Adjusting to a New World of Recovery
When James left prison in early 2018, he found a world that he didn’t recognize in many ways. There was new technology, new ways of communicating, new challenges.
One major challenge remained, however, and that was addressing many of the factors that led him to prison to begin with, including addiction.
James grew up in a suburb of Hartford, in what he describes as a typical Connecticut family.
“I had everything I ever needed. Nice suburban area, had nice clothes, all of that stuff. But I turned to addiction to deal with my emotions, feelings and family; I just didn’t know at the time that’s what I was doing,” he says. “My school behavior became erratic. I started stealing from my family. They figured it out when I was about 14.”
By 16, he had committed a string of armed robberies to support his addiction, and began the first incarceration of what would become several over the next few decades. Currently on seven years of special parole, James readily points out that he’ll have been in the judicial system from age 16 to 55 by the time he is done.
“When I look back at my life, I see that prison shaped my life and my mindset, and I never fully dealt with my disease in most of that time. Some people say jail preserves you, but I disagree. I went in as a pretty laid-back boy. I was very fearful, though, and wanted to be accepted. In doing that, I got lost and forgot who I was.”
Now in his late 40s, he’s been in and out of the judicial system for all but two years of his life, and is trying to adjust to a world very much unlike 1986.
“At first, it’s very tough being used to freedom. I’m still not fully used to living out here. I had to learn how to use a cell phone, how to use a bus, what social media was, how to just talk to people again. My social skills were horrible; for years, all I used was anger and rage. One of the biggest surprises for me was how readily I was accepted back.”
He’s been going to Wheeler for almost nine months, including intensive outpatient services, medication-assisted treatment for addiction, peer counseling, individual and group treatment, and other supports, such as case management, and employment services.
“I want to take advantage of everything I can to avoid repeating the same behavior and mistakes. At Wheeler, all my needs are met. I get my medical care, I get counseling, I get my treatment for addiction. This is the longest period of time in my life that I’ve been in recovery. “
He says he finally has some hope for a different future. He’s involved in the recovery community, including as a peer mentor.
“When I look ahead, I’m looking forward to becoming a productive member of society. I should be able to get my driver’s license back in March. I’ve got a car waiting for me. I want a kind of normal life that’s always eluded me. I used to always just assume that I’d be in and out of prison until I died. Today, I don’t have to think like that.”
“The journey of recovery is not just about recovery, it’s about a journey of life. If I didn’t have Wheeler to help me, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now. Today, I’m finding myself for the first time, and the more I find myself, the more I want to do and help other people.“