Colbert developed a passion for writing while incarcerated and has contributed to Port of Harlem since the May - October 2000 print issue. He was released June 23, 2022 and continues to contribute to Port of Harlem.
As Black men, our lives are inundated with stereotypes. As formerly incarcerated Black men, we face some of the harshest criticism. Remarks such as “once a criminal, always a criminal,” and “they’ll never change,” are all too familiar.
Well, these men cannot provide you such stereotypical stories today. I’m going to share with you the stories of men who defy these degrading stereotypes and instead, prove beyond any doubt that change is possible and not so uncommon.
Let’s start with Ralph. He spent 24 years, 11 months, and 16 days incarcerated in the Maryland system. I met Ralph in 1997 and worked alongside him in numerous programs. He was released prior to the pandemic.
Anthony recounted the many times he stepped on the wrong bus and got off at the wrong stop. He laughs about it now because he finally brought a vehicle.
I asked him what has been his greatest obstacle since returning to society. ”Maintaining and reestablishing a relationship with a daughter who is struggling with abandonment issues,” he says. His greatest accomplishment is serving as the lay leader at his church.
I was reunited with my family following 31 years of incarceration. I did not notice any reluctancy on my family’s part to embrace my homecoming. The only hinderance resided in my self-conscious.
Another good friend and returning citizen is Anthony. He and I exchange text messages about every two weeks to keep each other encouraged. We also attended the same Certified Drivers License school.
He spent 19 years behind prison walls before being released in 2021. One of his greatest obstacles was coming into contact with people who did not believe in giving returning citizens a second chance.
“And these people were supposed to be Christians,” Anthony lamented. Another obstacle was his lack of transportation. Riding Metro was a huge challenge, especially on cold and raining days. Anthony recounted the many times he stepped on the wrong bus and got off at the wrong stop. He laughs about it now because he finally brought a vehicle.
His greatest accomplishment is his faith in Jesus. It sustained him through incarceration and continues to help him navigate daily life.
I had to chuckle as Anthony told of his experiences with public Metro.
I completely understand his anxiety with transportation. Whether it was with the bus or the subway, I found myself in some odd predicament. I was so happy to finally get my own car.
One of the elders of the church I attended while incarcerated was released less than a year ago after spending 42 years in Jessup, Maryland, which I home to many places of incarceration. John says the day he walked out of prison was a beautiful day and freedom does smell good.
”However, this universal feeling has motivated him to begin budgeting. John quickly adds, “In truth, no problem has been so great that God has not handled.”
My wife, Ivy, whom I met through the pages of Port of Harlem, also stood by my side faithfully for fifteen years.
He states that the greatest accomplishment has simply been succeeding. “I walked out of prison one year ago with nothing. Today, I have everything I need.” John got married shortly following his release to a woman who whole heartedly supported him
My wife, Ivy, whom I met through the pages of Port of Harlem, also stood by my side faithfully for fifteen years. Her unwavering commitment gave me hope during a very dismal time in my life. We married two months after I walked out of Jessup.
Of all the guys I spoke to, Gordon has been home for the least amount of time. I was driving the truck for my job when I received a text in September that Gordon was released. I couldn’t make the welcome home breakfast that he and John, the one who hates paying taxes, had, but I was certainly praising Jesus for releasing a good man.
Gordon gave the state 32 years, 8 months and 7 days. His biggest hurdle has been becoming acclimated to technology. “Things are so far advanced. Just doing the simple things like paying for things was challenging,” he sighs.
Where he sees the most progress is in his faith. “Leaving prison, I didn’t have all the answers, resources. When he needed money for gas, his church provided through a raffle. “Things have been happening just like that and it puts me in a position where I can only say to God be the glory.”
Finally, the last person I spoke with is Coop. He and I were celly’s for eight years. He has been out since 2019. He went directly to CDL school and now drives for a major trucking company.
His greatest obstacle was going back into the same crime infested neighborhood with zero money and job while trying to find a job with living wage. To make things worse, he had three felonies hanging over his head. The greatest achievement, he “Was having a plan I implemented in order to bypass all the struggles I faced with a great support system.”
These men are successful due to their faith, perseverance, and family support. They defy the odds. They defy the stereotypes.
From Our Archives: My First Thirty Days Out of Prison By Tyrone Colbert
: I remain thankful to Port of Harlem readers Sterling Johnson Jr, Darrin Davis, Anonymous, Brodrick Berry, Melissa Warren, Anonymous, Janis Hagey, Genell Anderson, Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous, Philip Pannell, Anonymous, Anonymous, Ivan Brown, Bernadette Champion, and Anonymous for donating $535 to allow POH to pay him several post-prison articles.