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Side-by-side photos of before and after Jeffery Shockley's haircut
Photos courtesy of Jeffery Shockley

Some time ago, I made a big change to my physical appearance: I cut off my dreadlocks after growing them for 14 years. This was the start of a plan for my future, and the beginning of the hope phase of my prison sentence.

A strange thing about doing time is that it can be similar to a toxic relationship.

The first several years of my sentence was the dating period: getting to know what I was dealing with and how to make the best of the situation, while avoiding the totality of it, still fighting my case and finding fault in everything but the part I played.

The middle stretch of a sentence, which was from my sixth to tenth year, was somewhat of a honeymoon phase, when you accept your situation. You begin taking responsibility, adjusting to the environment by making friends, getting a job or going to school.

The last phase is when you can see the end: You let yourself hope.

I made this shift after the 10-year mark. I was certainly settled into doing the best I could under the circumstances. I had been living this life as if I would be here until my sentence was complete.

Change came when I felt a glimmer of hope. Laws changed for middle-aged and elderly people who had been in prison since they were teenagers. There was a shift in the stars and people were given a second chance. Now at 60 years of age, the laws could change my circumstance as well.

There is a phrase from the Bible: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

My dreadlocks used to be symbolic of life inside prison. The hope of a second chance compelled me to think beyond these walls and fences, and prepare for that next phase of life outside of prison by cutting it off.

In this place, so many things are beyond our control. What I can do is spend time preparing and not whining or worrying about why I wound up here. It is a gift to live each day with hope.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jeffery Shockley is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.