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“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
By Eddie D. Howard Jr.
When I was 15 years old I committed a crime and was locked up for murder/robbery. I´m 30 years old now, but over the years as I grow up in prison, I realized that maybe if I had somebody older in my life that grew up the way I did, been through all the things that I was going through, just reach out to me and let me know I wasn´t alone and that they understood me and where I was coming from, then maybe I wouldn´t be writing this essay right now or be incarcerated. So, I became a part of this program that my facility offers to the youth and their parents which allows me to tell my story speak about my past and hopefully put the kids on the right track so they can be successful, positive-minded and do something extraordinary with their lives. By me being the age that I was when I caught my case, I didn´t really live much of a life. Never experienced much, but the way I feel when I know I've had a positive effect on someone´s life is like nothing else I´ve ever felt. Hopefully reading this it will have a positive effect on you or make you want to give back in someway too.
My story is one that is all too familiar in different communities across America. I was born in El Centro, California to really, really young parents who were just starting to figure out life for themelves. Being as young as they were when they had me, they never really had a chance to live their lives. My grandparents ended up raising me, because as you may know, taking care of a baby is expensive. So, my mother sent me to live to Indianapolis, Indiana with my grandparents. I don´t remember much about my grandfather because he passed away when I was 3 years old, but I would alook at all his pictures growing up, wondering what it would be like to have a real male figure in my life. My grandmother tried to raise me the best way she could, but I was a little bit too much for her to handle. So, she would send me back to Oakland, California to live with my mother, but that really only made things worse, because whenever she would get tired of me getting in trouble down there, she would send me right back to Indianapolis; and it would go on like this for the next five years of my life until I got tired of going back and forth. That´s when I just left home, and at the age of 15, I ran the streets, sold drugs, committed crimes, and was around people I should´ve never been around. You see, in those gangs or organizations, they will get you to believe that they care about you or that they have genuine love for you, when that´s not really the case. They really just want to use you until there is nothing left. I found this out the hard way. I threw away most of my life away because of it. These are years that I can´t get back. I´m 30 years old now and I´ve missed out on a lot of things; things that you probably do living your everyday life or just things that you see in the free world on a day-to-day basis. I never graduated high school, I never learned how to drive, I never been in love, I don´t have any kids, I never even had my own place; and the list goes on and on. Those are just some of the things I chose to give up to live the street life and be a gangster. When you´re in the streets, either one of two things will happen to you: If you´re lucky, you´ll end up in prison like I did and get another chance at life, you know, a chance to make things right. Or you´ll end up like most of my friends did in the cemetery, gone for no reason at all. I think about all those dudes every day, wondering “what if?” I don´t miss the life or the things we were doing because none of it was right, but I do miss them; and I´d give up everything to bring ya´ll back. Much love to all ya´ll that lost your life in the struggle. Every day that I wake up I´m going try to make a change and do the right thing for all of us.
Speaking about my past to other people was never something that I sought out to do, because I had always felt like it wasn´t anybody´s business, but I have this one cousin of mine, who just like me would stay in trouble 24/7 and his mom, every chance she got, would bring him down to visit me or would put me on the phone with him when I called. And, believe it or not, I got through to him; he got his life together. I think the day he graduated high school was the happiest day of his mother´s life, and mine too. After that, she came to see me and expressed how she felt that I should reach out to the young people any way that I could. She felt like that if I told my story to troubled youth it might help them the same way that it helped her son. I wasn´t really feeling the idea but I thought about it a lot; sometimes all day. When the chance finally came, I took it and ran with it. The very first time I got in front of all those kids, I was nervous. Once I started talking to them though, and I saw how interested they were in hearing what I had to say, I became comfortable. Ma
There were three of us speaking in the program. The other two guys would scream and yell in the kids´ faces, trying to scare them. Now, sometimes this would work, because I would see some of the kids crying. But for the most part I would see them laughing at the two guys, as though they knew it was all a show. Plus, some of these kids were the worst of the worst. Me, on the other hand, I would just talk to them like they was one of my homies or friends, and they would listen. Eventually, the staff that ran the program started having me do it by myself, because they felt that I was what the program was all about: “change.”! And most of the guards there knew me from when I first came to the facility. They recognized that I had came a long way and wasn´t anything like I used to be. But really, I had no choice. I had to grow up or else I probably would´ve lost my life in here a long time ago.
The feeling that I get when I know I put one of these kids on the right track to be successful and change their life for the good is amazing. Most of these kids that get brought to me are being raised by their grandparents, in foster homes, or by a single mother. Their dads were never there from the beginning, either dead or in prison. Most of them just want a male role model in their life; somebody that they can look up to or share personal stuff with that maybe they wouldn´t share with anybody else.
I have a few success stories and a few kids I still stay in contact with to this day. These kids are so young when they come in front of me, and they still have a chance. My main goal is to get them to stay in school and do something I never did: graduate high school. Once they´ve done that, I kind of feel like my job is done, because I know after that point in their life, if they stayed focus enough to do that, then they´ll be o.k. I tell all of them that the change starts with them, and before anybody else can trust or believe in them, they have do it themselves. But as much as I wish that I could teach every kid and change every life I come in contact with, it doesn´t work that way. And to be honest with you, I´ve probably lost more kids than I´ve helped. I won´t go into detail about it because I don't like to think or talk about it. It crushes my heart, but this is real life and I knew about this side of the situation before I started doing it. Plus, I can´t save everybody, that´s impossible, but I´m grateful for the ones I help.
I really never asked for none of this. And I kind of feel like I was born into it. I´ll never force myself on anybody, but if a person wants to talk, I´ll listen, and if my sharing my story about my past or the mistakes that I´ve made in my life will help, then so be it. A lot of things in life we take for granted and freedom is everything, but you´ll never fully understand that until you´ve lost it. I made a change because I know once I get released from prison I can´t go back to the same life I was living. And as far as me reaching out to the youth I do this because nobody did it for me. I feel like I owe society and this is my way of paying it forward. If you can help somebody, then that´s just what you do, especially if you can. Because stuff like that always has a way of coming back full circle. The best gifts in life aren´t handed to people, but are shown to people. So they can work hard and want it for themselves.
|Eddie D. Howard Jr. 129850|
Pendleton Correctional Facility 24-4A HCH
4490 West Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46046
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Reflections on Time
by Tom Odle
When you read or hear about an individual having served over 20 years in prison, what is the first thing you have go through your head? “Whew, that is a long time...” or “I don't see how you could have done it... “or how about the old “I couldn't have done what you have done as far as time in prison...” These are the majority of the thoughts friends have shared with me through the years, when they find out that I am currently doing my 33rd year in prison.
What is it that you imagine when you think about having to do this amount of time? Do you think about isolation? Loneliness? Reflections on a past life? Maybe you think it’s fun and games? Is the punishment deserved? Is it the way humanity was designed to deal with those who break the rules of society and consider them unredeemable while locking them away for the remainder of their life or executing them for the greater good of society?
I recently read the book 1984 and found certain similarities in the storyline and a lengthy stay in prison, which could easily be shown to those who don't get it. Before you come to prison you have a way about you that is unique. Your thoughts are different and private until a moment comes and you act on them whether by will, impulse or by just sheer loss of control. Then comes prison, where you are broken down. Mentally and physically, you are broken down to a point where you are ready to accept and live everything that society says you should be.
This is true with those who have done years in prison, not just a couple, but decades because there is more to the story that you don't realize. They don't tell you about the isolation, the few steps you take to pace your cell for hours while reflecting on your life, playing back memories that are good or imagining bad ones replaced with different decisions to make good ones. The longer you watch the movie, the more you realize how you've hurt those who cared about you along the way. Personally, while pacing the cell, I've lived my whole life over at least a dozen times, realizing my mistakes, changing them, being honest about what went wrong wrong, all the while facing loneliness, feeling caged and feeling hopeless about any future.
You learn and realize about loss while living caged and despondent. You want change because you can't stand who you were and the things you've done. You plan steps to be the better person going forward, but because of an incident on impulse, or loss of control, or sheer will, you pay for the whole of your life. I do not say these things to diminish the severity of a criminal act. I say these things to impress upon you that, given the opportunity, people can realize their actions and freely atone for their mistakes. My real question is why does it take us so long to come to that realization? It took me nearly 20 years to come to that conclusion for myself, before I realized my wrongs, the ripple effect it caused, and not to take things for granted.
This all came about when I turned 50 in December. I've been in prison for 32 years, since I was 18 years old. What purpose does this serve now? Why do you think the recidivism rate for those who have done 20 plus years is less than one percent? Because we are changed, appreciative, educated, unlike our youthful selves who feeling immortal, knowing everything and being impulsive. We grow into something better, someone with something to offer the world. And now I wait for the chance to show this to the world.
|Tom Odle N66185|
Dixon Correctional Center
2600 N. Brinton Avenue
Dixon, IL 61021