Then you caught me.
That’s what my friend Clemetin told me yesterday.
You might imagine that when Clemetin, who spent 27 years in maximum security prisons, talks about being caught, he is referring to the many episodes of being caught by the police for doing nothing more serious than sitting on a park bench.
He was talking about being caught by a net of support just when he was about to fall again.
Clemetin was reflecting on the fact that he’s been out of prison nearly seven years now. And while by some standards, he’s not exactly thriving, when compared to much of his life, he’s doing just fine.
Today, Clemetin has a place to live, a girlfriend, food, and freedom. Most importantly, he has friends he can turn to when he needs a bit of help and support.
Catching a Former Felon
Six years ago, unwittingly, I did catch Clemetin. I didn’t know he was homeless. I didn’t know he had spent most of his life in prison. And I didn’t understand the consequences of prison life or the long-term support it would require to help him find a new life.
To me and my husband, Clemetin was just a person we could help in little ways. Gradually, the more we helped, the more we got involved.
And the more we got involved, the more we saw the brutal consequences of a society that puts people in prison for years and then simply kicks them out when their lock-up years are done. Out they go with a transit card.
Often, there’s no family waiting at the prison gate. Just a public bus to take them somewhere.
Imagine if you had been in prison for decades. Imagine that your mother died while you were “on the inside.” Imagine that your siblings had never come to visit and didn’t keep in touch. Imagine if the last time you were free was when you were 17. And then, at 45, there you were. Alone on a public bus, heading somewhere.
That’s what happened to Clemetin.
When he got out of prison, an old man helped him first, giving him a bed and some food for a bit. Then nuns in a convent in the South Bronx let him stay there between 7 at night and 6 in the morning, sleeping in cots alongside other men who were down on their luck. They provided dinner and an early breakfast before everyone had to be out.
And then, for two weeks, the Monks provided a bed. But when that ended, he was on his own and homeless, sleeping in Saint Mary’s Park, where I met him.
Yes, We Caught Him… in Our Safety Net
We introduced him to our friends. We advocated for him with his social workers. We sat in court with him. We passed the clothes we longer wore on to him and we took him shopping for food now and again. We got him a phone and taught him how to use it.
Gradually, over the years, he has crafted a life for himself that works. Each year, he stands more and more on his own, managing his life in a reasonable way.
But having a network he can rely on continues to be vastly important to him.
Sometimes he tells us that he hopes he dies before we do because he can’t imagine being without a support net again.
Consider Your Support Network
Are there people in your life who would catch you if you were falling? Who in your life are you willing to catch? Think about that for a moment.
As human beings, we are social creatures. We rely on one another to help us in our times of need. While having a support network may not be as essential as food or shelter, it is a basic human need. And those of us without a support network face a constant uphill battle.
Share your thoughts in the comments below about your network of friends and family and the role it plays in your life. Or, come on over to Facebook and share your ideas about supporting others there.