Notes from the Inside: Thankful for prison?

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By Joshua L.

Illustration by Josh Carroll

Notes from the Inside features writing by inmates serving time in Iowa prisons. Little Village editors have made only minor adjustments for style.

Like most people, I spent the first 10 years of my life as a child. The next 10 as a teenager. For a couple after that I was a husband and father. Since then, I have been incarcerated. For almost a third of my life I have been behind the fences.

This is the time of the year to think of all you’re grateful for. Thanksgiving, giving thanks for all you have. Those words don’t seem to mesh well with being in prison, but I have learned differently. Not that I’m grateful for being locked away from my friends and loved ones, but there are a few things I have found to be grateful for.

I lived the majority of my life as a per­son who defined himself by how many things I could shirk, how many ways I could stay out of the thick of things. I was still that way when I stepped out of that white van in Intake. I was that way when I was GP’d. I was that way for quite a while after being incarcerated.

I admit I was bitter. I had little contact with my wife, my parents, my boys. I had very little to be grateful for. For the most part even being grateful for the thing that most people are grateful for eluded me. I wasn’t particularly grateful for my life. Some of that could have been due to my “The world’s against me” mindset. Some could be put down to my age. I was still young and thought I was always right, even though deep down I knew that was­n’t always the case.

After putting a couple of years behind me, distancing myself from the young man I was, I had some insights. Some of these came to me of their own volition, some I was led to by friends and some were shown to me as I stepped out of my com­fort zone and joined some groups.

I’m not going to bore you with all the details of what each group and the people in them did for me. But I will bore you with telling you that I wouldn’t be the fair­ly responsible and fairly confident man I am today without the influences of the people in these groups and the people that helped lead me to them.

While coming to prison is not a good thing by any standards, good can come of it. If I was still the person who stepped off that van, cuffed and black-boxed, I would probably not be here. I would be in some place I probably wouldn’t survive.

So while I’m not grateful for coming to prison, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned while being incarcerated. Grateful for the time I’ve had to reevaluate myself; who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

In closing, I want to say that while be­ing incarcerated sucks, more than most people can fathom, good can come from it. If only you could stop, look at yourself and see the good you could do for yourself and others while locked away. “Locked away” not thrown away. There is always a key for every lock.

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