Fifteen Years In Prison

Fifteen Years In Prison

"He just came out of fifteen years in prison this weekend." This is how I got introduced to Wes.

His eyes were wide with earnestness and his smile seemed a little big. Without context, he was way too eager to talk and way too enthusiastic about meeting me.

He didn't know how to use a smartphone, he'd been eating synthetic oats for fifteen years, and his only friends were murderers and meth users. Those facts shoved me out of my assumption box.

He spent fifteen years of his life behind bars with a dubious sentence that should have only been a few years. His stories were so detailed and really long. He didn't know what social media was and so 140 characters was not his limit in conversation.

He didn't know how to reach for a phone, so in our conversations he looked me straight in the eyes with no distractions or intentions of ever leaving the conversation. (Let's just say FaceTime completely rocked his world).

He would have talked the entire night. And I would have listened.

He hadn't had real coffee for over a decade, which I can't even imagine, so everything tasted, touched and smelled brand new.

It was a miracle how he got out because it could have been a lot longer had he not kept his cool inside the prison. It was a struggle because the battle for freedom took incredibly long. He lost hope seven times and found it again each time.

He wrestled with his sentence—one that was biased and slanted against him—he never had a prior criminal record. In the cell, he slept with a sock over his face because they never turned the lights off. Now, he doesn’t know how to handle the dark now that he's out.

He hadn't hugged a friend for 5,000 days. In normal situations he wouldn't be able to get a job after this conviction.

Here he was—full of life, full of vision, full of gratitude, and around friends. His body was ripped. He worked out every day in there. He'd gotten firm in his faith and even though he had a tracker around his ankle, he was full of life.

I was challenged.

The life and enthusiasm this guy had was ten out of ten. Most people I meet, who've hardly even been to a prison, are on a level four.

He could look at his life and say:

  • Fifteen years wasted or fifteen years in preparation.
  • Fifteen years behind bars or fifteen years writing a story of perseverance.
  • Fifteen years of injustice or fifteen years of character carving.
  • Fifteen years where nothing was accomplished or fifteen years getting free from every distraction.
  • Fifteen years of seeing nothing but bars or fifteen years of perspective building.
  • My best days were wasted or my best days are right in front of me.

We instantly hit it off. And his love for life was contagious. It got me thinking about a lot.

Do I have the perspective of a former prisoner? The hard stuff that I've been through, do I look back on it as the set up to the victory or as something that's been wasted?

Do I look at the hard times now, and think, “Well, it's beyond hope…”

Victory isn't as sweet without hope. And hope makes the tough times worth it.

Wes’s story reminded me that the setup is never the end of the story.

(photo via jean-boris-h)