The few days heading into my 19 hours of freedom were a tumultuous time. I suffered from a roller coaster ride of emotions. I have completed more than half of a 27-year sentence I received for a small scale nonviolent drug charge. Two months earlier i had asked my case manager to put me in for transfer to a Camp. Most Camps have no fence and are much more relaxed prisons. I hoped to go to Petersburg camp because of a CDL trucking program and another program where you speak to kids in the community. I had spent 9 years in a medium security prison worked my way to a low for 5 years and now my good behavior made me eligible for a Camp. FINALLY I WAS A MINIMUM SECURITY PRISONER.

I had heard stories about federal furloughs but chalked them up to “pure poppycock”. Even though my behavior warranted a Camp transfer i was still shocked the day i was told i was going to camp and was also granted a furlough traveling alone. The sleeping winged insects inside me instantly and ferociously awoke, fighting and fleeing from my bowels to my throat and back. My mind raced as i signed my itinerary. I would be traveling by cab to Lexington Greyhound bus to Virginia and then cab again to Petersburg prison.

From that moment forward the next few days moved into a blur, somehow speeding by while taking forever all at once. Everything irritated me and men who i had been close with for years began purposefully and subconsciously distancing themselves, a mechanism that makes it easier to see someone you care about leave you. Pain management so to speak. It was hard to imagine after so many grey rooms that I would be stepping out into the light.

“Something will happen and mess this up, I’ll end up on Con Air, the traditional and brutal way federal prisoners are shipped,” I thought.

I packed a grey mesh bag with a grey sweat suit and grey shorts and some important legal work that had to be finished. Ironically I had recently petitioned the court for compassionate release and the prosecutor had said i should be denied because, “I was still a threat to society.”

The big day finally arrived. At noon, after saying some heartfelt goodbyes to some close friends, i made my way to R&D. The large C.O. had one glassy eye and as i focused on his good one he went over the rules.  He said, “You can get something to eat, you can go to gas stations or a store, but you cannot get in the car with anyone. You are to be at Petersburg by 8 am tomorrow, that’s 19 hours. If anything happens call these two numbers. Don’t fuck this up, H., or you will be charged with escape.” He then placed me in the same grey cell I had arrived in 5 years earlier. The sense of Deja Vu made the moment seem surreal. Once the door slammed shut i looked at the 80 dollars he had given me for expenses. I had never seen this colorful money before, a pink and purple 50?, a peach 10?, a blue eagle on a green 20? Wow.

Outside the cell I heard a phone ring. “This is actually going to happen,” I thought, and then i was through 2 gates and out into the sunny hot August 19, 2019, sun like Andy Duphrane from Shaw Shank Redemption. Well, not really, i wasn’t totally free but for these 19 hours i was, and i soaked it in. I could hear men yelling at me from inside the prison they were rooting me on as I approached the cab.

The driver had a Forest Green mini vanish vehicle, he gestured for me to sit in front and as we headed for the bus station 60 miles per hour felt like 100 mph. We made small talk, and after I told him I had been locked up for 14 years my Spirit snapped at me like a German Shepherd and said, “DON’T EVER MENTION 14 YEARS AGAIN ON THIS TRIP, THAT’S BEHIND YOU.” I silently vowed that i wouldn’t — I’m moving forward never backward.

Lexington’s Greyhound was the size of a small gas station. I paid the cab 25 dollars and headed in to get my ticket, a huge smile on my face. After I got the ticket I walked across the street to Wal-Mart. I went down the grocery aisles, the clothing aisles. The tube televisions had been replaced by big flat 3d screens. I bought 2 jelly donuts and left. I dreamt that I would get a big t bone steak with all the fixings but when I saw that Wendy’s all that went out the door. I ordered a double with everything and bacon and a large hot french fry. It was better than a steak.

When Greyhound pulled into Lexington an older black woman was the driver. She spoke prophetic words to me that I will never forget. She said, “You are too handsome to be a follower, we need leaders. You need to be a leader.” She could tell from previous riders and my grey sweat suit and bag that I was incarcerated. Rather than protest I simply said, “I receive that.” I knew it was the Spirit talking to me.

I must admit much of the ride made me feel more than a little bit car sick and nauseous, it had been a long time since i had rode anywhere. I looked at the cars and mountains as we headed for Knoxville.

When we pulled into Knoxville, Tennessee I noticed 2 things – one, everyone in the whole world had their heads buried into a phone like zombies from a movie and, two, a lot of people were wearing skin tight clothing with colorfully dyed hair. In Knoxville there was nothing close enough to walk to and get back so i went outside and just enjoyed the summer evening. I could see the skyline of downtown and longed to investigate. The two hour layover turned into about 6 hours because the bus i was waiting to get onto broke down before it got to me. I called both prisons to let them know. The evening turned into night and with the night came those caught in the hell that is the streets. I got myself back into the bus station hoping i never see that part of life again.

A bus finally arrived sometime after midnight, it carried us through the dark into the thick Virginia foliage past so many amazing tree filled woods. We stopped in Wytheville, then Roanoke where I just barely was able to get a sausage Mcmuffin and small coffee. MY GOD MY GOD MICKEY D’s COFFEE OH SO GOOD CARRIED ME INTO RICHMOND, VIRGINIA! It was 10 o’clock and i had been awake more than 24 hours. The station in Richmond was a large bustling place filled with every kind of person. The bathrooms were disgusting but there was a small nice restaurant. I ordered more coffee and a sandwich and ate my last jelly donut.

Out of nowhere a worker found me and said, “You need to come with me.” I had a call and it was the C.O. from Lexington. I explained that i had notified the evening shifts that my bus in Knoxville was late. He knew by then but told me that if the next bus was late to let him know ASAP, Petersburg was waiting on me.

During the last short leg of my trip i spent a good amount of time admiring all those tree lined highways. i wanted so bad to explore those beautiful Virginia Trees as a free man. Sadly I knew my 19 hours of freedom were ending.

It was 1:30 pm on the 20th when i finally arrived in Petersburg. The three lovely ladies at the desk allowed me to call the prison. “Hunter, you are going to hole when you get here!” a C.O. said. I knew he wasn’t serious, they don’t tell you that kind of thing and plus i had covered all my bases. He said, “Call a cab and get here fast.”

The ladies called my cab and pointed to where I was to wait, as i headed that direction I passed a pretty woman with two tones of orange dyed into her dark hair. I look at her as i passed and two minutes later she came and sat next to me outside. I saw then that she was very young and i asked her age. She told me 20 years old, three years younger than my son — still just a child. As we began to talk she told me a little bit about her TRAGIC past, she had also just had a son with an abusive man. She hoped to get to wherever her son was. She was in the streets and it hurt me. I began speaking life to her. As she put a big chaw of Grissley chewing tobacco in her cheek she intentionally let me see 5 cut marks just above her wrist. I told her that God loved her and that He moved when we are at our lowest that she should cry out to Him and He will respond. I told her that she didn’t deserve to be treated bad because of what had happened to her as a young girl. I said, “You are a Queen and a Boss, you can become a CEO, you’re a mother. You have got to get out of these streets, they will eat you alive.” Her eyes teared up some and inside i began to pray for her as if she was my daughter.

As my cab pulled off i thought over my 19 hours of freedom and wished more than anything that the young girl i had just met would be ok. In that ride I knew I could and would be able to help someone someday to escape this life. The words came to me easy and i spoke boldly: Christopher H. is no longer a threat to society, he is an asset.

— Christopher H.

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