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When I walked out of prison for the first time in 36 years, I had no clue at what I would encounter on the other side of those electrical fences.

Leaving Prison

Home From Prison After 36 Years—Mark Vigil

Would I be able to compete and survive at 52 years of age in the modern world? That thought on its own caused me much consternation and was coupled with the notion of how my family would embrace the aging man who was finally returning home to them after so many years of absence.

There were a plethora of questions ruminating within my mind as to how I would fare. One thing I knew within my heart was I had to go forth with God's blessing and figure out how to begin the process of my return

The minute I stepped out of prison on April 21, 2016, I was greeted by my uncle David who drove me to a nearby IHOP to eat my first meal in society since 1980. I couldn't believe I was eating pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, orange juice, and coffee and not prison food.

The minute I stepped out of prison on April 21, 2016, I was greeted by my uncle David who drove me to a nearby IHOP to eat my first meal in society since 1980. I couldn't believe I was eating pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, orange juice, and coffee and not prison food.

He brought me my dress-outs (the clothes they give you once you are paroled), all of which were provided by my beautiful fiancée Denise (someone I had known as a teenager) who spared no expense to make sure the initial phase of my transition went smoothly. I eagerly went into the restroom to change into my new duds—clothes I had not worn for all the years of my imprisonment. Clothes with color (not the drab, prison-stamped blues that I had worn for all those years).

She made sure I had everything I needed—from a cell phone (which I had never even seen before, let alone known how to work) to clothing and, of course, her companionship, which remains the wind in my sails each day I continue on this journey to freedom. I very well know and do not take for granted that most post-incarcerated individuals aren't nearly as lucky as I have been, having such a strong support system to prop me up.

My family greeted me that evening when I made my way back to Southern California. It was an odd day for many of us because the day I went home, my older brother was having open-heart surgery. We made our way to the hospital where my family (led by our matriarch, Aunt Sally) had gathered to support my brother and await my arrival. There were mixed feelings of joy for me and concern for my brother.

Later, we all met up at a nearby restaurant where we all shared a meal together, something which had my head spinning in all directions. People whose voices I hadn't heard since my childhood were present that evening.

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From that night, my life changed. I went to do the transitional phase of my parole in Vista, California, at a place called Amity (friendship). There, my path to freedom took root. Every day at "The Ranch," they allowed me the time to get all the necessary things I required in order to establish myself in society and be treated once again like a human being.

I must admit that there were days I thought I would fall short and felt totally lost. But each time those negative thoughts came to the surface of my mind, the advisors kept guiding me to the next phase--something I'll forever be grateful for.

They made sure I did not fail in my journey by helping me get my birth certificate, Social Security card, identification card, and driver's license and also allowed me to find my way around the free world on my own. I was offered the opportunity to find a job while I was there and took advantage of that. For a long time I had to ride my bicycle for miles each day to and from a job that really taught me a lot of important things. By saving from my paycheck, I was even able to buy an older car (1999 Ford Explorer) from a neighbor of Amity and began fixing it up with the help and advice of others. It is my first car ever! So now I am really on my way, having the freedom that my own transportation gives me.

By the time I left that caring little nest of Amity, I was fully ready to go out on my own to make a life for myself.

At the moment, I am about to begin a job that could very well become a career for me. I have hopes that it will afford me the means to provide for my family and keep me moving in the right direction.

I plan to get an additional license for truck driving. I also want the chance to be part of anti-recidivism programs in order to help mentor at-risk youth in need of guidance and encouragement, actions that may keep them from the broken path that I had taken in my youth. I do not think that any human being deserves to endure such a path. So I long to be the example which is not easy.

The point is to keep learning to improve my essence so that I may become the man God always intended I should be. Only God knows that.

To my aunt Sally and uncle Johnny and to my brothers and sisters as well as to my family and friends—all of whom enabled me to find my way home again--I can never thank you enough.

Mark Vigil