I saw a patient today who was just released from an eight year prison stay. He came to the clinic because the bullet that's lodged in his back is causing him pain. He's 33 years old. He was shot when he was 16 years old in a fight and he couldn't walk for two years. This fight also left him blind in one eye from being kicked in the face.
He was in prison in another state and just moved back here to live with his mother for a while. He wore a black knit cap over his short afro and spoke in a soft voice. He answered my questions saying, "Yes, ma'am" or "No, ma'am".
I asked him why he was in prison and he said, "Trafficking". Now, you'd think I've heard enough stories that I'd immediately know what he meant. But instead, I started wondering why someone would need to be in prison that long for some traffic tickets. Fortunately, I didn't make a fool of myself by asking him how many traffic tickets earned him such a long prison sentence. He was "trafficking" cocaine.
He used to use cocaine, marijuana, and something called "sherm". "I don't know what it is, but that's the street name", he said. "It's a liquid that you smoke and it's what's used to embalm somebody". After wondering to myself how brain cells he must have killed smoking that, I asked him when was the last time he used drugs. He said, "Man, I been in prison and just got out. I ain't using nothin' no more". He assured me he wants to change his life and he doesn't ever want to go back to the "hell hole".
He has six kids from four different women. Six kids without a father, four women raising kids on their own; loops in the long complicated chain of societal disfunction. He tells me he wants to contact some of his kids and try to form a relationship with them. I told him how great and important that is. I told him maybe he can teach them what he learned from being in prison. He told me he wants to do that. I hope he can.