My advice to Felons: Never Give Up
My advice to Felons: Never Give Up
When people comment on my tattoos, they usually say “Hey, I like your artwork. Where’d you get that done at?” I usually respond with, “I got it done in a halfway house in Oakland. Right after I got out of federal prison.” I typically use this response when I’m dressed in my work attire, completely professional, face, heels the whole nine with the exception of a sleeve tattoo showing on my bare arms as I adorn my favorite sleeveless Alexia Admor navy blue bodycon dress. I love to bear witness to the shock value. To see their expression as they contemplate whether or not I am being facetious. The hesitant awkward laugh that bubbles forth as some are kind enough not wanting to offend. Then of course there are others who were in the lifestyle and nod and offer daps as if a secret underground Costco membership has been displayed. These folks often contribute with, “That’s what’s up. Where did you do your time? My cousin was down in Victorville…..” then the stories commence as we conjure up similarities in the struggle and how good it is to be on the “outside”.
It's been sixteen years since I’ve been locked up. I’m not going to lie, it has been a long hard road to get to where I am now. In retrospect, I made it harder on myself for a few years. I took the easy route, I didn’t want to put the work in. I let my ego get in the way, which cost me a few years and setbacks I’m sure. From the time I left the penitentiary to now, I faced two years of federal probation, drug addiction, physical and mental abuse from a failed marriage, professional success, professional failure, eviction, homelessness, lost opportunities, and the death of my father. Without going into detail, I’m sure everyone has experienced in some shape or form the struggles I’ve listed above. I’ve had people in my corner, helping me and guiding me. I’ve also had enemies cloaked as friends, deviantly trying to side swipe me off of my path. At times there were people who just did not want to see me succeed and would do whatever it took to bring me down. And then there was also just good old fashioned bad luck. Sometimes people just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I say all that to say this: My fellow felons, if you want to get out of the lifestyle that landed you in prison and you want to better your life: NEVER GIVE UP. The road to success is never ending and there are detours and roadblocks and unforeseen obstacles all along the way. The life you want does not happen overnight. You have to play the long game. The cards will be stacked against you and be it that it may owning up to the fact that you are the one that stacked those cards makes getting to your goal a whole lot easier. Of course, there’s injustice and inequality. Of course, there’s environmental and systemic racism. Of course, society can be blinded to the plight of our personal struggles. But if we were to pinpoint the transgression that led us to our incarceration that choice, that decision…. Own that. Own it, accept it, learn from it, and move on. There is no use in holding on to “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve”. What is done is done and you’re where you are now and luckily tomorrow is a new day.
The first five years after I got out, I was still in the hustle mindset. I complained about not being connected to community, to feeling ostracized in society from the felon stigma and yet I wasn’t doing anything to contribute. I had nothing of value to offer except my complaints. It wasn’t until I looked outside of myself that I started to see where and how I could leave my mark in this world.
The “HOW” I did that, I will leave for another day. The purpose of this entry is to tell you, NEVER give up on yourself. No one will be your biggest advocate other than yourself. You have to believe in yourself fully and completely because until you do so, no one will. No one will extend the grace of forgiveness, so forgive yourself first, believe in yourself. Never give up, no matter what set back may come. The road to greatness will never be easy. But persistence and perseverance and the tenacity for indefatigable optimism is your superpower. Believe in the laws of attractions and the universe and the stars will align for you. You do no service to minimize your greatness because of your own self-doubt and insecurity. Use your gifts and talents as you were destined to. Only in darkness are you able to see the light. The worst is already behind you. Everyone loves the story of the underdog, the comeback kid, David vs. Goliath. Tomorrow is the beginning of your story. And I can’t wait for you to share it with me.