by Willie Hill
I am a multi-termer, a three strikes “plus” candidate, which means I’ve journeyed in and out of prison more than three times in my life. One of those incarcerations lasted 15 years straight. Fifteen years of having my drug addictions restrained and my every activity monitored by correctional officers behind barbed wire walls and gun towers.
I for one will admit that I perhaps know less about free society than I do about prison life. And now that I’m in the midst of this much longed for freedom after so many years of having my drug craving restrained and my movements under armed guard, it’s not easy practicing self-restraint and placing boundaries on myself.
After so many years on the inside, it’s difficult adjusting to the outs without running amok like a little kid in a candy store. And I speak for myself in this regard, let me make that clear. Because I’ve personally fallen victim to that kind behavior in the past, each time the end result a trip to prison.
This now seems like a mere slap on the wrist. Even the 15-year stretch would pale in comparison to what I face nowadays if I don’t tread very lightly down the right road. Twenty-five years to life is a death sentence for anyone over 50 years old.
Ironically, I know less about doing time on the streets then I do behind prison walls. This is a fact hard for the ego to admit. Besides the obvious, with this acceptance comes the feelings of loneliness. As I consciously strive to avoid that old comfortable road of drugs and crime, I find it necessary to seek help and advice as I slowly and painstakingly go through the process of familiarizing myself with being a responsible and productive member of society.
Walden House’ STEPS program is the prefect partner and vehicle for parolees who have renounced our old addictive way of life for a new style of living and behaving. Walden Houses STEPS is now my comfort zone, a clean and sober social gathering place and support service center all in one. A place where I can go and not feel alone and ostracized , because I’m amongst clean and sober peers, both clientele and staff.
All through the day and late into the evening, as I go about the often frustrating task of trying to get a stable foothold onto this road which society expects me to travel and with which I aspire to acquaint myself like never before, I can readily visit Walden House, eat a free meal three times a day and attend a multiple choice of self-help substance abuse groups every hour on the hour. One on one counseling is available from experienced Walden House staff who hold not only traditional qualifications, but the priceless credentials of being ex-drug addicts whom I can easily relate to and trust with my complex issues.
And then there’s the educational department along with the computer lab, which is my personal refuge from the street life I’m trying to leave behind. The computer lab has served as a perfect vehicle for me to pursue and exercise my literary creative potential, allowing me to work on my anti-gang literary project called COLORS, The Ancient African Connection to the Crips and Bloods, a potential literary tool intent on helping society curb the rival gang violence in the communities.
Through the Walden House STEPS program, I find myself taking small significant steps toward an eventual big accomplishment, not so much for myself but for a society which has graciously given me more second chances then perhaps I even deserve.
The Walden House STEPS program is a first of its kind. Perhaps if it had been in place years ago, I might not have become a multiple repeat offender. One thing is for sure, now that it does exist, myself and other parolees who participate in the program stand a far better chance of never repeating again.
Willie Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.