A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
My name is Robert J. Dixon Jr. I’m currently incarcerated in the Lino Lakes minimum security prison. I’ve been in prison since 1994 for second-degree intentional murder and aggravated robbery. I’m due to be released in May of 2018. I have a possibility for work-release in September of 2017.
Over the years I’ve worked on myself, faced my character flaws with an open heart, and humbled myself to the point of admitting my thinking was an open enemy to my very existence. I’m saying all this to say I’m not the same person I was 22 years ago.
I value human life, and I’m aware that we’ve all got to make a contribution to the world, as well as to our community. Which brings me to my concern: I’m considered a long- term offender (meaning I was sentenced to more than 10 years), and no one in the Departmenht of Corrections (D.O.C.) has shown any concern that I’m not adequately prepared for release.
You see, lifers are the commissioner’s special project, and he makes sure that they have access to all the necessary resources to get prepared for re-entry into the community. They have former lifers who come back to the prison and tell them about the unforeseen variables that they should be aware of and what to expect.
Then you have the short-timers, who are serving less than five years. This group of men has the attention of the case managers. They have access to job fairs, employment seminars, and financial responsibility classes, not to mention that they get any opportunity to be released early whether they are prepared or not.
I’m with the group of men who have fallen through the cracks of the system. All I’ve ever heard was, “You still got time; we will deal with that later.” Well, later is now, and no one has showed any concern as to whether or not I’m even ready to be in a community setting.
Lifers get psychological evaluations before being released, but I won’t. No one will say, “Mr. Dixon, how are mentally? Do you have any anxiety, or are you just simply afraid of not being able to function on the outside after 22 years of incarceration?” Once again, the commissioner makes sure the lifers have access to everything it takes to succeed.
I’m aware that the commissioner of corrections’ worst nightmare would be to grant parole to a person who would get out and re-offend — I get that. However, he should have that same concern for all of us and give the proper attention to the long-term offenders like myself.
I’ve taken the initiative to help myself by seriously addressing my chemical dependency issues and my criminal thinking, and this was done earlier than expected. I’m currently finishing my paralegal course. I’m also a licensed barber. Through practice, practice, and more practice, I’ve come to realize that preparation for re-entry to my community is possible even without all the assistance from the D.O.C.
I’m just one of many; most are unaware, and no one is making them aware. Who’s helping the long-term offenders? We’ve fallen and can’t get up.
We’re just being released without a clue of where we fit in. Someone has to know that a man or woman incarcerated for two decades has some mental issues, some inadequacies that range from relationships to technology.
In closing I’d like to say I’ve fallen and I’m struggling to stay up. Can anyone invest some time and energy in mentoring and assisting me on how to be an asset to my community? How can I become a productive member of society? Then I can reach back and help prepare the other men who fall between the cracks.
Robert J. Dixon Jr. is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.