Chapter Four – Step Into The Light
By Steven Maisenbacher
Why does everything have to be so difficult? I’ve been out for a little over a month now. I have filled out a hundred applications and applied at probably 50 places. With 25 years of education and training in the quality assurance field, you’d think I was employable, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. I have no computer experience. Even this phone is a navigation nightmare. Were it not for the people around me here with their loving hearts and patience I would be lost. Speed bumps.
After arriving here at the halfway house my PTSD really kicked in. I was afraid to go out anywhere in the world and didn’t for almost 21 days. Finally I went to Walmart for the first time. It was amazing. I rode around on the little car, got some of the things I needed, but then there he was, the monster inside my mind. PTSD. Another big speed bump. I don’t know how to explain what it does to me other than it makes me afraid, anxious and sad for no reason. The slightest thing makes me cry and I go to fearing crowds of people around me. None of these people has an agenda concerning me, still they terrify me. I feel like everyone’s watching me, looking at me, suspecting me, judging me, not liking me, or simply being worried about me doing something horrible.
I tell myself this is not true. This is not real. This is not the way the world is. But then I look at the news, watch the way people act, and think pretty much everyone is aware of what’s going on in our world today – except for me. I wake up in the middle of the night in panic, thinking that someone’s coming to get me to take me back to prison. The Last Place on Earth I ever want to go! How do I conquer these fears? I still don’t know. To this very second I’m afraid of what I don’t know, and I think that’s pretty much everything. I’m afraid of falling short of the marks that I’ve set for myself. I’m afraid of what other people might think of me. I’m afraid of somebody trying to hurt me or take the very little that I have.
I have a scheduled appointment with a mental health specialist today. It’s supposed to be a phone interview. I’m even anxious and apprehensive about that. I’m afraid he won’t understand what I go through on a daily basis. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go back to bed, I’m living in fear. I don’t know why. I don’t know what has happened to me to make this happen. I only know that it has and I never knew it would be this bad until I got out.
Even getting on a bus is a challenge. I usually ask an employee at the bus stop which bus do I take to get where I need to go? Which bus do I take to get back? Usually they look at me like I’m an alien or just plain weird when I don’t know how to do something. What a strange new world with all these hurdles, all these people, all these places, and all these things that go on. Yesterday I applied for housing. They gave me another application and told me to fill out both of them. I’m not sure if they’ll even help me; I’m number 5,421 on the list. Guess I’ll be here for a minute.
I am sitting alone outside. I had my prayers at dawn, now I’m watching the sun come up. I hear sirens in the distance and I have to ask myself if that could have been about me at one point in my life? I know the answer. And that too scares me. I have so many regrets. I’ve apologized and spoken about all I planned on for the future, but in the same breath, I still wonder where do I go from here? What’s in store for me? How do I get to the place I need to be when I spend most of my day fighting in my own mind? I don’t know the clinical terms or definitions of what’s going on and I don’t think it would matter if I did because I don’t think that would fix it. So I’ll keep pushing on every day, trying to get past one fear into the next, trying to make sure I do all the things I think are right and praying that they were the right things.
Tomorrow morning I have an appointment with the admissions counselor at Lincoln Land Community College. I’m going back to school at 62 years old! I’ve got a lot to learn but this too comes with its own bag of fears. I don’t want to sound like a whiny crybaby but I feel so alone even though I know there are many who love me and do care. I know they want the best for me and I believe that they’re the reason I’m able to keep fighting these fears all day, every day. Everything seems to be a speed bump on my way to normalcy.
I want to succeed. I have to succeed. There’s no other option and this scares me too. I look at the people around me when I’m out in the world. I’ve been out several times now, taking the bus here or there getting lost once or twice and kind of freaking out about what I would do next. That’s when the anxiety kicks in. I don’t think I need to describe what anxiety feels like; we’ve all gone through it at one point in time or another, but it ain’t good, it’s not pleasant and it leaves me unsettled.
Several times I’ve had to go to my room and just lay down and hide. But what am I hiding from? Why would I have to hide? I’ve done all that I was supposed to do. I’ve paid my debt to society for my past wrongs. But it seems obvious that society won’t let it be debt paid. Everything I ever did is held over my head here, from the simple fact of needing to put in paperwork just to go to a store to buy a toothbrush to having to put in paperwork and have it approved to try and find a job.
There are several people working behind the scenes to see to it that my path is smoother and helping make opportunities available for me to succeed. You Know Who You Are and I thank you so deeply. There are others who would like nothing more than to see me to fail, for me to go back to the cage that I’ve lived in for well over half my life. To them I say, you are a speed bump.
For decades I had the chance to stand outside of all the madness from my cages and now I’m in them. The madness that I face every day is not so much from the world around me but for my not knowing how to navigate that world myself. In the prisons they scream about rehabilitation and pre-release preparation but in reality, there wasn’t any. My only rehabilitation came from within and my only pre-release preparations are the plans and dreams I have and so want to do.
So I’ll continue to do what I do, get up at 4:00 in the morning so that I can be outside to pray at 5:30. Then I’ll plan my activities for the day just as if I were doing so without the fears. The simplest things are difficult. The hardest things are already done. Everything else – my mental health, my physical health, where I will live, where I will work, what I will do – these are just speed bumps. I’ll get over them.
I am Walks On The Grass and I Will Never Surrender.
Index to publications by Steven Maisenbacher