A Year of Firsts
My first year in prison was the hardest one for me. That’s because it was a year of firsts. My first Christmas in prison, my first wedding anniversary in prison, the first time one of my children was sick and I could not be there with them, my first birthday away from home, and many other firsts proved difficult for me. At times it seemed overwhelming and I stressed out.
After a couple of years that changed. I knew what to expect when these things occurred because I had been through them once and God had given me some experience. While they were still painful, I knew the emotions were coming and I was better prepared. As I encountered new people coming into prison for the first time, I shared my experience with needing to go through the first year in order to gain experience and perspective in dealing with it. I think it helped them. It also helped remind me that my world had not ended while I was going through my year of firsts.
In September of this year, I will have been out of prison 11 years. My first year out was a year of firsts as well. Most people think there is nothing but joy when one leaves prison. There is joy but, for me, there was also the process of assimilating into an alien society, one that had changed a lot while I was gone. Cellphones, the internet, coffee houses, all were new to me and I had a lot to catch up on. In many ways, I think I am still catching up.
This past year has also been a year of firsts for me. Finally leaving academia to write my book and continue my dissertation, and recovering from a major hurricane, were all firsts for me. I had no experience with any of them. But just as it was in prison, God and my wife guided me through them.
I think that life experience is sometimes underrated. I think that sometimes we just have to put our head down, barrel into the unknown, and do our best to get some experience and perspective by trusting God for the outcome. For me, I had no choice but to do that in prison, because they locked the doors. Outside of prison though, well that’s another thing entirely.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have stressed out over a lot of stuff. What’s going to happen with the book? Am I really a writer? What’s next? Am I ever going to teach again? Finally, I shut up long enough to listen to God on these issues. He reminded me I had never been through these things before. They were all new to me and that it would be good for me to settle down and simply be who I am. I can do that. I have experience at doing that, both forced and voluntarily.