Ottis Johnson was sent to prison at the age of 25 years old, and was released at 69 years old.
44 Year Sentence
Life in prison was hard. All choices were taken away. The world was passing him by, and the only evidence he had that people were still out there, living life, was the small window that all inmates shared. The one with channels that only the guards could choose from.
Ottis watched styles and major news events, come and go, To get a feel for the events that he watched through a television lens, see this time-line of major US Events just from 1970-1989.
When he went in, Richard Nixon was president. He watched Nixon become the first president in US History to resign from office, through that small black and white window. He watched other presidents come and go; Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr., and when he got out in 2014, President Barack Obama was in office.
Everything from the falling of the Berlin wall, gulf war, Y2K, and 9-11, were seen from the window of television.
Beyond the television, the only other knowledge he had was that of the guards, and the prisoners with shorter sentences who came and went over the years.
He lost all trace of his extended family, and has no way to contact them now that he is out.
Despite watching his entire life slip away without him, Ottis refused bitterness. He does not feel that society owes him anything. He committed a crime, and he paid his due time. He embraced the experience, and released anger through prayer and meditation.
I try to let that go. Deal with the future instead of dealing with the past.
Post Release Shock
So what shocked him most when he got out? What had changed on the street level from 1970 to 2014?
He was released by bus, and dropped off at Times Square, New York of all places. One of the strangest cities in the world.
There were television advertisements playing on the windows. Not on TV's behind the windows, but ON the windows. In 1970, you would see people walking back and forth inside the store, but not TV's.
Everyone had wires coming out of their ears. He was thinking "What happened? Did everyone join the CIA or become agents or stuff like that?" Because that's all he knew about wires in the ear in 1970.
Ottis laughed, " I was thinking, Why is everyone looking down at their phones? What do they call them... iPhones or something like that? How can you walk like that and not run into things?"
"I remember this, when I first got out. I was gonna make a call, and I seen the price on the pay phone was $1.00 (for 4 minutes), it used to be $0.25 when I went in?" Then he picked up, and found out that nobody even uses them anymore, and most don't work.
Grocery store options had exploded. Choices were limited in the prison system by design, but even with that aside; the choices from 1970 to 2014 were vastly improved. He said his hardest part of shopping is making up his mind. There's just so much. Boxed dinners. Gatorade in many colors. Peanut Butter and Jelly in the same jar.
At least they still had Skippy, that was familiar.
This one gets to me, having had a brother who went through the prison systems before he died. What's funny is that he and I grew up the in same home, with the same parents. Somehow he would tell people that he "grew up on the streets", while I grew up in middle class suburbia.
It was his choice. He chose to leave behind one life for another. Other's make the choice to leave their hard neighborhoods and pursue a better life.
And yet we all live in various types of prisons. I was just re-reading a post I'd done a while back about Strongholds, which are prisons of the heart and mind. We are all in need of freedom, and freedom more abundantly.
How many things do we have today that we take for granted. What did you go through 10, 15, 30 years ago that God's grace allowed you to overcome? What are you not going through today, because He brought you out? And yet you are still complaining because you don't have everything you want?
Today, just a few days after Thanks Giving, the period of time that greedy shoppers are trampling each other for "stuff", let's go back and Thank God for the moments we have today, and for the things we are no longer burdened by, and the freedom we have gained so far.
Change is scary
Let's be grateful for the small things, like Skippy Peanut Butter, that remind us of the things that haven't changed.
Let's be grateful for the small things, like the Windows Tablet I'm writing this on, that have changed. They remind us of the comforts we have today, that we could not have imagined 20 years ago.
To hear Ottis for yourself:
He was interviewed in this video: My Life After 44 Years In Prison (HERE).
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