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Beyond Bars: Regardless of our advantages, we’re responsible for our circumstances

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Oct 1, 2018

Last week, a man I knew from prison reached out to me and said he was looking for work. He told me he had “messed up a few times” (meaning he had used drugs.) He said, “It’s hard, you know?” He had made some assumptions about me and I had made some assumptions about him. We were both wrong.

He had assumed that I had experienced the “struggle.” I had assumed the reason he was currently homeless was because of poor decisions. Turns out, he was homeless because he was choosing sobriety. Everyone he knows, including his family, uses drugs and tries to get him to use with them. I have not experienced anything close to his struggles.

By seeing the stark differences in our situations, I realize how blessed I am to have the support I do – sometimes I forget and take my circumstances for granted. I have been given a place to live by my parents in a healthy and happy environment. By prison standards, that alone would mean I come from privilege.

I am sure I have had it much easier than the vast majority of parolees. Still there are very real obstacles I face on my re-entry path. Good landlord laws as well as the availability of information will make it difficult to find a decent place to rent. I’m far from starting from scratch but, I am starting from a deep hole (one I dug). Between restitution, back-child support accrued over years in prison, and various debts I racked up, buying a place is not realistic at this time.

I also dug myself a deep hole in the professional world. My job options are very limited. I was fortunate to be given a job straight out of prison. I currently work in outside sales, and after being stuck in one spot for four years, I really enjoy the freedom of not spending all my time in one location.

When I was first out, I told someone whom I respect greatly that I knew I was going to be just fine and he asked me what my plan was. I told him I didn’t really have one and he said that was pretty arrogant. He basically told me it’s OK to feel like nothing is going to stop me from achieving my goals, but it’s unrealistic to think things are just going to happen for me.

That really resonated with me. I related that to fitness. Anytime I have hit fitness goals, I have had a plan as far as diet and exercise. I knew I wanted a different job, a specific job, so I made a plan. I saved every penny I earned that wasn’t ordered for other use by the court or necessity, and in my case that was only transportation. This allowed me to negotiate and accept a commission only position doing the type of work I enjoy with the company I wanted to work for.

Regardless of one’s advantages, we are responsible for our circumstances. Even with more obstacles than most, this is still true for the man from prison who has to choose between family and a place to live or staying sober. Everyone’s road is different. I’m thankful for the people who have helped me and I’m happy to report my friend Jared is giving this guy a job.


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