Life on the Outside: Setting Goals Made Life Worthwhile
By Joshua Stromberg
In life, the lower your expectations are, the lower your results will be.
This an epic truth in the life of any human being, but for the recovering addict or convict it holds deeper truths. You see, while I was in prison my expectations were extremely low. I mean, what did I have going for myself? Not a lot at that time. But then I made a change. Instead of fighting the system, I began to embrace it. What a change that was!
After years of a ”me against the world mentality”, I found out that there were indeed people that truly want to help people that truly want to help themselves. What a novel idea.
Let me be honest with you. Many of the correctional officers and counselors I encountered inside the prison system didn’t care much about the average felon. And those that do burned out at such rapid rates that true help is often not likely to occur. On the other hand, not a lot of felons actually seek true help during their incarceration. Prison for me was, for the longest time, a place for me to get bigger, to get stronger, and to make new connections so that I could continue my descent into the darker realms of my soul. You already know the catalyst that brought me to the revelation I eventually came to. But the truth behind that revelation is this: I didn’t do it on my own.
Truthfully, I don’t think I could have done it on my own. No, I needed help. And to my utter surprise, I found it. What I found was an underfunded program called MICA (Mental Illness/Chemical Abuse). With a rising prison population of 21,600 incarcerated individuals, there are still only two such programs in the state. The program I was enrolled in at Oshkosh Correctional Institution had 25 people- 25 out of 21,600. I spent 11 months of 8 hour days in a school-like setting, isolated from the general population. I lived, breathed, and played M.I.C.A., and in an environment of constant refinement and feedback I was able to deal with the demons in my life.
And with my successful completion of the program my expectations rose. Now I had the tools that could possibly mean the difference between not only freedom and incarceration, but quite possibly life and death.
But that wasn’t the end of my search for honest help. While in MICA., and due to the help of an outstanding “Jedi” of an outreach specialist, I was put in contact with a program in the community, OARS. (Opening Avenues to Re-entry Success). This program led to my ability to approach life on life’s terms. It gave me breathing room, and a sense of stability- things I have always lacked after prior releases from prison. Those past experiences left me so unprepared that after my 2009 release I was homeless. I spent an entire month living in the South Side Laundromat during the winter.
With the help of this new program my expectations rose higher than that.
Now I had euphoric expectations of wonder. I could move mountains and bend air. I was the unconquerable sun. I had plans and plots and schemes and my entire future lay open before my very eyes.
Now let me tell you what really happened.
I have to see my OARS case manager twice a week, my probation agent once a week, my psychologist every other week, Three AA or NA meetings a week, plus other appointments and search for work. As far as work, only temporary employment agencies will even consider me at the moment.
On top of all that I am one of the founding members of Wisconsin’s first pit-bull rescue sanctuary; and we just got our first rescue this week!
I asked for most of the responsibilities I have now. And I wouldn’t take any of them back. Each progressive step forward brings me closer to my goal. What is my goal, you ask? I have so many, but lets start with the foundation: to be a productive citizen.
And that is honorable. And, I think, a reasonable expectation.
Think about your goals today, and always remember to be easy…