Courtesy of Brad Simpson

Courtesy of Brad Simpson

Do you know what pisses me off? The fact that I can’t get it together. I’m trying so hard to build a future for myself outside of prison. One that will show people that I will not be a loser all my life.   I have a long criminal history. I started at thirteen, doing stupid things. I’m now thirty-five and have been in prison since just after I turned twenty.

I don’t know how to open a bank account, or sign an apartment lease. I don’t know how to live on a budget, buy groceries, or support myself legally. Some would call me a lost cause. If that is the case, I’m a “lost cause” with a release date, so I truly hope those people are wrong. I am sincerely trying to do the right things, the right way.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to do it the right way. Is this what our country is coming to? All I’m getting are roadblocks. Let me fill you in: I’m eligible to be released from prison onto parole. My next hearing is around Christmas 2015. I don’t have any family support to rely on, so I’m left to do it on my own. I have nothing except what is in my cell at this moment. The money I can save while I’m in prison is the extent of my savings. About two years ago I decided to get it together so that I would be better prepared for my release.

I’ve been at it for two years and I still can’t get it together. I tried to open a bank account to save money in. I figure I’ll need an account once I’m released. If I have an account now it may establish some type of credit when it comes time to need a good credit report. And having a savings account makes it harder to spend in prison, because it’s harder to access. Prison makes it super easy to spend money that’s on your inmate account.

Every bank I contacted, responded with “you need a co-signer.” I don’t have a co-signer so I had to keep looking. To be honest I didn’t expect it to be easy. I didn’t expect to say I want to open an account and for a bank to say okay, give us your money – but this is ridiculous.

Finally I got it to the point where I could open an account if I submitted a credit report. I guess it shows I’m less of a risk if I have good credit?! So I wrote the annual credit report request service in Atlanta. They provide a free credit report once a year. Most of the inmates I asked didn’t even know you could get a credit report, not to mention one for free.

I wrote for my report for two reasons. The first obvious one is to open the bank account. The second is, I’ve been in prison over fifteen years now and I think it would be smart to know if I have any outstanding bills that I’m not aware of. Instead of getting a credit report I was sent letters from three major credit services: Transunion, Experian and Equifax. All three had the same response: we can’t provide you with a credit report until you provide further proof of your address and identity.

This is a problem. Prison doesn’t allow us to have any of the documents necessary to establish identity (security reasons) and being in prison for over fifteen years keeps me from providing my address on a bill. I thought that my identity was sufficiently established when I was locked up. Don’t tell me the prison doesn’t know who I am. That could be really disturbing.

Now I’m pissed! You may ask why do I need a credit report or a bank account? I’ll tell you. I need some credit to get things like an apartment lease or a car loan. I need the credit report to know where I have to start in building that credit, and to open an account. The account builds some credit if done right, and I’ll need an account once I’m released. It doesn’t hurt to start early, especially so I don’t have to do it “on the go” once I’m out, adding to the stressful and overwhelming situation that is parole. Plus, I can use every penny I can grab onto.

The prison system doesn’t prohibit bank accounts, but they do have some rules that I must follow. I can’t have in my possession any bank books, checks, or credit/debit cards. I can’t possess deposit or withdrawal forms or money orders. I can receive a monthly statement telling me of my account activity for the month. When I explained to the banks that I don’t have a co-signer and I can’t obtain a credit report, I was informed that I’d need to show up at a bank to open an account.

Last year I only managed to save $400.00 and this year I’m hoping to save another $600.00. That isn’t much, but it’s the best I can do on my own.

Prison does have a re-entry program, but that’s for people with mandatory release dates within the next 18 months. My mandatory release date isn’t until August 2023, so I don’t qualify. They can’t waste time on just a possibility that I’ll be paroled. So I start at square one. I’ve been haggling for three months now to get an application for a social security card. The prison doesn’t want to have to deal with that. I finally got the application so I’ll try again. Without any help outside of prison and no help from inside prison it is super hard to get it together. It’s hard to get kicked in the face every time and still get back up again. When this happens time and time again, it’s hard to keep hope alive.

That thought terrifies me, the thought that hope isn’t strong enough. The thought that getting kicked in the face when I’m trying so hard to do it right is slowly wearing me down.

I yearn to make it, to be free and to keep my freedom. I miss sitting under a tree, just relaxing in its shade. I miss wearing my own clothes. Being able to turn a doorknob and the door to my own room, whenever I want. I miss the ability to take a bath. I’ve had showers; I do shower as often as is permitted in my current prison. I haven’t sat in a tub in 15 years. What I miss is a hot tub full of water, to just soak and feel clean. I miss having change in my pocket, a wallet with money in it. Mostly I miss a kind, simple touch. I miss curling up with my woman and just lying there. Just to feel and be connected through a simple tender touch. To know that I’m not alone on an emotionally void island. To have peace through intimacy of the simple touch.

I miss all of that stuff and have hope that I will have it again. All of that stuff comes with my freedom. Before prison, I didn’t stop to consider all the little things I’d be giving up. I didn’t stop to think about how my actions affected those around me. I think about it all now, mostly with regret. I want those things back so desperately that sometimes that it hurts. The only thing I can honestly say I want more than those things is to be out and to prove to everyone, including myself, that I can do it.

I know it’s supposed to difficult because anything worth doing is supposed to be tough to do. However, I’m not sure it’s supposed to feel this stacked against me and my success. Sometimes I wake up sweating at night because I dreamt about getting out and screwing it up. I can’t come back to prison, I’m at the point in my life that if I don’t proceed carefully, prison could be my final home. I just can’t do this again.

Read Brad Simpson’s story about his crime.

If you’d prefer to contact this prisoner directly, please write to:

Brad Simpson #1194102

Red Onion State Prison

PO Box 1900 (D-6-30)

Pound, VA 24279