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Prison Life- Answers From An Ex-Con

Updated on April 8, 2016

James Emerson- Author/Excon

The Beginning

Locked Down On The Inside

Today is my birthday. The sun outside is shining and while it’s not summer as of yet the cold has lost its winter bite. I’m 34 now. Another year passed as I frantically attempt to rebuild my life. Sometimes I feel like I’m running in place, trying to play catch up, as I attempt to finish the life tasks most complete in their twenties. It’s been a good year though. I have a woman who loves me and a 16 year old son who, while frustrating sometimes, makes me so proud.

I go to school full time for business. I have a 3.8 GPA with over 60 credit hours, My goal being the attainment of a graduate degree. My classmates see me as a clean cut, handsome (if I do say so myself), athletic young man. I enjoy dressing well and taking care of myself. Most see me as a nice guy.

What they would never guess, is that this isn’t the person I used to be. As a youth I was rash, and violent. I cared for no one but myself and loved nothing so much as the feeling of a gun in my hand. Armed robbery, burglary, dealing drugs, selling guns, I did anything and everything I could to make myself feel powerful and in control. I was a bad person, who cared nothing of anything but myself. It wasn’t long before my lifestyle caught up with me.

Next came the nervous waiting. Jail is like purgatory. Thick concrete walls finished in institutional tones, razor wire topped chain link fences. In a way, waiting in jail is more torturous than prison because you’re typically located close to those you care about. You can look out the windows and see the city traffic flowing in an unceasing river, knowing that nothing has stopped because you sit locked away. You can no longer kiss your woman, hug your children. If your mother lays dying you can do nothing but mourn and bang your fists on the wall in impotent protest. You’re a ghost, and it’s only the beginning.

I was locked away for thirteen and a half years, most of it at FCI Raybrook. I’ve been housed in state prisons of every security level as well as Federal prisons across the East coast. I was herded and corralled like an animal, unable to fight back or resist in any effective way. I was filled with pent up rage and helpless to exert any control over my own life. I lost everything.

In the fall of 2014 I emerged from Federal prison, a new man. I had little idea of what to expect or how I would be received. After living among animals for such an extended period adjusting to the community was going to be difficult. A recidivism rate is above 75% should prove to you that integrating after incarceration is no easy task.

It’s been almost two years now. I’m a new man. I’d like to think a good man. There’s many men who are still behind the walls awaiting their release day, there’s also many who don’t have one. I decided to start this forum to inform the public about the realities of prison life. What can one expect when they go to prison? What’s it really like “behind the wall”. America houses more prisoners than any other nation in the world. Many of us have loved ones locked away. If you would like to know what they are going through, simply ask. If you’re anticipating incarceration yourself and want to know how to prepare yourself, ask. I am here to educate the public in hopes of opening eyes, releasing some of my own pent up demons, and perhaps making conditions a little more bearable for those still inside.

So let’s discuss America’s prison system. Let’s provide clarity on the subject, and open eyes to the plight of those “paying their dues”. If I can help one person, provide peace of mind for someone who is awaiting the return of a loved one, or ease the burden of some of the millions affected by prison, then every ounce of effort I put into this blog is worth it.


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