October 2, 2023


Welcome to the Food

Returning Home: A Long Bus Ride, Junk Food and a Mother’s Tears

picture of man

Habakkuk Nickens. Photograph by Mike Greenlar

Getting right here, correct now, nevertheless feels unreal. Absolutely nothing compares to the emotion of getting my freedom back again.

Previous thirty day period, when the correction officer showed up at my jail mobile and questioned: “Nickens, do you want to go home today?”

I took it as a joke, right until he adopted up, telling me: “Pack your stuff. You really should be out of right here by 3 o’clock.”

And guaranteed sufficient, I was.

The date was May perhaps 3, and I was released suddenly due to the fact of the Initially Step Act originated in 2018, but not absolutely applied until 2022. It gives suitable inmates the chance to earn credits by participating in recidivism reduction packages.

The attained credits can be utilized toward early launch. Created for non-violent offenders, the law saw a lot of modifications, finally presenting help to offenders like myself. This led to my speedy release. Right after serving 10 a long time and two times, the moment I experienced been waiting around for was lastly right here.

The purpose I was blessed with these kinds of a massive slice of my time is for the reason that I committed the time I served to rehabilitation. I researched challenging and took in excess of 50 lessons, this sort of as parenting, options to violence, target impression and much more.

Then when I acquired the information, I designed and led my very own lessons to train others.

My neighborhood ties were being an additional element in bringing me property.

Study Earlier Write-up: “Former Gang Member Encourages Stop-Fire”

All through my incarceration, I launched an group termed Guys Educating Neighborhoods. Our mission is to carry recognition to gang violence, gun violence and any violence impacting the nation.

Our initially initiative was Operation Ceasefire. We labored on truce meetings, violence consciousness days and prevention. I completed all of this from driving the wall.

Strolling Out With out Cuffs

Going for walks out of the front entrance of the Federal Correctional Establishment at Beckley in West Virginia with out cuffs felt abnormal. A taxi was termed, and 10 minutes later on I was on my way to the bus station, ready for a Greyhound. During the 6-hour wait around, I walked all around the tiny city, stopping in a gasoline station, a McDonald’s and a Spouse and children Dollar, obtaining all the junk foods I haven’t seasoned in a 10 years.

I spent $50 on foods by yourself.

I identified the bus ride to be soothing and relaxing. It was not until eventually the subsequent day, Could 4, that I built it out of one point out and to the next, due to the fact my bus did not get there right up until 10 p.m.  My route went from West Virginia to Columbus then Cleveland, Ohio and onto Buffalo, N.Y., and eventually house: Syracuse.

In total, I expended 48 several hours using in buses.

To an average citizen this would have been exhausting, but to me, I considered the excursion like touring in some wonderful, foreign country. I achieved one particular couple who have been so potent in their religion and adore of God that they felt compelled to aid me in my situation.

The partner gave me the jacket off of his back again and an further hat that he had. I wasn’t cold, but he felt this is what God desired him to do.

That is when it began to sink in that I’m not in jail any a lot more. I’m close to all types of individuals, some who have compassion, empathy and like.

I took it as a indication that I was supposed to be free.

My bus from Columbus to Cleveland was delayed — scheduled to go away at 8 a.m., it didn’t get there right until 6 p.m.

Even now, this was no trouble to me. I was totally free and practically nothing was likely to just take that joy from me.

During the wait around, I fulfilled a young man from the Bronx. We talked the entire time. Just by looking at my physical appearance — my baggie jeans, skippy sneakers and baggie T-shirt — he realized proper away I had just gotten out of jail. We talked the whole time about God, my experience and my plans. When my bus came, we embraced like we’d known just about every other forever.

I lastly manufactured it household all over 10 p.m. on May possibly 5.

My mom fulfilled me at the bus hub in Syracuse and cried as before long as she observed me. The experience of this is actual commenced to established in.

When we obtained back to her home, my 17-calendar year-previous daughter was asleep and I tiptoed into her room, calling her. She awoke, barely equipped to see me. In a very low tone, she said “Dad,” and then understood it was truly me.

She commenced screaming “Dad!” while crying and holding me in a hug.

Actuality really started to kick in. My brothers greeted me with very long embraces, and my 19-year-aged son cried in my arms with tears of joy. My youngest, my 14-calendar year-old daughter, held onto me with a delighted, uncontrollable cry. She would not enable me go.

In this moment, I felt how significantly my presence experienced been skipped by my household.

Now, that I’ve acquired a 2nd likelihood, I strategy to go on on a path to be a potent impact in my local community. I’ve arrive to understand what that normally takes and see what will have to be performed to modify the prevalence of violence in our metropolis.

I am an ally, and I am here to support.

This essays combined the very first two columns of a venture documenting the return house of former incarceree Habakkuk Nickens, who was  sentenced to 20 yrs in federal jail just after he was convicted on racketeering costs. The columns originally appeared in The Stand. The Criminal offense Report will publish other columns in the sequence as they show up.