I met Barry eighteen months ago when I was doing a training at a jail in northern Maine. He was awaiting trial on drug charges. Barry wrote to me a week later. He was intrigued by Restorative Justice. He said that for the first time he was considering the harm he had caused to others in his life.

Barry pled guilty a year ago and was given a seventeen year prison sentence. His 9 year-old daughter now lives with relatives in California.

Barry is serving his time at a penitentiary in West Virginia where he is working with others to bring Restorative Justice within the walls. He sent me an email a couple of days ago:

Good morning Fred,

I have a little story I want to share with you that happened this week. I was walking to records with this older inmate. His name is Chuck. He is 54 years old and has been in prison for 10+ years. He has been helping to design this program and leads several classes here. When I arrived at the records building I asked for and received my computation sheet which is the form that tells you your expected release date. I think it finally hit me, when I saw the date in writing for the first time, that I was not going home for a long time. In fact, not until March 19, 2031. I was in somewhat of a depressed state and looked over at Chuck and said “dam, look at this, 2031”.  He looked over at me and said at least you have a date.

Fred, I felt so embarrassed, complaining about my release date to a man who received life plus 10 years for a nonviolent drug crime – 56 grams of crack cocaine to be precise. Life for an amount of drugs you could fit in your pocket. 

In N.A. class this week we were asked to pick a word for the week. My word was Freedom. The only time I feel free in this place is when I am in a circle in N.A and when I go to church.  I shared the story with members of the group. I said that we take our Freedom for granted when there are many people who will never go home. I asked those that were going home to remember the stories of those who they leave behind. I hope this will act as a deterrent / reminder so that they don’t end up coming back here due a lack of clear forethought.

So my word for the week is Freedom.