Let Freedom Ring: Lessons from Lost Liberty

My activities during Memorial Day weekend revolved around grilling and sitting in the backyard reveling in the sunshine. I had a thought enter my head that I have been celebrating since that weekend: Liberty is Wonderful.

I have written 14 blogs over the last 10 months. I have focused on topics which I feel I have a base of knowledge. I believe I am qualified to speak about freedom since I forfeited mine for a period of 13 years. I celebrate a milestone of sorts, it was a year ago today that I returned to my native Chicago after a lengthy term in Federal Prison. In many ways my reintegration into society has been more complicated than I anticipated. I have those moments when I am overrun with emotion where I realize that I am once again free.

I can’t help but reflect on what I gave up due to my bad decisions, my misguided priorities, my lost values, and my greed. I gave up things I took for granted, having enjoyed them my entire life as a citizen of this country:

  • The freedom to choose food, entertainment, and where I go.
  • The freedom to be with those I deeply care about. 
  • The freedom to decide my daily activities.
  • The freedom to experience the marvels of society.
  • So many other things that are indescribable and seemingly insignificant, like sleeping the entire night without a flashlight shining in my face every 3 hours.

I am blessed to routinely speak to a wide range of audiences. I am frequently asked my impressions of returning to society. The questions seem to be somewhat universal:

  • The biggest surprise is technology. I had never seen a Smart Phone until I left prison. I got in the car, so we could head for Chicago and was handed a phone. On the screen were some dear friends talking through the magic of Facetime. I felt like I was in an episode of the Jetsons.
  • Too many buttons. I am banned from the remote. Every time I pick the thing up I either record or delete something. 
  • My first meal was an Egg McMuffin, followed by an order of McDonald’s French fries.
  • I panicked while attempting to self-checkout at Target. (Now I am an ace at this).
  • I had a very difficult time adjusting to prices. My brain still set in 2004. I think I paid $1.49 for gasoline prior to incarceration. 
  • The necktie seems to have become something of a relic.
  • I so much enjoy driving again that traffic jams don’t even bother me.

I have met some wonderful people. I am grateful that this truly is the land of 2nd Opportunity. I am pursuing my professional passion. Bolstered and blessed with attending Loyola University’s Master’s in Business Ethics Program, I speak with companies, universities and other groups about business ethics and lessons learned from my failures.

I also speak and instruct at Government Agencies, Workforce Development Organizations, At Risk Youths, Substance Abuse Recovery Centers, and Corporations. During the last four years of incarceration I developed a goal setting program that provides a plan to restart following Life Changing Events. The material, message, and presentation seem to resonate with audiences. All of us get knocked down, the courage to get back up is what ultimately defines us.

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day. I hope you bask in your liberty. Let Freedom ring.

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