I'm an Impostor - Incarceration and Living a Lie
Every day, I walk around telling little lies so I can project this false image of myself. I would like to tell you this is a story about how I feel like I don't know enough, and then I realized that people don't know shit either, but this isn't that story.
The year is 2004, it's May 16th, and I just woke up in jail.
Insert record scratch here
Okay, I bet you are wondering how we got here. That, my friend, is an interesting story that starts with enough Xanax to kill an elephant. I, like many others, have a serious drug problem.
Back to jail.
So, I wake up in jail with zero recollection of how I got there. Fun. Luckily, my disorientation must have been all over my face. A block mate, kindly, pointed out that my intake paperwork was under my pillow. Oh and that I "looked like the devil when I came in". Cool, clearly something is amiss here. I don't commit crimes, so let's get this straightened out right away.
Turns out I'm in jail for some pretty serious 💩. Apparently, during a blackout, I robbed a fucking bank with a note. Yeah, I was just as blown away as you are right now. This is a fuck up. I'll be the first to admit my life is a big backstory of bad decisions, mixed with some trauma, and some heavy drug usage, but I AM NOT A FUCKING BANK ROBBER.
Let's jump ahead a year.
It's April 5th, 2005, and I'm standing in front of a judge who just sentenced me to 5–7 years in prison, with a year's time served… Turns out I am a bank robber. They even had the footage, and my confession, to back it up. Drugs, am I right?
I don't remember getting back to the holding cell, or the trip back to the jail. I just remember sitting in my cell that night and swearing that even though I just lost a half-decade of my life or more, I would not waste one single minute. I knew I would have quite the struggle when this was all over. I vowed to be as productive as I possibly could so that when I got out, I wouldn't have wasted all that time.
While the world was moving on around me, I was pushing myself to be a better person. I would not end up like so many others who would only know this hell as their future.
Prison is a real hell and the conditions in which inmates are kept are fucking unreal. I can tell you that from first-hand experience. Privatizing our prison systems has just given slavery a new name, justice.
Five long, hard years have passed, I have now spent 2112 days incarcerated, and I'm being released.
I took typing classes, basic computer classes, networking classes, essentially anything computer-related that I could get my hands on. I spent the money I made from doing tattoos on books for development. I bought a book on XML, folks. I had a new addiction! I was, no doubt, obsessed. I turned that curiosity into a skill, and upon release, immediately enrolled in college for graphic design. I completed an associate's degree while continuing to learn to program, and was ready to hit the job market.
I can't tell you on how many applications I checked that felony box. I never heard anything back, either. Starting out in the industry is hard enough as it is. Having a serious criminal record really didn't help things.
I honestly feel if it weren't for my privilege, I might have never actually broken through. I can't imagine how much harder it must be for Blacks or Hispanics with criminal records. This saddens me beyond words. I have seen first hand how the system is set up for them to fail.
So I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Eventually, I landed a job at the world's worst agency doing 💩work, for 💩 people, for 💩 pay. That was cool with me. I had made it in.
How, you ask? No background check! It was my saving grace in a lot of ways, but in some ways it almost sent me spiraling back into depression.
I was so excited and nervous about starting my job. I knew the questions would come, "How did you get into programming?" or "Did you go to college? .. No? .. Oh what did you do before you got into programming?". "I was an inmate," doesn't really seem like a great response, so I just lied a little. Small adjustments to my background, how I started in the industry, things like that.
Over time it developed into this other persona. The lie had to be perfect, or I would be found out. It was like I was in someone else's body. I couldn't talk about the most defining things that had happened to me in my life. Things that literally changed who I am at the deepest levels, things that gave me a second chance at life.
I shared the truth with a few select people over the years. I couldn't keep it in. It was getting too toxic. It became easier once I, or they, had left our job, and we no longer worked together. Some I told while I still worked with them. It was always terrifying. You never know how someone will take it.
To everyone who has known, and been supportive to me, I can't thank you enough. You have been the greatest help because I have been able to share my real self with you.
The weight of the lies has been nearly unbearable, and although I am terrified of writing this, I'm even more terrified of not writing it. I don't want to not be me anymore.
I don't want to be an imposter. I'm done with it.
There are literally millions of convicted felons who will have a much harder struggle than I did when I got out, and I want to do all I can to help them.
When I was in prison, all I could think about was what I was going to do when I couldn't get a job. How was I going to survive?
Now here I am, literally trying to buy a home, when there are so many others suffering. I can't live with myself, anymore, if I continue to gain success in life, and hoard my experiences and knowledge of the industry.
Some ways I hope to get involved:
- Bringing awareness to tech about incarceration
- Bringing awareness to inmates about tech
- Raising funds for resources for inmates and convicted felons
- Being a support avenue for anyone struggling with re-entry
I know this is quite an ambitious goal and I'm counting on all of you to hold me accountable if I should start to slack on my endeavors. This is just the first step on a long journey, and I hope to see many of you along the way! If you happen to be a felon interested in tech, please reach out to me, I would love to help you in any way that I can!
Also, I am looking for any programs involving bringing tech to inmates, or helping with re-entry. If you know of anything please reach out!
Written by Kurt Kemple, who lives and works in Virginia Beach, VA.You should follow him on Twitter