Stories from Reentry
Roughly 30-40% of the people accessing services at the Reentry Transition Center are referred by the North West Regional Reentry Center (NWRRC), the federal halfway house. This essay was written by Warren Nunn, who was released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in August of 2015. Today, Warren works in construction, was recently invited to the Mentor training program at Central City Concern and is accessing services as a United States Veteran. He will leave the halfway house this December and looks forward to working with youth who will benefit greatly from his experiences. He wrote this piece about two weeks after his release.
A Successful Transition
I was just released from federal prison after doing 17 plus years in both state and federal custody. I got to the halfway house on August 20th, 2015 and requested my first pass out of the facility a week later on the 27th. All I could think about was GETTING OUT! I thought everything would be good as soon as I walked out the door.
I was on my way to the MAX station and cut through Lloyd Center. All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by what seemed HUNDREDS of people that I had nothing in common with. I couldn’t breath and started to sweat as if someone had poured a bucket of water over my head. I panicked and had no idea what to do. I was standing there frozen and sweating when the mall security came over.
Mall security began asking me questions and I was unable to respond. They asked me if I was on drugs. My first thought was, “I should punch this guy and get out of here!” But I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I have never in my life, in prison or on the streets felt like that. I started walking trying to find an exit and mall security was following me. An older lady approached me and asked if I was ok. I told her “no”, and she walked me to an exit and over to the MAX.
I calmed down enough to get back to the halfway house. As I got inside I broke down crying and shaking. The staff let me sit in the visiting area and my case manager talked to me. When I was more alert, I had no idea what had happened to me. I had heard of people having panic attacks, but never thought it would happen to me. It was so bad that I was wondering if I should ever go out again. The next morning I did go back out. A week later, I was better, but I still have some close calls. When I do feel a panic attack coming on, I just try to tell myself to slow down and that I will be ok.
I have been in and out of jails, prisons and juvenile facilities since I was 11 years old. It is all I know. Everyone I know and have known in my life is a dope fiend and criminal. In the past when I have been released, I would hit the streets running and end up back in jail. I always told myself I hated prison, but it got easy for me….I know how to be a Convict. I know how to live by the convict code. It is living on the outside that I have no idea how to handle. Also, to be honest, I have never liked myself…so I never really cared what happened to me.
I believed I wouldn’t walk this last sentence out because I lived in prison just like I did on the streets: full bore criminal and drug addict 24/7. I shot up drugs, cooked hooch, and stole everything I could from the cops and did not care anymore. I told myself that I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself. It was just a little over 2 years ago after my last shot that I began to think it isn’t just me…I have family that cares for me and friends that never let me down. I started to see a light at the end of that crazy tunnel.
I know the worst day out here is 100% better than my best day in the joint. The only way to keep living out here is start doing something different. So, I’m doing what these people suggest and going where they tell me, and it all seems to be going well like they said. I can have a life out here with people who care about me. I can be a responsible person, good uncle, son and friend. The labels I put on myself all of my life don’t matter today.
Do I wake up every morning and think I should just give up and run off? Sure because that’s what I’ve always done. The difference is now I see that no matter what thoughts run through my head, I don’t have to act on them. I woke up this morning and the first thing I thought was, “I can’t wait to get out of here and go to Mercy Corps and get on the computer!” And I feel pretty good about that. That’s a start. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, but I’m going to keep doing what responsible people tell me to and see where it goes. Maybe at some point I can help someone do something responsible instead of continuing to spread the negativity that I had done my whole life.
UPDATE ONE MONTH LATER 9/23/15…
I am still clean and sober and am working for a friend who is 100% supportive and wants me to succeed. I feel good about what I’m doing and now look forward to tomorrow. If I can say anything about all this, it’s that the people at the Reentry Transition Center do care and want us to succeed. If we take the time to listen and follow their advice.