port of harlem magazine

The Other Side

Going Home for Good


Every prisoner dreams of that moment the front gates open and he walks out of the gates as a free man.  The dreams often come after years of unfeigned self-examination, long suffering and momentous preparation.  This feeling is something Thomas Jones knows all to well as he anticipates his release from Jessup Correctional Institution in July.

For five years, 46-year-old Jones has lived the consequences of his negative behavior, which led to a 50-year sentence.  He appealed the initial sentence and won a lesser one.  Nevertheless, the cost of freedom was steep for the two time offender.  “Foremost, I disappointed my grandparents who raised me,” Thomas lamented.  “I was hard-headed and I did not listen to them,” he continued.

There are many variables, such as family structure and physical environment, that factor into shaping a person’s characteristics. Jones accepts this notion, but does not blame his upbringing for his situation.  He blames his downfall on his addiction to crack.  “Drugs had me not thinking right,” he admitted.

After acknowledging he had a drug problem, Jones took steps to engage in activities that would transform him.  While there are those who criticize “jail house religion,” Thomas believes his first step, seeking help from God, has made a profound impact on him.  “Jesus taught me to be a man, humble, peaceful and happy. I thank God for opening my eyes to Jesus,” he said.

He has also taken anger management classes through the Alternatives to Violence Program where he learned tools to help him recognize the warning signs of his developing feelings of anger.  During the program’s workshops, participants discussed social issues through role-playing. Jones had to get used to seeing men openly reveal their feelings and reaching out to other men.

Jones learned how to manage uncontrolled, often negative, outburst by talking his problems though with the other men or himself instead of reacting, often negatively, to them. “I have learned how to simply walk away from a percolating situation,” he added.

While the excitement of strolling through the prison’s gates is real, the reality of starting fresh often overshadows the joy.  After years in a controlled environment, he wonders if he will be able to obtain adequate housing, medical attention and employment. And though he has remained drug and alcohol free, he knows he will have to face his reactions in an uncontrolled environment and where no person will supervise his every activity. To avoid temptation, he said, “I will not deal with the same people, places and things that helped get me here.”

Reconciling with his children will be another hurdle. “I want to build a relationship with my kids,” Thomas affirmed with a distance glaze that underscored his inner fears.

The moment of truth for Thomas is just days away.  His dream is at hand.  Amid much introspection and considerable preparation, somber prayer holds him ready to walk through the prison’s wrought iron gates to the other side for good.

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