Don’t put on a façade, says Glen Holden. Someone’s going to check you on it.
Prisoner Re-entry Network, an Oakland non-profit, interviews lifers after their release. This article is based on conversations between PRN Executive Director Jared Rudolph and Glen Holden, who left Valley State Prison in January 2015 after serving 45 years. Holden was interviewed about six weeks after his release and again 14 months later.
I went to prison when I was 19 and never thought I would get out. I was denied parole maybe 20 times. Finally, I decided to put everything on the table, to tell the truth about my whole life, and three hours later, I was told I was eligible for release. I still get emotional thinking about that. A lot of us behind those walls think we’ll never get out. I was one of those. Never give up hope. My father always told me that.
Adjusting to being out has required making a positive commitment. That’s what I decided to do. I internalized that I need to be true to myself before I can be truthful with everyone else. And especially when I deal with my family, my friends, my peers, the guys helping me at the transitional housing, my case workers, even the parole agent. It’s all a matter of staying positive and focused.
I didn’t have a plan. My plan was to play it by ear — to take what I knew from inside the institution and just take it with me. My character, my adjustments in prison, how I handled things — and just assume that role when I got out. If you bring some skills with you, you can handle it. We are going to run into a lot of situations. I tend to take everything with a positive attitude.
The biggest thing about adjusting is the way you have to get your benefits or your driver’s license, how to work your ATM cards or driving. Those are hurdles. But I enjoy what I do. Every morning, it’s good to be out. It’s good to go to a meeting, to go to an appointment, to keep your appointments. Technology has really changed, but the neighborhoods are still pretty much the same. The city’s growing. They’ve cleaned up a lot of stuff, but the changes are great.
There’s a lot of love in the community. I started volunteering with kids in an after-school program. For someone who wasn’t around children for 45 years, this was like medicine for me. Your friends die, your mother passes away, and your brothers and sisters die. You have to get right back on the yard the next day — hit the iron pile, play handball, basketball, talk sh*t, get busy. And you put the emotions away on the shelf. So, in a way, the children brought that back for me, so I’m emotional now. It was a great help for my own development after coming back.
I see a lot of cats who get out of prison suppress things and hold it until it’s too late. It’s a little bit selfish to hold it that way. You think of yourself, to stay hard and put on a façade. You don’t grasp it until someone checks you on it — your sister, your mom, your homeboy. Somebody is going to check you. All that you are doing — what have you done for them?
When you step out, you’ve come to create a better character and a better person, even if you don’t always show it. After serving long periods of time, you’re adept at hanging in there and hanging tough. The prayers from our mothers and fathers will be answered.
It’s good to be out. It’s great out here.
By Glen Holden as told to Jared Rudolph