The holiday season is a very emotional time of year for me, as it is for many other Mississippians and their families.
When I was 17 years old, I was sentenced to life without parole. There were no more holidays after that—only distant memories of times spent with my grandmother, the person who gave me the deep sense of faith that would later aid in my freedom. I had to find the faith to believe that I would have the opportunity to reconnect with my family one day.
The same faith that my grandmother demonstrated and instilled in me was the foundation of the belief that one day I would return home. I am forever grateful to her for that gift because it was truly my saving grace.
Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to spend another holiday with my grandmother. But each holiday season since my release in 2017, I am experiencing her dreams come true. I am so thankful and grateful for the opportunity to grow into the man she knew I could be.
That man is a husband about to celebrate his third anniversary with a beautiful, caring wife. That man co-founded a nonprofit organization, Strong Arms of JXN, that works with young people across the city to reduce violence and create more second chances for people like me who desperately need them. That man celebrated his sister realizing a longtime dream of becoming an attorney—a dream that started with the commitment she made to help me come back home.
I’ve been home for four years now, and every day has been one short step in a long journey. Supportive family and friends have made those steps easier, which means so much more during this time of year. I am thankful for the outpouring of support I have received from the moment my second chance started, and I want to make sure more people in Jackson and across the state of Mississippi have that chance for a new beginning.
None of us is as bad as the worst decision we’ve made. And none of us can navigate this life we’ve been blessed with on our own—however that life looks and wherever it might take us. We need each other, especially those of us who are returning home from prison and jails, to our families and our communities.
Coming home was a huge victory for me, but that was only the beginning. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to restore, repair, and rebuild relationships with my family, friends and community. I know other formerly incarcerated Mississippians share that same feeling of thankfulness, especially during this time of year.
Second chances can give all of us a reason to be thankful. Let’s give more families an opportunity to reunite with their loved ones.
This piece was published in cooperation with The People’s Advocacy Institute, a nonprofit community resource, training and capacity-building incubator for transformation justice in the South. PAI harnesses the collective wisdom of southern communities directly impacted by divestment from key community systems such as mass criminalization and incarceration and economic inequality.
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