It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the world after you spend time in prison. Prison is a small place, a confined place. It’s a place where you grow accustomed to others making decisions for you. But once those doors open and you are released back into society, it’s up to you to reclaim your life and start making decisions that will define your new life path.
It may be tempting to fall back into old bad habits or reconnect with people who tend to be negative influences, but it is possible to redirect your path and redefine yourself. Instead of passively accepting whatever is thrown your way, outline your life’s goals and walk toward them with confidence. Take control by claiming responsibility for your life, forgiving yourself and others for the past, and making conscious decisions about what you want in your future.
One of the first steps in moving forward is to make peace with the past. Even though it can be difficult to take responsibility for painful occurrences in your past, it gives you control over those things. And having control over what has happened gives you control of what has yet to happen.
Forgiving yourself and others starts with honesty. Be honest about the parts you and others played in the events that led to your incarceration. These events might go all the way back to your childhood and involve people that you love. When you truly forgive yourself and others for past events, you free yourself from feelings of animosity, anger, and regret. You make room for constructive growth and positive emotions.
Creating a positive mental state will help you on the road to redefining yourself, but it won’t carry you all the way. Part of the journey involves conscious, thorough planning. Think about your goals (both long- and short-term) and begin developing a roadmap to reach them. This is your chance to dream big and take your life in the direction you want to go. It is your chance to change what you don’t like about the way things are now. Be fearless! Stretch yourself and aspire to obtain the rich, fulfilling life you’ve always imagined.
Does your plan involve finding permanent housing? Going back to school? Becoming a better father or mother? Volunteering in the community? Whatever your plan is, think about how you will get to where you want to go and make a list of practical steps that you’ll need to take in order to get there. For instance, if you want to go back to school, you’ll have to meet your basic needs first and find the kind of stability that will allow you to study for exams and write papers. That means finding employment, a safe place to live and, ideally, the support of loving family members and friends. Once your basic needs are met, then you would need to research school options, possibly apply for financial aid, start classes and make time for studying. Having a detailed plan can help you move forward and reach your goals!
Your support system—a significant other, parents, children, close friends—can play a crucial role in helping you rewrite your story after prison. However, it is up to you to pick and choose the people you will let into your life. Do your best to keep company with those who support your new goals and want to help you succeed; be wary of those who expect you to go back to bad habits and harmful actions.
If you feel the desire to seek assistance outside your support circle, consider working with a state reentry program, a therapist, or a career coach. These resources can help you gain perspective and offer you practical assistance that your friends and family may not be able to provide.
Redefining yourself after prison may be daunting at times, but the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do it all at once. Tackle one goal at a time and take as much time as you need to do things right instead of quickly. This is your opportunity to reclaim your life.