By Enceno Macy | Listen to Eric Francis interview Enceno on Planet Waves FM
This, of course, is my first publication since being released. Using the computer is amazing! Even though I don’t type much faster than I write, the ability to edit as needed is irreplaceable. Also the auto correct is such a relief. My laptop is futuristic. I didn’t know it could hold so much information or process as fast as it does! And to have any information on any subject is indescribable. I have learned so much already.
I must say, a change in perspective also brings the new challenge of how to describe some of my observations. But I hope to transition into this as smoothly as I have into the world, which has been quite an adventure. As Helen Keller noted, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature … Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”
The adventure began on April 5th. The morning was overcast and cool. I woke up around 5:30, ready and excited. It didn’t take long to get packed and ready to go. In my garbage bag of belongings was my 13” TV, a stack of papers, my Chris Hedges books, my release orders and a box of saltines (I’d heard it was hard times out here and didn’t want to starve!). Against prison rules, I gave all of my unimportant property items to less fortunate inmates, in a last nose (and finger) up to the system I despised. The guards threatened me with dire consequences for not having all the property I had bought as I processed out, sending me back to my unit twice, as though they could keep me from leaving. They probably thought I didn’t know their rules had no jurisdiction over me anymore. So goes the big head of power!
I exited the release room into the front courtyard — an area we were not given access to while inside. It was a well-groomed yard with beautiful flowers and decoration. Much of the beauty was negated by the presence of a ten-foot high chain-link fence topped with razor wire reminding you that you weren’t there under your own free will. Upon exiting the gates, I found my welcome party was nowhere to be seen. I thought of many scenarios — mainly the possibility that because they delayed my release an hour, the guards had told my loved ones they couldn’t loiter as they waited. But none of this mattered to me — I was free!!
For the longest time I had had an unspoken desire to walk away from the prison on my own. I wanted to baptize myself by physically walking away from that chapter of my life. So I was in no way disappointed that I had the chance to do it. The prison had dressed me in a new, white sweatsuit and, like a cowboy in a western walking into the sunset — in my case, the sunrise — finished with his business and slowly, deliberately, moving on with not even a glance back, I set off.
This prison is located on the outskirts of a metropolitan area, about ten blocks west of a large river and on the edge of what used to be the poorer part of the city. Small fields surround it with a swamp directly to the north and miscellaneous trees peppered over the nearby properties.
Figuring the airport must be at the edge of the city, I walked the other direction towards what I figured would be the neighborhoods I’d heard so much about. A block away, I stashed my bag in some bushes, taking with me my identity documents and my debit card which contained my last month’s pay (thirty dollars). I had no cash at all. My plan was simple: find a store that would accept my card, get some change, and find a pay phone to call someone for a ride.
Although it didn’t turn out to be a problem, my 1997 recollection of how the world works made my plans outdated.
I walked quickly down the access road that led to the prison — as though the guards might change their minds and chase me down. The immediate area was semi-rural, the access road leading to a small highway that meandered ten blocks or so onto a main boulevard running north and south through much of the city. The one-lane highway gave me very little room on the side of the road to walk. The speed of the cars moving by me on the highway was nerve-racking. I just knew I was going to be hit! I walked for miles through the outskirts of the city, stopping at numerous small stores, none of which accepted my debit card. Finally, I came to a gas station where the clerk informed me that not only could I not get change from the card, there were no pay phones for miles!
This was my first experience of the kindness I had forgotten humans naturally have an instinct for. The clerk let me use his cell phone to call a friend, and when I couldn’t operate it (it appeared to have no buttons — I thought about trying to give it a voice command) he dialed it for me.
As I sat waiting for my friend, I encountered my second act of kindness. A woman customer, probably in her early thirties and dressed like a street hustler, with baggy jeans, a backwards baseball cap, a natural, picked-out afro and gold teeth, recognized the release clothing I had on and handed me a $20 bill, saying “It’s hard out here…” That put a smile on my face. Up until that point, I had been prepared for someone to challenge me — just like when I had been moved to a new prison during my incarceration. With her blessing, I felt a little hope spring up inside.
My friend arrived and helped me call my release party (friends and family — including my boss, Eric, who came across the country to see me). I met them downtown before I went in to check in with my P.O. (parole officer). Finally seeing them all outside of a prison visiting room was such a relief and my excitement was at its maximum capacity. The hustle and bustle were distracting. I had been so used to immediately assessing an environment I was entering and evaluating it and then having a pretty good idea what was going on, what the threats were and which direction I should go. Here everything was too busy to assess.
One of the first things that struck me was how unaccustomed people were to a stranger giving them a genuine smile. Inside I had been used to not even trying to smile. For what? The guys in there would assume you were not all there or take it the wrong way! And people don’t walk around out here like that either, but I can do what I hadn’t done before in my life — walk around with a genuine smile on my face.
And you know what I discovered immediately? How good it felt to see someone — an old lady, a cute girl looking troubled, a working man coming from a hard day at work — return the smile with a genuine one of their own. To think maybe I made a positive difference in that person’s day; to think I may have stopped someone from taking out their rough day on their family or doing something destructive elated me to a new level of feeling valued. Now people think I’m weird because I smile a lot at strangers. But they don’t know the secret!
These were my first impressions. Much has happened since then, of which I will tell in my next articles!