Before you get too excited (some of you gasping in horror...others clapping enthusiastically), I am returning as an invited guest and speaker. I have been given the opportunity to walk through the gates of EOCI (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) and leave on the same day. I will be speaking on the steps a person can take to ensure that they stay out once the date of their release arrives. The reality is that only a very small fraction of incarcerated individuals are serving "Life Without".
I realize that, for some, there is a popular idea that a person should never see the light of day once they walk through those gates. Here are just a couple of "naughty" Americans factoids. According to the Prison Bureau statistics, 1 out of every 142 Americans is now sitting in prison; 1 out of 32 is either in prison or on probation from prison. Recidivism remains at about 40%. I am not going to soap box anything here about reform or other topics along those lines.
In September, during the week of my birthday, I will be going inside to tell the men who attend that they are the only ones who can change those last numbers. My speech will talk about making changes in thought and action. I will tell them that the deck is stacked against them...and that it is a product they created. The task now is to be dedicated to working ten times harder just to break even...if they are lucky. There won't be rainbows and sunshine...but they will also hear that it can be done if they commit to working EVERY SINGLE DAY to be a better person.
One of the main talking points will center on the fact that they can't wait until they get out to make their changes. It has to be done right now and just a bit better. Just over two years ago, as many of you know, I came home. I have been classified at the lowest risk score on the grid, completed a rigorous program that demands constant accountability, and remain vigilant about complying with all the rules. Guess what? It was easy. Why? Because I started making changes in my life the day that door slammed shut. I used my time to become a better person. I have faced numerous attacks on my character based on the past and refused to let it derail me. Why? Because I knew they would come. I accepted the fact that there will always be those who stand against me. If I fall because of those moments, then I have failed myself AND all those who believe in and support me.
When I go inside this September, it will be with a message. That message will be hard but simple. You can make it. Obstacles exist, but you helped place them. How will you overcome them? If you are going to do so successfully, you need to begin long before you walk out those gates.
Yes, I am returning to prison. But this time, I will leave on the same day. I do not expect to change the world, but this is one of those cases where helping just one person can send a ripple of goodness through society.