So Can You: “Keys To Successful Living After Prison”

James Johnson

By James Johnson 

I recently found myself engaged in a conversation with a young man who was just released from prison. He said to me “James, you just don’t get it. It’s hard out here. Nobody wants to hire a convicted felon, much less a Black man that’s a convicted felon. I gotta do what I gotta do to survive out here. James the only reason you’re getting by is because you got a CDL…” Needless to say, he rambled on for quite some time. As I stood there listening to him vent his frustrations I couldn’t help but empathize with him. I knew precisely how he was feeling, and once he had regained control of his emotions, I seized the opportunity to share with him a few of the principle that have enabled me to succeed…

Foremost, I explained to him that I’ve succeeded thus far as a result of a series of CHOICES that I’ve made. I began PREPARING for my release from prison shortly after my sentencing in 2008. I recall the day I first entered the Classification office at MacDougall Correctional Institution and was told that my projected release date was September 2012, that I wouldn’t earn any “good-time”, and I wasn’t eligible for parole. I immediately did something that only those who’ve previously spent time in prison would understand. I began counting the years on my fingers to see how old I would be when I got out. LOL!!!!!

As time went on, I did my absolute best to adjust to my surroundings. However, I soon realized that if I was to maintain my sanity I had to immediately FREE MY MIND from the confines of the penitentiary. I began asking my family to search the internet and send me information pertaining to entrepreneurship and business management. I familiarized myself with such terminology as overhead costs, interest, revenue forecasting, LLC, LLP, S-Corporation, C-Corporation, Double-Taxation, Sole Proprietorship, etc. Before long I found myself consumed by my desire to learn even more. As I continued to request and receive information on these topics, I began developing a VISION for my future. For the first time in life I actually thought that I might be capable of accomplishing something great.

By January of 2009 I had been reassigned to another penitentiary. As I laid down one afternoon listening to “The Michael Baisden Show”, I heard Dr. Dennis Kimbro discussing his book “Think And Grow Rich: A Black Choice”. I was instantly inspired to take a new approach to life, an approach that would require me to totally TRANSFORM MY THINKING in order to create the future I desired. I soon asked my family to send me Dr. Kimbro’s book. Reading his book forever changed the trajectory of my life. I realized then that my rehabilitation was MY RESPONSIBILITY!!!!!

Over the next few years, I would continue reading and EDUCATING myself regarding a variety of subjects. I came to understand that REHABILITATION CAN’T EXIST APART FROM EDUCATION. I even began compiling a list of places to apply for jobs when I got out. I knew that money would be a necessity after my release, and there are only two ways in this world to make money… LEGALLY or ILLEGALLY!!! As different places came to mind, I would add to my list periodically. It’s imperative to note that this list consisted of a multitude of professions. I had RELINQUISHED MY PRIDE and determined that if it wasn’t immoral or illegal then I’d do it until I could do better. I refused to allow the foolishness of pride to prevent me from taking the steps necessary to triumph despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Eventually I began studying incarceration rates and recidivism. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that America had the HIGHEST incarceration rate in THE WORLD!!!!! I was even more stunned when I began researching PRISON PRIVATIZATION. I learned of companies such as Corrections Corporation Of America and discovered that incarceration was actually BIG BUSINESS… Needless to say, I became infuriated at the thought of someone profiting from incarceration. It was then that I personally declared war against the PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. I knew that there was no way for me to combat such an inhumane system physically. Therefore, I committed myself to continuing my research and sharing such invaluable wisdom with others whenever the opportunity presented itself…

After serving just over five-years I was released on August 31, 2012. A quote by the late Nelson Mandela resonated with me as I considered the journey before me. He once said:

“As I walked out the door toward my

freedom I knew that if I did not leave

all the anger, hatred, and bitterness

behind I’d still be in prison…”

While I was determined to leave the emotional effects of the penitentiary behind, I knew that I had to hold onto and PUT INTO ACTION the wisdom I’d acquired. My foremost priority was to gain employment. I had compiled a list of over four-hundred places of which to apply for jobs. My GOAL was to be employed within thirty days of my release, and I HAD A PLAN!!!!! I decided that I would submit and follow-up on employment applications Monday-Wednesday, and I’d work through the nearest temporary labor service Thursday-Saturday (to make certain I had some sort of income). Sundays were just a miscellaneous day that I used to gather my thoughts, handle any unfinished business, and prepare for the upcoming week.

Unfortunately, I failed to meet my goal of being employed in thirty days. However, on the thirty-first day following my release I received and gladly accepted an offer. In spite of what the position was paying, I was tremendously proud of my accomplishment and knew that it was a great step towards being reintegrated into society. I saw it as an opportunity to ESTABLISH A NETWORK while building my employment history. Nonetheless, five months later I resigned after accepting a more lucrative position elsewhere. Needless to say, it’s been an uphill battle. Regardless of having rehabilitated myself, I’m constantly confronted with my past, but please take notice that it is MY past…

I CHOOSE to take full ownership of the counterproductive choices I’ve made in life. Nonetheless, I REFUSE to be defined by such choices. I’ve experienced first-hand the discrimination of this morally-decaying society. Due primarily to the stigma that’s attached to being an ex-offender, I’ve had to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles when in search of employment as well as housing. I was even denied the opportunity to further my education at one of our local community colleges. Yet, I’ve worked tirelessly to better myself and overcome the countless obstructions on the path to success. I’m a living example of what one can accomplish when he or she refuses to quit. I’ve defeated the odds, defied the statistics, and proved the naysayers wrong. SO CAN YOU!!!!!

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