“Good luck out there,” the guard says to me as he closes the gate behind me. I turn back at the daunting grey building. The words “Manhattan’s State Penitentiary” are written in big block letters in the front. I shudder and begin to walk. This is it. There is no going back.
It all felt rather anti-climatic. I was being released from prison. I was supposed to have a family awaiting my return. There were to be tears of joy and tight hugs all around – I was to go home. And yet, here I was, alone with no home to go to. All I had was forty dollars, a bus ticket, and a pat on the back. I felt like a child who had been in timeout for too long. I had missed recess and was blacklisted; I didn’t know how to act around my peers anymore.
I walk around in a haze. What now? This was supposed to be me new beginning, a good life, one without fear, and the constant need to be on the run. But now that it is here I do not know what to do. It is as if the word “thief” is plastered on my forehead, and everyone is judging me. The five years I spent in prison is all I will ever be known for. A common thief is all I will ever be.
With these thoughts swirling in my brain, I walk. I tell myself there is no destination but part of me knows exactly where I am going. I find myself looking up at the rundown apartment complex, my hand in my pocket, gripping what little money I have. To say this was a bad part of town was an understatement. This is where I lived, no – survived before prison. It was me along with three other girls in a dingy two bedroom apartment. We were part of a large pick pocketing circle. I was a pickpocket. As I stare up at it my finger itch. I could go back. Our leader, known “John” (a lame name, I know) would take me back.
No. No I cannot do this. If I go back none of it will ever change. I will be stuck in a vicious cycle. I begin to walk away and it is like a war wages in my mind. To go – or to stay. I walk furiously, not really aware of where I am going. Suddenly, my heart skips a beat. I hear footsteps behind me I snap back into reality and glance over my shoulder as I walk and see a shadow behind me. My heart begins to beat so hard I fear the shadow will hear it. How could this happen? I’m a pickpocket – I was a pickpocket. I should be aware of my surroundings. And yet, I walked into a back alleyway in the dark. Should I scream? No, what if he has a gun? I take a deep breath. Maybe I’m overreacting, maybe he is just walking to.
I pick up my pace and hear the footsteps quicken as well. I continue to walk faster and begin to see car lights in the distance. Maybe if I run for it, I can make it onto the main street. As I begin to sprint, so does the shadow. I’ve only taken two steps before I’m jerked back and I feel something cold against the back of my head. A gun. I feel like I am on fire. I begin to shake. I can feel the adrenalin coursing through my veins.
“Scream and you die. Make no sudden movements,” I hear a deep voice say behind me.
“I have no money! I swear! I just got out of prison-” I begin to blubber but I am cut off.
“Shut up and empty your pockets!” he screams and I do as he says. My hands shake as I take out all I have.
He begins to use profanity once he realises what little I have. Suddenly I am pushed forwards and I fall to the floor, my elbows saving me from going head first. Then he bangs my head against the pavement. My eyesight blurs but I see a fuzzy figure run towards the light. Everything hurts. I slowly get up. My nose is bleeding, and I have cuts all along my elbows and hands, as well as my face. So much for a new beginning. I cry but I continue to walk, it’s dark and I have to get to a main road.
Once I am there I examine my cuts and bruises. The pain I can handle, but the hollowness in my chest seems fatal. There are no new beginnings for people like me. I begin to observe people as they walk by. Who would be easy to take from? I see a girl with her wallet peeking out, and I stand, stifling my sobs. I walk briskly by her and sigh as my hand goes for it. I stop. I cannot do this. I feel sick as I sit back down. I have nowhere to go. No food, no shelter. Nothing. I don’t even cry anymore. I simply sit on the sidewalk, propped up against a wall, face in my hands.
Then I hear a small, sweet voice say “Honey? Are you alright?”. I immediately look up startled, too unsure to surprise.
“What happened?” she tries again. She is a middle aged woman with slightly grey hair, and bright, kind blue eyes.
“I- I was mugged”, I stutter. It felt strange saying it aloud.
“Well, let’s see those cuts,” she squats down beside me and examines my mind. “Where are you from?”
“Nowhere,” I say and then swallow the lump in my throat “I was just released from prison”. Surprisingly she smiles at me and says “Well today is your lucky day”.
I almost laugh. Is this what she calls lucky?
“Lucy,” I reply,
“Well, Lucy, my name is Alexa. I run a small bakery for past inmates. There are a few spots open.” I feel my heart swell as she continues “There is a small homeless shelter not too far away, you can stay there overnight. Tomorrow, I’ll come get you, and you can check out the bakery. How does that sound?” I nod and almost begin to cry once again.
“Come on dear, let’s get you up.” she helps me up and begins to tell me about her bakery. I walk with her towards the homeless shelter in a haze- but a good one. It all felt so unreal. I think back to the girl I was about to steal from. I am so glad I did not. Maybe Alexa and the bakery were my new beginning. And maybe new beginnings did exist.