After being released from a prison sentence of more than 10 years, the world appeared to be a territory uncharted and ripe for discovery. My parole confined my travels to the state of Georgia. However restricted, the constraint allowed a journey of profound transformation.
My voyage began with the realization of the strength of human connection. I first embarked on an expedition into the core of Atlanta, bustling with vitality and variety. As I traversed vibrant residential areas and participated in dialogues with unfamiliar individuals, my bonds of seclusion in correctional facilities started to fade away.
I entered the renowned High Museum of Art, and there the exhibition of unveiled Southern heritage engrossed me in the narrative of the region's history and identity through the brushwork of Southern artists. The contemporary exhibit "Designing for Social Impact," made me contemplate the influence of design in shaping society. Prison had stripped away my inherent sense of legacy and interconnectedness. Examining larger social issues, and how the exhibition juxtaposed itself with the possibility of correcting or impacting the issues, inspired me to start advocating in person. I began to use my life and my story as a form of storytelling via protest and advocacy, like the Incarcerated Lives Matter protest I attended in Atlanta in front of the governor's mansion.
I continued my voyage to Savannah, a city where the graceful choreography of ballet mirrors the rhythm of daily life. The Savannah Ballet Theatre delivered a mesmerizing performance at the historic Lucas Theatre for the Arts. The graceful choreography of the dancers in "Swan Lake" overcame me with motifs of metamorphosis and liberation. The ballet served as an allegory for my personal odyssey—an escape from the limitations of the past and revelation of a renewed elegance in liberty. The Historic District of the city served as a picturesque backdrop heightening the enchantment. My experience in Savannah and at the performance was one of restoration of unabashed emotion. For the first time in years, I was able to allow myself to be vulnerable in a public way, in a public setting. I allowed myself to experience the beauty and emotion of the performances, crying openly in the theater. I was awakened.
Leaving the urban landscape behind, I embarked on an expedition into the rural region of Georgia and the tranquil panoramic terrain. I encountered a roadside exhibition in Waycross, where Indigenous artisans displayed their wares amid meandering roads. Handcrafted jewelry and folk art spoke of the tenacity of small-town America and the prowess of human ingenuity. It was a reminder that beauty can be found in the most unexpected locations. My time walking the displays filled me with the overpowering impetus to find, do, or make something that would connect me to something greater—give me roots and purpose, things I’d lost in prison.
The culinary diversity of Georgia was on full display during the annual BBQ and Blues Festival in Blue Ridge. Local blues bands accompanied the aroma of smoky barbecue permeating the air. I engaged the vibrant ambiance, where pitmasters from regions all over the state offered up their prowess. The festival was communal jubilation over cuisine, camaraderie, and cultural appreciation. After more than a decade on a mostly starch and garbage-based diet, the food made me alarmingly ill. Yet this too felt like a win, a liberation of sorts. I was no longer confined to the dregs the prison system would toss. I’d have to refortify my stomach before I could enjoy real food again.
I exposed myself to Georgia's rich and varied musical traditions throughout my travels, including the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, where a jazz quartet played mesmerizing melodies. The saxophone's lament and piano's exuberance reflected the persistence of the human spirit and complexity of human emotions. The intimate setting and musicians’ improvisations were evidence of how live music fosters genuine and lasting connections. Of all the beautiful things I enjoyed, this hit the hardest. The live music sang to my soul, which I’d patiently nurtured with music over the past decade to sustain it through the barrens of prison. In many ways, the music was an accolade and a consolation; it sang out as if to say, “You've come so far but got so far to go.”
Live music was also prevalent in Athens, home of the University of Georgia. It was there I attended a local performance at the Georgia Theatre featuring an up-and-coming indie band. The crowd's enthusiasm welcomed me into a community united by a shared passion for music.
These events and locations, ranging from a barbecue festival in Macon to the art exhibitions in Atlanta, offered me vibrant, essential inks on the canvas of my post-prison voyage of self-discovery. Each experience contributed to the expansion of my comprehension of freedom, human connection, and the inexhaustible potential of life. With the rich tapestry of Georgia's flavors, landscapes and art as a backdrop, I have been able to delve into the depths of my own psyche and discover renewal and liberation.