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A man faces a prison window looking out at a brick wall
Illustration by Teresa Tauchi

The following essay is part of PJP’s ongoing series, “Black Writers on What Lies Ahead.” As part of our Black History Month coverage, this special project sheds light on the future — the history in the making — of Black Americans incarcerated throughout the country.

My future, I once thought, was as bright as Rihanna's diamonds. I was the first in my family to go to college, and with a scholarship on top of that. Later, I went to graduate school, studying English and creative writing, while working full time. I thought I had outrun the curse that ran on both sides of my family, which led my aunts, uncles and cousins to addiction and, ultimately, prison.

In the Benz, I was headed toward a future of peach sunsets, warm weather and palm trees.

And then I literally hit a brick wall. I crashed into a church and someone lost their life due to my negligence.

Now, as a convicted felon, I ruminate about the future every day. My once-imagined paradise is now more akin to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It is derelict land bereft of opportunity and rife with prejudicial eyes. There are boxes to check and boxes to escape. Once I'm free, how do I avoid these mines and pitfalls when society has planted them everywhere?

Building a future as a felon is like being shot in both shins before a footrace. The stigma placed on those convicted of crimes — especially Black men — makes it difficult for us to excel after prison. The fact that I'm now a stereotype haunts me. There's so much more to me than my skin color and the fact that I now have a criminal record. Sometimes I feel as though none of my accomplishments matter, that they'll be eclipsed by a background check or a quick, damning Google search.

I've worked hard in prison to plant flowers in that wasteland and reclaim a sliver of paradise. I have participated in, and later mentored for a trauma-based addiction treatment program. I also serve as a peer support mentor in my therapeutic community. I've completed Connecticut Community For Addiction Recovery's Recovery Coach Academy and plan to go back to school for addiction counseling. One day, I will help people and repay my debt to my victim and society.

But still, I fear I might be denied a second chance at that longed-for paradise, and instead fall into something disreputable to make ends meet — all due to one blemish on my life.

My path ahead is obstructed by questions: Is being Black and a felon the death knell for my dreams? Can I ever forgive myself for my past? Will I successfully navigate the thick, rheumy haze of public opinion? And what will it look like on the other side?

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.

Kashawn Taylor is a writer incarcerated in Connecticut.