces Back Together One at a Time

My mother had been saving change in this giant Snoopy Plastic Bank thing (three feet tall). Before I went in and was on trial, I had contributed to the Snoopy, even putting in a few $10 and $20s. I open it and bring it to the bank where they have the little change counter thingy. $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.

13times5plus4

26. Back to the Luxuries of Life

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 the History Channel On-Demand because I missed that channel! I only had ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX in prison 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.

13times5plus4

25. Lending a Helping Hand for a New Lease on Life

The most memorable prisoner release that I saw growing up as the child of a warden was when my dad requested to have this particular inmate as an aid to his office so that he can have more time to study for his GED. He got out of prison in six years and he went to culinary school after. He sends us postcards every now and then of his travels and pics of the time their team hosted a certain royal guest since he ended up as a sous chef in a popular chain of hotels.

MedschoolgirlMadison

24. A Sad Story

Not me, but a used-to-be close friend of mine.

She got out of jail, county time, served sentence. Picked her up that night and she was ecstatic, jumping all over the place, squeezing me, crying from joy, saying she’s finally free. She’d only been doing six months, mind you. I worked in that jail, and honestly, she was happier in there.

We got drunk that night and celebrated…

A couple of weeks begin to pass and she’s becoming more and more depressed with each day. It’s been a few months since she got out. She used to talk to me each day. Now I’m lucky to hear from her at all. She hates her life, she lays around doing nothing living with her parents.

The sad thing is, I miss her being back in jail. She always told me she’d be my sexy nurse girlfriend. I’ve given up on her. I did everything I could to help her.

Nikolai_Blak

23. Reluctant Adventurer

Not technically prison, but darn near the same thing. Was held against my will in the Idahoan desert for 62 nights one summer. Parents sent me to wilderness “therapy,” but it was hardly that. This kind of therapy had ten 14 to 17-year-old boys sleep every night in the desert, spend basically all of our time outdoors, and hike up to 18 miles a day, with 50 lb. packs containing all of the bare necessities.

My first day back in society was extremely overwhelming. I was brought to Snuffer’s for my first actual meal in two months that I hadn’t made myself. I drained my milkshake within the first five minutes, as that was the one thing I had been craving for my entire stint as a coerced outdoorsman. I teared up for no apparent reason and excused myself to the bathroom before anyone could notice, and bawled my eyes out for a good five minutes. To this day, I have absolutely no clue why.

Ya_Boy_Bill

22. Sounds Like a Movie I Saw Once…

My bandmate picked me up, we saw a nun, saw all my old friends again, and we saved an orphanage.

OK, maybe it wasn’t a single day, but you get the point.

Kellosian

21. And This Sounds Like a TV Show I Saw Once…

I stole the identity of a small-town sheriff and started enforcing my violent but righteous law.

Zeeso

20. All a Big Misunderstanding

An old military buddy of mine came and got me the day I got out. I’d got hit for a trumped up “desertion” charge and court-martialed pretty quick, even though I’d given my Commanding Officer notice. There had been some changes to the political landscape of my home government and a new war had started and the prison I was in was abandoned by the guards. My buddy brought along my old uniform, body armor, ID, and Lancer Rifle with a chainsaw bayonet.

AcrolloPeed

19. One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure

Not a prisoner, but a federal probation officer. Most of my guys coming out onto supervised release spent at least a solid three to 10 years on probation. Just got a guy released on parole after 30+ years (although that’s a rare one).

A common theme is hitting up the favorite junk food (McDonald’s, Arby’s, etc.) followed by serious stomach cramps while they re-adjust to new food. I can’t count how many times that is the first real touch of being back from behind bars. Getting some good junk food with family usually. Small things, right?

drundge

18. Interesting Perspective

I wasn’t in prison, I have been homeless for a while, just starting to get out of it, but I have five separate court things I’ve got to go to for some petty things that happened while homeless like trespassing, shoplifting a backpack, and these courts are all spread across the city.

It’s like, how am I supposed to hold a job when I have to call out of work so many times to go to court, not to mention they are all in separate parts of my city, so I have had five bench warrants out for me for the last like six months… and it’s like… I’m completely trapped.

permalink

17. The Dark Side of Being Released

It’s almost as though we treat convicts like animals and then expect them to get out and not act like animals. Most people that never go back to prison are the ones who felt so awful the first time they’re scared witless to ever go back, not just genuinely wanting to improve their lives and be better people.

If we treated them like valuable human beings, taught them skills to socialize and survive, how to avoid bad situations, etc., while also loving them, we’d see way less repeat offenders. Research other countries who do it like this and you’ll see what I mean.

Unfortunately, we’d rather watch them punished for their crimes instead of rehabilitated.

xanplease

16. You’d Better Choose Your New Behavior Carefully

I used to work in the “intake” area where new inmates come in and saw soooooo many people I said goodbye to come back because of a parole violation. It is so common and they basically trick you. At first, I thought some stories were fake but after a while hearing similar stories for almost a year you knew they were out to get people.

I heard three different people tell me they came back because they were at an AA/NA meeting out front smoking a cigarette talking to someone outside they have never met, and they were chatting before the meeting started. The parole officer drives by and sees them talking and knows both were ex-cons. Then, the dude comes back for the violation. First time I heard it, I thought it wasn’t real, but after the third time, I knew I had to be extra extra careful.

13times5plus4

15. Sounds Like PTSD

Trade the prison part for deployed and I’ll tell you the exact way my husband felt and acted after a certain one of his deployments. We’d go to eat but he would get overwhelmed so we would just leave to go eat at home/or he would be bugging out, going outside to smoke a lot. If the Walmart parking lot was too full, he wouldn’t go in and when we went in, I had to stand on the “outside” of him to “protect” him from others—AKA, protect others from him.

Puddytats

14. Plot Twist

Since getting out of prison, my friend has been playing so many hours of video games that he’s pretty much addicted now. His home is his prison now…

Dikmunch

13. Catching Up With the Times

I was pretty hip with technology before, but it took me maybe a day or so of playing with my mom’s smartphone before I figured out how to fully use it, including all the tricks they can do. I held off on getting one myself for about a year, but I’ve had an iPhone for six years now.

helloiamCLAY

12. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

There were a lot of changes I had to get used to after leaving prison. For one thing, driving fast was something I had to ease into. And by “fast” I don’t mean doing 60 in a 40. I’m talking about just finding the nerve to keep up with the flow of traffic. That’s one of those things I really didn’t expect. My first night driving alone was like being a teenager again. I loved the freedom and independence, but I was also a little uneasy about driving on the highway with everybody else.

helloiamCLAY

11. Remembering the Simple Things in Life

It was humbling and glorious. I got put on a Greyhound bus with other prisoners. Some had been locked up for decades. One guy saw a Segway and flipped the heck out! He couldn’t believe it.

droiddekka

10. What Does Freedom Taste Like?

I ate a veggie sandwich from Subway that day. It tasted like freedom.

droiddekka

9. Heartwarming

Some people working in the prison system truly care about the well-being of the people who get out. One guy went above and beyond, and I wish more people were like that. He went out of his way to essentially say “HEY! YOU MATTER! I AM THINKING ABOUT YOU AND CARE ABOUT YOUR LIFE.”

That’s pretty great.

Rousseauoverit

8. A Little Bit of the Blues

We jumped a street bridge that was opening over water.

Kellosian

7. On Pins and Needles

I was on edge the whole time I went to a restaurant, a Walmart, and to a bar with a friend my first day out. At the restaurant, I got so anxious I literally felt sick and had to step outside. At Walmart I walked in, saw all the people and immediately told my mom nope, no thanks, I’ll wait outside. At the bar, we ended up sitting by the door and every time someone walked in my head would jerk to see who it was but after a few brews, my nerves chilled.

username911

6. Making Friends

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 time 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 to 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 ain’t the way to be.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed and smiled along with her. She was mostly just making friendly chit-chat, 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.

helloiamCLAY

5. Exactly What I Wanted To Hear

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 have 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 wanna 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.

helloiamCLAY

GettyImages

4. No Hard Feelings

Pat eventually showed up. Funny story about that… He thought I was getting out with folks who were making parole. Those inmates are released around 10:30 am or so. However, I didn’t make parole, so I got released with the first group that morning around 8:30 am or so. He felt terrible when he realized what happened, but if he’d been on time, I would’ve never had this awesome interaction with that kind old lady, so I ain’t even mad.

Life has been good since prison. It’s been more than seven years now, so there’s way more to write than time would allow right now. But yes, I definitely took the old lady’s advice. Well, sort of. I still go back to prison as a visitor/speaker/whatever, but I leave at the end of the day.

helloiamCLAY

3. The Long Road to a New Beginning

My dad was a retired superintendent at a correctional facility. The last year before he retired we saw a guy walking along the street with a duffle bag. My parents don’t pick up strangers let alone have them sit on a backseat of the car with me. But this time, my dad did pull over and invite the man into our car. It turned out my dad helped this guy with his application for parole recommendation and he was finally free to go home that day. They talked a lot and dad reminded him not to get himself back in prison.

The man was incarcerated for 15 years and we dropped him off at the bus terminal, he missed the shuttle service that day because he thought his family would pick him up. He was a furniture woodworker. For some reason my dad thought it was a good idea to buy him a Happy Meal from the drive-thru, so he’d have something to eat while waiting for the bus.

MedschoolgirlMadison

2. Fashionably Late

Wearing the same uniform day in and day out for the past few years, I never even thought about dressing myself. But all of a sudden, I now had to consider what contemporary fashion is appropriate.

PsychoAgent

1. Meant to Be

I was released on July 4, 2013. A family I was friends with picked me up from the bus stop, and took me to Burger King for my first meal, and to the Guitar Center to pick up a guitar, and then to fireworks that night. July Fourth has taken on a special meaning for me, for it is truly my own Independence Day.

kplum1280

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