Welcome back Readers! I’ve been interviewing my Twitter Followers that want to share their stories of growth and overcoming obstacles. Here’s one of my most recent talks with Mike, a fellow felon looking for a normal life after serving his sentence.
Aza – What was your first conviction, and what was the most influential factor in your life at that time? Can you give an example of what was driving your behavior at the time?
Mike – My first conviction was actually an adjudication, I was 10 yrs old and was charged with 1st-degree burglary and 1st-degree criminal trespass, I broke into my neighbor’s apt. I stole the things a 10 yr old would steal, a Goosebumps book, some toys, a live turtle and a live bird. I received a year diversion. My behavior was driven by a need to fit into my surroundings, crime was praised. I was the only one caught, but I had several other children with me at the time, I was taught snitching was not ok, and I kept my mouth shut, I thought I was in trouble when my mom picked me up from the police station. I cussed at the arresting officers, told them my mom paid their salary through taxes. When my mom arrived she asked what I said to the police, I told her I didn’t snitch. I was actually rewarded for this arrest with new toys. My first adult felony conviction sent me to prison for 10 yrs of which I served 9 yrs. I was arrested for 3 counts of 1st-degree assault with a deadly weapon, 1 count of 2nd-degree assault w/ a deadly weapon, felony menacing, criminal mischief, 1st-degree burglary and two crime of violence sentence enhancers (crime of violence and deadly weapon). I broke into a home that hosted a party earlier that night, my little cousin was injured after being jumped by a group of guys. I was armed with a baseball bat as were a few other guys I had with me. I beat 3 men with a bat and slapped a female when she jumped in to save her boyfriend. My motivation or thought process was the same as before, I was taught that these things were normal, that loyalty was everything, and if someone hurt the ones you love, you react with violence. Throughout my young life, a false twisted sense of loyalty drove my life, the criminal lifestyle was taught and normalized in my daily life. Drug dealers and gang members were the heroes of my childhood.
Aza What was the catalyzing moment in your life that brought you to make positive changes and begin your current path? What inspired you to find your current path?
Mike – I always hated the way I lived, I knew deep down it was wrong. But it wasn’t until I wad 27 yrs old 4 years into my 10 yr sentence that I began to notice that all my childhood heroes were either dead, in prison for life, rats, or crack heads. I still see a lot of high ranking gang members these days living homeless and doing drugs. I knew I wanted more than that, I knew I was better than the way I was living. There was a bigger push to do better in 2014, a couple months before my mandatory release date, two older homies of mine one in his 40s and one in his 50s pulled me to the side, they both said compared to a lot of the other gang members around us, I was a genius! I knew I wasn’t, but to have a known killer (a good thing in a prison mindset) and a very violent man, telling me that I was smarter than this lifestyle meant a lot. The man in his 50s is serving life in prison, he told me all he had was the prison lifestyle, the gangster shit. He said he would give anything to be in my shoes getting released. I knew he was right, I could do better, I will do better. I think about prison everyday, I spent a lot of time in there it was all I knew. I know there are men and women locked up forever never coming home, and this motivates me, why would I give up and end up back in there when so many people I have actual love and respect for will never be free again? I can’t take my freedom in vain. I have so much even if it isn’t that much. My biggest motivator in my life though is my children, I want to ensure they learn that the way I lived is a big lie, it isn’t the right way to live. I want to make sure that they succeed in a way I only dreamed of.
Aza What has or will define your success as a returning citizen?
Mike -So far, I have achieved an Associate’s Degree in communications, and am working on a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in sociology. I have custody of my kids, I am weeks away from owning my own home. I want to dedicate my life to helping felons re-enter society and get into college or a trade school. I also would like to write a book, and speak to large groups of people to convince society that felons need to be allowed to assimilate into society to end recidivism.
Aza – Any hints or tips for the readers of The Friendly Felon blog that are looking for inspiration after release from prison? Are there any obstacles in particular that you have had to overcome so far?
Mike – My biggest piece of advice is to cut off your friends that are doing the same shit you were before being locked up. Get into school because it offers a routine and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Also depending on your state, it could get you time off parole. It also surrounds you with some good people and opens your mind to a new way of thinking. No matter what you decide to do, keep this in mind, you become who you surround yourself with, be very picky when it comes to choosing friends.
Aza – Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us today?
Mike – I was a bad person, I did horrible things in my life. If I could make it anyone can, and I really mean that. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, but it’s possible. I still get scared when I see cops, I still don’t trust the system at all. But it gets better, some people will treat you like trash, but there are a lot of people that will give you a shot at a good job or a place to rent. Also, there is no shame in seeking mental health treatment, it does not mean you’re weak if you seek help, life after incarceration is at times extremely overwhelming, talking to someone can be a gamechanger.
Aza – Thank you so much, Mike. I know it can be difficult to share, and you’re amazing for having done so much already. I can’t wait to see what you will accomplish next! Keep rising above!
For more Twitterviews like this – see Jessica’s story here.
Want to share your story? – I’m on Twitter @aza_enigma – find me and send a direct message!