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By Robert Lilly



This is a story of a man who after having spent numerous years in and out of prison, also known as recidivism, has finally learned how to take the initiative to search out the answers to life’s mysterious questions and to find his place in what inmates call the ‘free world’. That man is me. {{more}} I have been at liberty from the prison system here in Texas for the last two years. I am one in thousands who, as I have, been released back to the community to fend for their lives. And for many of us this task is gargantuan in nature. Without the help and support from service providers many of us are doomed to return back to prison. Since my return home I have made it a priority for me to venture out into the community to seek and find the needed support that will enable me to succeed. Prior to my release I was a resident in the IPTC a TDCJ created treatment program for the tens of thousands of incarcerated non-violent drug offenders. My last conviction was for delivery of cocaine, more than one, less than four grams. For those who are not familiar a gram is the equivalent of a pack of sugar. I was sentenced to 12 years in the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice system. I actually served four and a half years and the last six months was in a program for substance abusers. When I received my FI-6, the official designation for the parole board’s issuance for treatment, I was relieved yet apprehensive. I did not know what to expect. From the many inmates that I had spoken to I was led to believe that I was going to a ‘snitch farm’. A place so named because I would be encouraged to adopt was that are so looked down upon by inmates that some would prefer to remain in custody rather than be sent to a place where telling on someone else was conditional for release. Suffice it to say that I would learn of the exact nature of this element of the program once I arrived there and was given my first of three books that outlined the rules of the program. Snitching was not expected of me nor of my comrades in the program, rather we were being inspired to imbibe an idea foreign to many of us prior to being sent to this program and that idea was accountability and communal responsibility. We were being made to see that the actions of one could affect the entire ‘family’ as we were instructed to identify one another. I was struck by how many people were taken aback by this concept and because of my desire to work an honest program so that I could be ‘freed’, not only from prison but also from my disease of addiction, I saw, in this moment of clarity that my peers were standing too close to the tree and thus the forest was blocked from their view. What that means is that when I more closely examined the language of the program I was blessed to see that the language was essentially written in a signified form. The community that was really being talked about, was the one we had forfeited our place in outside of the prison walls. And the family we were being instructed to identify with was the human family. When I began to read the books with this attitude it changed my paradigm and deepened my dedication to change my life for the better and fortified my efforts to use this TC language as a basis for self-imposed behavior modification. I thought I was alone in my discovery because there were so many negative people in my pod. . Then one day I was inspired to attend a group called the Winners Circle. It was one of a number of programs offered on this unit in Beaumont, Texas. However, the volunteers who came in as a part of this particular program were different-they were all ex-offenders! I found that to be amazing. I wanted to know more about them. Upon attending their gatherings I quickly learned more of what made them stand out. Essentially, they all had learned to effectively convey to other inmates and ex-offenders their new found value of their freedom and the dignity that comes with ‘squaring it up’ as we say in the streets. Squaring it up is a phrase that is tantamount to going straight, no longer is one willing to engage in criminal enterprises and associate with criminal types. This message was communicated not only in speech, which is often entertaining and humorous but so too is it demonstrated in the way a ‘Winner’ dresses and treats others, men and women both. It is emphasized through ones service to the community and the usefulness of the ex-offender to the other ex-offenders. Therefore, primacy is placed on ‘giving back’. ‘Winners’ are a resource and an asset to the overall society but like most natural resources they must be first discovered and then refined. The Winners Circle Peer Support Network literature teaches us in our preamble: “Today I stand for something and that is a program of recovery. Yes, today I am committed to the changes that I have to make in my life to become a better person. In the disciplines of the program I will commit myself to the changing of my attitude, behavior, and thinking overall becoming more aware of whom I am rather than masquerading as someone I am not.” That language was/is like God speaking to me. The general society must understand that for many of us who go to prison at the root of our criminality is the ideas we hold about ourselves and the society that shaped up. Further, the ideas we have about ourselves were not self-generated, rather they are the product of our socialization as members in this society prior to our being locked away in prison. Getting out and staying out then requires us to peel away those old and erroneous ideas that have been engendered in us over the years. We have to be convinced of our human worth and then persuade the society that we are as valuable as any other person who has not been through what we have. All of this was culminated for me once I was set at liberty from TDCJ. Out here in the ‘free-world’ I have made it vital that I connected with this unique organization. I am a member here in Abilene, Texas to the ‘Winners Circle: Keys to Freedom’, and have been since the day of my release in ’06. Debra Jo Martin is our founder and the current president of this 10 year old branch of the Houston based group. Our prototype was started by Rev. Simon Bartee Jr. and Raymond Davis sixteen years ago. Recently, Debra Jo, I and several other members all drove down to Houston, Texas to attend the Winners Circle Conference 2008. It was held on Oct. 17-18 and its theme was “Re-entering Society. One Peer at a Time. The conference was well attended and many people from the recovery community were in attendance. The primary reason for this gathering was to pass the torch from Mr. Dillon West, the current Chairperson of our organization to Mr. Bobby Wheeler, the former Asst. Chairperson. Mr. West has been a faithful steward of our mission and will continue to serve in another capacity, furthermore, Mr. Wheeler has assured us that he will continue our long tradition of dynamic leadership with a renewed focus for organizing and networking with the over 21 statewide branches of the Winners Circle. Mr. Wheeler stated, “I am committed to the inherent thereauputic value of one ex-offender helping another ex-offender. And although our mission states we are a support group of successful recovering ex-offenders, we will not exclude anyone in recovery.” The agenda for the conference was power packed with TDCJ representatives who spoke on various topics of interest to the conference goers. Such topics were: Winners Circle as the Continuum of Care for Re-entry; Continuum Mental Healthcare/Co-occurring Disorders and Re-entry; Gateway Foundation Services for Re-entry; City of Houston Re-entry Program services; Texas Alcoholism Foundation Relapse and Re-entry. There was so much to learn about this program. I got a chance to see that the work we are engaging in here in Abilene, Texas is not simply regional but state and nationally recognized. I am proud of my club for pulling itself through some difficult times and restructuring for the future. As the community liaison I will work tirelessly to continue putting forth the argument that we, the formerly incarcerated and the currently incarcerated as well as those struggling with addiction, that we are redeemable. With the support of the kind members of this society we can reverse certain policies and practices, both official and unofficial, which encumber the successful re-integration of ex-offenders back into society. I will continue to receive guidance from Bro. Bey, from Baltimore MD., who is my mentor and guide in this work; he is also a guest columnist for the Tribune. And together we will make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters. If you have any family members who have been recently released from TDCJ or who are struggling with drugs and need help, please refer them to us and we will do all that we can to help them to help themselves. The Winners Circle meets here in Abilene at 1228 Grape at the Church on the Rock. This is located in the Merchant Park Shopping Center. We meet on Monday’s 6:30-7:30pm and on Friday’s at 8:00-9:00pm. You can contact our president Deborah Jo at 325-518-6835 or me, Bro. Rob @325-864-8439.

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