Takia Parham + Charles Moore, Part 2: On the Surprises and Challenges of Reintegration
“After doing 17 years and then being released to the big city of New York, never having been here before in my life, not even to visit, this whole thing was like a culture shock…subway system, fast pace, 125th. But to put it in plain terms: technology. The cell phone being the life line.
I remember just asking for an application and this young 21-year-old says, ‘Oh, yeah, you can go over there and use the kiosk.’ What’s a kiosk? They don’t even do paper applications anymore? It’s been my experience so far that they’re kind of like fading out money. Everything is plastic, somehow, someway. Even public assistance. There’s no exchange of cash. You use your debit card to pay for this, that, and the other. You don’t get food stamps anymore. It’s all on a card.
For me, it was really the fast pace of being in New York…let alone all the technology changes. In prison, we had access to computers, but very basic. We don’t have internet access. The closest we can get to internet access is the law library.”
“For me, it was technology also. I was telling you the story of how I went to a McDonald’s. It was the first thing I wanted to do upon coming out. My family asked me: ‘Where do you want to eat?’ And I said, ‘I really want sushi, but let’s go to McDonald’s first. I want some fries. I’ve got a taste for fries. Of course, after eight years, you’re going to have a taste for something.
So we went to a McDonald’s in the area I was at, and I was overwhelmed, because everything was…there were screens that were high-tech. Even the pixels themselves in the screens were like, everything was popping out at you 3-D. It was sensory overload. Because when you’re in prison, you’re almost a century behind.
We’ve gone from eight-tracks to CDs to MP3 players. Most prisons, like the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, they’ll allow you to have cassette tapes as entertainment. They don’t allow you to have CDs or MP3 players. Now, it’s different for probably federal and other prisons. But that’s what I had become used to—fast-forwarding and rewinding. And when I went in, there was a slight change—we were starting to get into the streaming. Now it’s nothing but streaming. I can stream a movie; I can stream music; I can stream a stream! I’m learning! I’m getting good!
So when I actually came in [to McDonald’s], I asked for a Super-Size fry. And of course the young woman who was behind the counter was probably 18-years-old, and she looked at me and said: ‘You mean large?’ And I said, ‘No, Super Size.’ And she said, ‘There’s no Super Size.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me explain to you. I’m fresh out of prison. Don’t believe me?’ And I pulled out my parole card. Because for me, it’s not a shame anymore. I’ve been through that process of feeling shamed by it. But there’s a story here. And even if I cannot tell the whole story because I have dual relationship to this particular case, which is also the military, I don’t speak anything except for what they convicted me of. I will not speak the truth of what actually happened in detail, for the simple fact that I’m not going to open up a bag of worms with our military. They still have taken care of me. No matter what I’ve been through and what the internet says—or what I’ve been convicted of, because I took a plea deal. Sometimes, we all know that most people are taking plea deals, because they don’t have any other options or money or avenues to get a lawyer other than a public representative.
Those shocking things, to me, it was an opportunity to teach and also let her know, ‘Listen, this isn’t a place you want to be, right?’ And she shook her head. ‘No, I don’t want to be there. Yes, you’re right.’ And that was an opportunity to teach just a little bit about what happens when you’ve been gone for six-and-a half years, and you come to something as simple as McDonald’s, and it’s advanced, as it is now.
Another thing was when I first had to go to the dentist at the VA, the Veterans Administration, and they were so gentle, I later cried to myself and by myself in my room. And the next time I saw that same dentist, which was another thing that was wonderful because it was a black woman, and she had to be at least 22-years-old, and people were like, ‘So what? She’s 22 years old. She’s a dentist.’ But that’s not really common for me to see, because one, I’m from Baltimore City. It’s very seldom that I’ve seen in my own experience, professional black women. And I just came from a place that was at least 90 percent minority. In that capacity, you forget what you’ve seen before. All I know now is there are some soldiers, and, oh, a lot of correctional officers, and then a whole lot of inmates—black women. So it was that, and then also the fact that she was gentle. I spent six years with B-rated doctors and dentists in the prison system, and I was used to having the issue where there was always something wrong afterwards, and I had to sign a consent form before I even sat in that chair, and of course something was wrong. And that’s what happens all the time and it’s a little rougher. So I cried, because she was so gentle. I didn’t feel a thing; I didn’t need medication afterwards. I didn’t have a headache. I didn’t have to hold my face, nothing was swollen, I didn’t have an infection. I didn’t feel like someone had run a tractor through…I was thankful. Those are the little things…that when you learn how to be rough and tough all the time, when do I become soft and womanly? The things we consider womanly. Because the military stripped me; the prison system stripped me. And even now, I’m finding my comfortability and my identity in my femininity once again. And those are the small things that have happened in the five months that have been very impactful in my life.”