On the streets – and making it work

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Trey Xavier

by Trey Xavier

Technology can prove to be challenging, especially for a brother who’d been incarcerated for 27 years, four days and 10 hours. Back in 1994, mobile phones were the size of a lunch pail and there was nothing at all smart about them. A pager and a pocketful of coins were considered high tech. Now that Google is God and Wikipedia is our begotten son and personal savior to the world, the information highway speed limit has increased to 24 billion miles per second. If you’re in the wrong lane or your vehicle is simply incapable of keeping up, you face the danger of being mowed down in traffic without anybody ever noticing your wretched dinosaur carcass.

I am somewhat computer literate. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for the look of suspicion a potential employer rendered when they realized I was unfamiliar with the onboarding process, or how to upload an email, my resume and other important documents necessary for employment. So, I managed to get the job anyway. Then comes the frustration of online banking, Paycom and setting up direct deposit, along with the simply desired accounts Uber, Amazon, Netflix etc. Now I’m walking around with a notebook filled with usernames and passwords, because if I forget one more password I swear I’m going to blow my brains out.

Back when I first came home, I remember walking into a fast food restaurant during lunch hour. I had a craving for some “freedom” fries and a shake. This was my first time outside the transitional home without an escort – the hustle and bustle of people coming and going, the clatter, the crowd, the noise … 

I stood in line watching customers making their orders with credit and debit cards at a kiosk machine. When my turn came, I stepped aside letting others go before me, intimidated. I watched as they picked up their orders and hustled back to their jobs. All I wanted was some fries and a shake. I asked this young white gentleman to help me, he said he didn’t have the time. Now I’m fuming. I mumbled something that made the white gentleman uncomfortable. I could tell by his demeanor he could not wait to get out of there. My misplaced anger could not fathom why this stranger did not have time to help me on his lunch break.

“This is not a stick up! I need some help. All I want is some f****** fries and a shake.”

At that point I experienced what I call an Ally McBeal moment: I pulled a 9mm Glock from my waist and a bankroll from my pocket. “This is not a stick up!” I announced. “I need some help. All I want is some f****** fries and a shake.” I woke up from my Ally McBeal daydream to a practically empty restaurant. A young Hispanic cashier, who must have sensed my frustration, politely asked, “How can I help you, sir?” I whispered, I just want some fries and a shake but I don’t know how to use that machine. With a smile, he said, “That’s OK, sir. We accept cash.”

When I returned to the transitional home, I shared my embarrassing story. Everyone got a kick out of it. They all started sharing similar encounters. I know that there are a lot of comrades waiting to be liberated. Many feel that transitional housing is not something they need because they have families, wives and children. Maybe that’s true for some. However, for the majority who have been away from society 20, 30 years or more, they should seriously consider transitional housing. 

Sure, there are rules and curfews that might seem petty.  In my opinion, transitional housing rules pale in comparison to those I had to follow inside. There’s also an advantage to being around men and women who have shared experiences. Some have been out longer and are sincerely willing to part with the knowledge they’ve acquired – the ins and outs of the DMV and Social Security office, how and where to obtain a birth certificate – these things are not always as simple as they sound: Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), student loans, grants, community nonprofit organizations and companies that are ex-felon friendly. There are so many valuable resources the average civilian knows little about, whereas the formerly incarcerated when we feel we got something coming, you know how we push a line, lol (laugh out loud)!

Then there’s the social and spiritual connection that crosses racial divides and gender lines. Like veterans of war. After all, who could have appreciated my Ally McBeal moment better than long-term offenders, as we are titled (labeled)? Of course, I love my spouse, but she may not understand that after three decades of sleeping alone, spooning feels uncomfortable. I might need a little space now and then. 

If I’m quiet for long periods of time, it doesn’t mean I’m upset. Lockdowns and cell living can instill character traits that are not easy to shake. A civilian may not understand why an “excuse me” is in order when they bump into me or cut me in line, or why I feel like I’m going to need that fade to make things right; gradually merging into society may be wise. We come from a world where your word is bond and respect is king – it’s different on the streets.

Trey Xavier is a writer, San Francisco State University student, by way of Project Rebound, and aspiring filmmaker, who was recently liberated after serving 27 years in California’s Prisoner of War (POW) system. Trey can be reached at treyxavier58@gmail.com