How do I deal with my Post-InCarceration Syndrome [PICS]? That seems to be an easy enough question, right? However, when I began to think about it my mind comes to a screeching halt. Perhaps it’s the fact that there are five distinct yet interrelated challenges as I am now learning about interdependent mental health challenges which make up my post-incarceration syndrome cause this abrupt and disarming mental collapse. Maybe that’s what’s making this question difficult to wrap my mind around.

Of course, my mind tells me it is as simple as just doing those things that worked while I was inhumanely tortured by the state of California in their sensory-deprived isolation chambers at Pelican Bay State Prison for 17 of the twenty-five years I survived. I thrived under those inhuman conditions by keeping a daily routine that focused on my self-developed interests. Working out daily, writing a poem a day, being an avid reader, meditating, doing yoga, and Tai Chi. Oh, and of course giving myself time to myself to just veg out. However, this hasn’t been easy to do now that I’m on the other side of that great gray crowned razor wire wall of despair.

Part of me feels extremely angry and disappointed with myself for not being able to simply step into my new life, and enjoy the beauty of this thing called freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy. I love the life Penda and I share. However, there remains this stain on my joy like a shadow. No, more like bird poop on your windshield after you’ve just had your car detailed inside out. Although it’s just a speck on a huge windshield, it seems to grow and hijack your attention as you’re trying to focus on the road in front of you. If you’re not careful the spec of feces will draw your attention in like a magnet pulling your thoughts and attention away from the road in front of you. So how does one deal with this focus snatching intrusion into one’s pleasant driving experience before it causes you to crash? Is the real question. How do we refocus on the road ahead and not the poop on our windshield that is PICS?

The first thing I’ve learned to do from experience, (after having sadly crashed a couple of times) is to pull the car over. Of course, this necessary and life-saving detour is going to delay your getting to your destination. However, it’s better to readjust your arrival time than to never get there. Plus, as the saying goes “life isn’t about the destination but the journey.” Trust me I’ve tried just pushing on through. Driving on anyway despite the intrusive and attention-grabbing (let’s say it plainly) shit in my mind’s eye and this always ends in disaster. A costly crash is inevitable as I’ve learned. So, pulling over is of paramount importance. In fact, it’s a prerequisite to regaining your enjoyment of the journey.

The next thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to clean the poop from your windshield. That means getting out of the car in this case your head and addressing what the issue is. With PICS the only way to do this is by talking it out. What that means is you’ve got to tell your passengers openly and honestly, “Hey this crap on my windshield is stealing my attention and I can no longer focus on the road ahead. The more I drive and try to ignore it the larger it grows.”

The thing about cleaning your windshield is you don’t have to know why the bird decided to do its business on your fresh clean windshield, you don’t have to know where the bird droppings came from or why the bird seems to always choose right as your journey is getting good and your ride is fresh and clean to do is nasty business all over your windshield. At this stage in the journey, it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting back on the road safely and as comfortably as possible in order to continue on the amazing journey, you’re on.

This mandates that we understand even before setting out on our journey of dealing with PICS that we choose passengers to ride out with us. We must have a support team of people we trust and who we are comfortable riding with. Let’s face it, driving any distance on any journey, especially one as important as the Journey of our life. Demands we have people in our car we can trust to take the wheel when we are tired. People who can help us navigate, and deal with any bumps in the road. Or make the best decision possible should we need to change course or deal with necessary and unforeseen repairs that can pop up along the road. As a comrade once told me, you should always make sure the group you ride with is a support team. Your front passenger should be your Navigator. I’ve learned that this person should be a mentor, a sponsor, or a recovery coach. Your back passenger should be someone who can do the necessary maintenance. Change a tire, pump the gas, check the oil, for me this is my therapist. The driver-side back passenger should be someone who you consider a close friend, your ride or die, friend. Someone who you know will always be open, honest, assertive, and direct in their communication with you about how your PICS is manifesting along each mile of the journey.

Lastly, once you’ve cleaned the windshield, and done the necessary maintenance you must get back on the road as smoothly, cautiously, and quickly as possible. Remember you’re merging back into oncoming traffic and that has its own dangers. So be smart, aware, and diligent about getting to it, but by all means, get back to it.