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  • Posted Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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#BehindtheTablet: CJ’s Bright Future

Everyone knows at least one young person wise beyond their years, and at the same time I’m sure each of us also knows someone in their 30s or 40s who is more like a high schooler, in attitude and actions.

One of the goals of rehabilitation- and trauma-informed corrections is ideally getting someone who has found themselves on the path of being in that later group to join the ranks of those who have grown and considered their place in the world. Montgomery Reentry facility is doing this work every day, and it shows.

The growth that Cyril Jr. had achieved in his time at Montgomery was apparent with the way that LSW and head of reentry services Kendra Jochum interacted with him.

“You never used to talk like this,” “you’ve made real progress on that;” all of her comments spoke to a past CJ that neither of us would ever know. Someone who came into the reentry facility, into the correctional system, brash and unapologetic. Someone who wasn’t ready to see the work necessary in himself. Someone who’d rather say “no” or get around the rules instead of going the long, boring slow path.

“When I first came I wasn’t the same person I am now,” CJ said. “I was a little wild, rowdy, and stuff like that, was always getting written up, getting in trouble.”

But that wasn’t the CJ that I met that day — the CJ I met took time to answer questions thoughtfully. He didn’t blink or look away when he admitted wrongdoing and wrong thinking. He didn’t create excuses as imagined responses to his father’s words “You’re not ready” to take over the family HVAC business.

Where did this change come from? Certainly some growth can be explained by perspective that almost every person gains as they age into adulthood. But more was at play here.

“I really do feel like I matured in here. When I was out there I was taking life as a joke. I wasn’t really taking my life seriously until I ended up in here. And I actually sat there and thought, ‘Yeah, this is what my mom was talking about,’” he said.

“There’s times when you do feel stressed out, and sadness will hit out of nowhere, because you’re lonely. You don’t have any family members in here with you. You can’t talk to them when you want. You can’t see them when you want. You ain’t going to wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Good morning, mom. Good morning, dad.’”

He also has two siblings – a twelve year old brother and a six year old sister – who haven’t seen him in years.

“That’s my heart,” he says of his youngest sibling. “Every time I talk to her on the phone, even though she be ignoring my calls and hanging up on me, that’s my heart. Every time I talk to her on the phone, I could be in the worst mood but when I talk to her I actually do melt down, start calming down.”

Getting back to his family and feeling that absence are great motivators for CJ’s progress, but he reminds us that he’s added things to his life while in Montgomery that never had a place before, and that’s also helped prop him up.

While incarcerated, CJ started reading more than he ever had in his life. Who is he reading a lot of these days? James Patterson. Avid book nerds and grocery checkout line skimmers alike will recognize that name. Patterson is a powerhouse of the crime novel genre, known as much for his rapid release pace (about a book a month, helped along by his many co-authors) as his novels’ movielike pacing.

“My celly always went, ‘Oh, I got James Patterson.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t like that. I want to read a comic book.’ Then I actually sat down one night, actually read it. I’m, ‘Oh, yeah, Imma really read all of this.’

It’s a big book, but it takes me three nights to finish, three days to finish it, about 400 and some pages.

For me that’s a big milestone, because I’m really used to small, thin books. I don’t really like reading. Then I actually read one of them.

“Okay, look, I’m going to start reading more.”

The next day, CJ checked out five Patterson titles, and his breakneck reading shows no signs of slowing down.

Also in his time at Montgomery Reentry, CJ has studied for and passed the GED. When we talked to him, he was prepping for a release date that he kept secret. (It’s not unheard of for other inmates, especially troublemakers, to try and ruin a guy’s chance at release by picking fights in the month or weeks leading up to their date.)

But CJ had his eyes on the prize – his release date, his GED score and a boring life? That sounds perfect.

“That first month when I get home I know, — well, first I’ve got to wait for my scores to come in from my GED result. Then, I’m going to lay back. People are really not even going to recognize I’m home. Unless you come knocking on my door, ‘Was he even here?’ You’re not going to really see me like that. You might run into me at the store, but at the end of the day, ‘Hi, bye, that’s it,’ he says, painting a laidback life of catching up with the parents and siblings he hasn’t seen in years.

“I’m done with the lifestyle that I used to live. I’ve come a long way. I’ve been at this since I was 15. I turned 20 last month.”

“But at the end of the day, you got to learn from your mistakes, and that’s what I did,” he said with a smile. “When I get out there, I’m actually stick to my mindset, stick to my goals and actually try to make it in life, because I learned it’s not too late for me.”

Watch more of CJ’s story here: