Black ExperienceBlack History

With COVID-19 in His Midst, Washingtonian Makes Best of Second Chance

I was granted compassionate release in the summer of 2020. Imagine spending your last dollar on a lottery ticket and hearing your numbers called. I remember my attorney giving me the news around 5 pm. That night, I barely slept. At 10 am the next morning I was a free man.

Everything happened that fast. However, the path to get to that life-changing moment wasn’t as simple as it may have sound — the entire process from beginning to end took about four months.

Walking out of prison was amazing. I felt like I had just been pardoned from hell and given a second chance. I didn’t even want to look back at the prison because I was afraid I may get called back into the nightmare.

Ernest Boykin III
Ernest Boykin III

In my lifetime, I have only seen justice work in a Black man’s favor a handful of times. The fact that I had been let out of the “belly of the whale” seven years earlier than my projected release date was surreal. I bear witness that faith can move mountains.

Growing up in D.C. had conditioned me to believe the U.S. Justice System was the enemy of Black males. When I was granted compassionate release due to COVID-19 aggressively spreading through the prison system, I was humbled by my uncommon stroke of luck. Thankful for the blessing I received, I could never forget the good men I left behind. Many men who have been locked away, over sentenced and victimized by a broken system, who deserved the same second chance I was granted.

My heart breaks for them every day.

The more I thought about the opportunity I was given over thousands of other people, the more I knew I had a purpose to fulfill. I wanted to use my second chance at life to impact my community in a positive way. But to do that, I knew I had to first make some improvements to myself. At 41 years old, fresh out of prison, I applied for the Georgetown University Pivot Program. And after a strenuous, extensive application and interview process, I was one of the few applicants accepted. Overcoming that serious application process reminded me I was worthy of this educational opportunity and proved to myself I was conditioned for the challenge.

I ended the terrible pandemic year a semi-free man with a new lease on life and as a student in one of the most prestigious universities in the country. I quietly brought 2021 in with my immediate family. I sent out a few texts, kissed my woman and offered a thankful prayer as the ball dropped. It was an extremely emotional moment. I could not stop thinking about what I was doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve every year I was incarcerated. Because New Year’s Day is the happiest day of the year in prison, it wasn’t hard to remember each exact one. Most incarcerated individuals remind themselves and their neighbors that they are one year closer to walking out the prison’s door. A lot of people go all out with big meals and fun celebrations. It’s the one day of the year that everyone gets along behind the prison fence.

If you ask anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of being locked up on New Year’s Day, what did you do to bring in the New Year? They will probably tell you they banged on the cell door or anything they could as hard and loudly as possible for one minute straight. It’s one of the most exhilarating and unforgettable sounds you could ever hear. It’s like the sound of gunfire in a warzone or firefight. The first New Year I brought in behind the steel door, I had no clue what was going on at midnight. I just joined in and pounded on the door as hard as I could until I released as much stress as I could. And when we stopped banging, everything got quiet and we all went to bed.

In Black culture, we eat black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s. I had my fair share. And before I went to bed, I said one last prayer. I prayed for the poor, I prayed for good health and I prayed for all the men and women trapped in prison praying for a second chance.

Nobody deserves to catch COVID-19 from an outside staff member and die as a result. I am a walking testimony and example of a person who was a non-violent offender, who if given the chance would do his best to help repair the community I helped damage. In 2021 I want to be a voice for the incarcerated people who are looking for a second chance and an example of what compassion can do for our community.

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