What is Freedom?

On January 28, 2016 I left Danbury FPC and flew to SW Florida unaccompanied to check myself in to the halfway house In Fort Myers, FL. This day was almost as scary as January 6, 2016 when I self-surrendered for mail and wire fraud for using my employers bank account as my own personal bill paying account and shopping on the company credit card.  First off, let me just say that walking out of a Federal Prison Camp after 15 months was extremely nerve wracking.  I got in a van that my husband had hired to take me to LaGuardia.  Remember, I had been incarcerated for 15 months with 200 of my closest friends and now I’m in a van “free” to fly to Florida. The entire time I was in line at TSA I truly thought I would pass out, my fear was the TSA Agent would say I couldn’t fly because I was a felon who had just literally gotten out, or that some Security Guard would walk up and say “just kidding” you aren’t flying anywhere and we are taking you back to camp for “escaping”.   As silly as these fears were, they felt so very real and overwhelming.

The Salvation Army halfway house I was in for 5 weeks truly wasn’t bad. I had 2 women in my dorm with our own private bathroom and shower, however, I was the only white collar there among all the residents and they could not relate to my “crime” or my sentence as they had both been down for 10-12 years and saw actual cells, bars and fences.

March 3, 2016 when I was released on home confinement. I had an ankle bracelet the size of a walkie talkie, got calls several times a day and anytime in the night, had to go to the halfway house when called within an hour to pee in a cup or do a breathalyzer. This wouldn’t have been a big issue if I’d been allowed to drive, but I was not yet.  This went on until April 25th when I started my 3 years’ probation.  I had heard all kinds of horror stories about being on probation, but it really wasn’t that tough. I had to ask permission to travel but it was always granted, and my PO only came to my house the first day I started.  During my time at camp I met some amazing women who will forever be my family and my confidants as they TRULY know what this is like. BUT you are not allowed any contact with “other felons” while on probation. This, in my opinion, sets us up to fail as the only support network we have, we are not allowed to talk to.  Yes, I have my amazing husband and family but they either do not want to talk about it and do not understand how alone and isolated you feel. (trust me, we all talked to each other anyway or we would never have survived).

Fast forward to April 25, 2019, Probation is over, and I can come and go as I please. But what does this really mean?  It’s a surreal feeling as yes, I am free, but in the same instance, I’m not. I will forever be a “convicted felon” and whenever I apply for housing, employment and such people will see the mistakes I made in my past and immediately judge me on that and not the person I am now. 

So, what is freedom? Will I truly ever be free? For me, it’s a question that deeply troubles me.  I am “off paper” and free to do as I please, but I will l NEVER truly be free, free of the stigmatism that comes with being a felon, the guilt of letting so many people you love and counted on you down, even though we all say we’ve forgiven ourselves for our mistakes, I don’t think we ever really do.      

~ Jayne Concialdi Inmate # 09906-082

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