When you’re alone serving a prison sentence, imagining getting your freedom back can feel like a faraway but precious dream. You might spend time fantasizing about what you’ll do when you’re finally out on your own.
Unfortunately, life after incarceration rarely goes as smoothly as the fantasies preceding it. Traversing the world as a felon comes with many challenges, where something as simple as getting a job or an apartment can prove complicated and time-consuming. Add to this the crippling stress of being on your own again in a world that seems to either ignore or distrust you, and you’ve got a serious challenge on your hands. Getting your health back on track should be your first priority, but the realities of the outside world often lead ex-convicts into destructive and self-sabotaging behaviors.
Whether you recently left jail through a bail bonds service or you just finished a lengthy sentence, you’re probably interested in getting your health back on track, not to mention your entire life. This is no easy feat, but it can be done, and many ex-convicts have paved the way before you. In this article, we’ll share some tips for getting your health back on track and returning to a normal, healthy life after incarceration.
Research Benefits and Opportunities in Your Area
When you’ve just gotten out of prison, your first goal should be to find support from as many sources as possible. Asking for help may feel like a blow to your pride, and you certainly aren’t alone if you feel that way. You may also feel unworthy of anyone’s help or attention, and prefer to keep to yourself. But isolating yourself is among the worst things you can do for getting your health back on track. People in isolation are more prone to depression and sinking into bad habits. And while you may feel embarrassed to ask for help, keep in mind that most people will be inspired when they see your determination to get your life back on track.
A lack of convenient health care is a primary reason to seek help, of any kind. In 14 states, low-income adults aren’t allowed to receive Medicaid unless they have a disability. This means that without insurance, your medical needs — including potentially-critical mental health needs — will go untreated if you live in one of these states. One of your first steps should be to find out if you’re eligible for Medicaid in your state, and if so to apply for it. If you aren’t eligible, you definitely need to search for other ways to get help.
Whether you have insurance or Medicaid or not, you should get in touch with a local program that helps felons get back on their feet after prison. An organization like FIT, or Formerly Incarcerated Transition, can provide any needed support and hold you accountable to your goals. Even if you don’t need any serious medical care or help with housing or food, participating in a program like this can greatly increase your chances of getting your health back on track and staying out of jail for good.
Local food pantries are another good place to visit if you have trouble affording groceries. For help with transportation to doctor’s appointments or jobs, there are churches and organizations that sometimes provide rides or even donate cars to those who need them.
Even if you’re confident in your ability to take care of yourself, you’d probably admit that getting some help with housing and groceries would be nice while you find a good job. You may place less emphasis on getting your health back on track, but it’s still something you should prioritize. It’s especially important if you went to prison on drug-related charges, or if you’ve had any experience with drug addiction in the past. According to a 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health, 1,329 former inmates in North Carolina between the years 2000 and 2015 died of opioid overdoses. The most dangerous time was shown to be the first two weeks following release, when they were 40 times more likely than the general population to suffer a fatal overdose. They were 11 times more likely to do so over the course of a year. Don’t become a statistic. Get all the help you can, and remember to put your long-term wellbeing first.
Start Job Hunting
After getting community support, one of the first things you’ll want to do is find a decent job. Unfortunately, getting employed after being incarcerated is notoriously difficult. This is because companies want to make sure the people they hire won’t upset their customers or cause conflicts in the workplace, but it can often seem unfair, and it’s certainly discouraging. However, more and more businesses are hiring more diversely and making it a point to give felons a second chance.
If you do a Google search for jobs for felons in your area, you might be surprised to find that several employers are actively advertising that they’ll hire ex-convicts. You may not find the easiest job in the world and it might not pay the best, but anything can be a good start.
Other than getting your health back on track, many ex-convicts find that finding decent employment is their single biggest challenge after incarceration. If you find this to be the case, just remember that others have gone through it as well, and don’t give up. Be prepared to fill out a hundred applications or more before an employer accepts you. Remember, getting a new job is much easier once you have one, so don’t be particular about which job you accept at first.
Stay Out of Trouble
After you’ve been in prison once, you’re statistically likely to get incarcerated again. Even if a bondsman can get you out of a local jail for a little while, being a felon makes it terribly easy to get in trouble, and very difficult to get out of trouble. Because of this, one of the biggest risks to your health and wellbeing will be slipping back into your old ways and getting in trouble again.
The first thing to do is to avoid the people, places, and things that you associate with what got you arrested in the first place. If you went to prison on drug charges, you should stay far, far away from anything and anyone related to selling or doing drugs. If you were with friends who got you into trouble, this is one friend group you should avoid at all costs in the future. Even if they seek you out and you want to visit them because you’re lonely, don’t give in to the temptation. You’ve been incarcerated and you’re a changed person; you can’t necessarily say the same for them. It’s far better to build a new support network in a church or local organization, even if it’s awkward at first.
An important part of starting your new life will be adopting a new identity as a better person than you once were. That doesn’t mean you have to change your personality or who you are — it’s just a matter of assuming the traits that a positive, productive person would have. Participating in church or self-help programs can help transform how you see yourself, and that will make it easier to stay out of trouble in the future.
Bail bond agents might be able to get you out of jail before a trial, but no one can make the judge let you go if you break the law. Play it safe and stay far away from every sign of trouble.
Get a Checkup as Soon as Possible
Overall, adults are often less likely than children to get the medical attention they need. In fact, in 2017 roughly 85% of children aged 2-17 reported going to the dentist in the previous year, compared to only 64% of adults.
But if the average adult tends to neglect their health, as an ex-convict, you’ll likely even more trouble getting your health back on track. That’s why one of the first things you should do when you get out of prison to make a doctor’s appointment, even if you have to rely on charity or Medicaid to do it.
People with a history of incarceration tend to have very poor access to health care services, just like they experience significant barriers to goals that the average citizen takes for granted. Recently-released inmates typically have other priorities besides healthcare, such as finding a home and a job, so taking care of their health tends to get shoved back. Worse, most of the time they believe they can’t afford healthcare anyway, so they end up ignoring physical and mental health problems, even when they’re quite serious.
You know that prisons have their own healthcare system, but it’s distinctly separated from the healthcare system that exists outside. Even inmates who had been receiving regular appointments aren’t usually set up with new doctors or insurance plans when they get released.
And those previous inmates are seriously at risk. According to a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, inmates who’ve just left prison are significantly more likely to die than other people with identical characteristics, and not only from drug overdose. In fact, former inmates released between 1999 and 2003 were shown to be 12 times more likely than another person to die of any cause, and 129 times more likely to die of an overdose.
As difficult as it may sound, ex-convicts have to overcome their natural distrust of the healthcare system that they’ve long been outside of — a distrust they developed often by feeling ignored or disparaged by its practitioners. Even if you want nothing to do with the healthcare system or you think that getting your health back on track is unimportant, it’s imperative that you make it a priority. If it takes a little while to get insurance or you have to do other things first, that’s fine, but make sure you start seeing a doctor as soon as possible after being released.
Start Seeing a Counselor or Therapist
When you’ve been in prison, you’ve officially gone through a difficult experience that most people can’t imagine. It’s not uncommon for convicts to get bullied, harassed, and even attacked by other inmates, and they’re forced to assume a constant state of aggression to keep themselves safe. Even if your time behind bars was relatively uneventful, simply enduring the stress of being sent to prison in the first place makes you more than eligible for counseling or therapy.
If your trauma was severe, you may want to find a rehabilitation center that takes in former inmates. But for most people, simply visiting a good therapist every few weeks will help them make sense of their thoughts and feelings and get their feet planted firmly on the ground.
If you question the importance of getting your health back on track, you may feel like a therapy appointment is completely pointless. Admittedly, it can be hard to take it seriously when people start talking about feelings and why they matter. But counseling isn’t for broken people — it’s for people who want to find a sense of identity and purpose, and for people who want to better understand and relate to the world around them. That may not sound like much on the surface, but these benefits will help you dramatically as you find work and interact in your new community. Don’t underestimate how helpful a counselor or therapist could be to getting your new life back on track.
Find Enjoyable Things to Do
Having good health involves more than just healthcare services. It also means living a fulfilling, well-balanced life. Sometimes that means going out of your way to do something enjoyable, just for the sake of doing it.
Whether you find a public swimming pool with hot tubs or go on a walk while the sun sets, enjoyable experiences are never far away. You have your freedom now — you should make the most of it, even if only by doing little things like visiting a park.
Pet care is highly effective for increasing feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Once you get established and start earning more money, getting a cat or dog would be a great way to improve your life. It does involve some expense and time investment, but having a furry friend around the house is well worth the cost. And buying things for your pet can be a source of fun too, from squeaker toys to custom dog kennels.
Remember that something doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun. Even something as simple as participating in online forums and message boards at a library computer can be a source of free, community building enjoyment.
There’s more to getting your health back on track than going to the doctor a few times, although that’s a very important part of it. Good health takes effort and care on all fronts, and it requires you to prioritize fun things as well as work. With the ideas in this article, you should be equipped to start rebuilding your life and making it something beautiful.