I will go before you and level the mountains [to make the crooked places straight]; I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron. - Isaiah 45:2,AMP
The last time I wrote and posted a blog, Speak Ya Truth was celebrating the reunification of Mike and Debbie Africa, a couple who spent 40 years a part due to their decades long incarcerations. Six days later, on October 30, 2018, after serving 19.5 years of a twenty to life prison sentence, the bars of iron were cut asunder and my husband John Dukes was also released from prison. Every waking moment since then has been spent bonding and finding our new normal — together — outside of prison.
Our truth is that it hasn’t been easy and John and I want to thank you for being patient with us as we’ve been focused on his reentry without simultaneously sharing it with you on our public platforms until now. Going through something and talking about it just wasn’t the right formula for in this season as it was while he was still locked down. Nothing could’ve prepared us for what life would be like together, on the outside after him being on the inside for 20 years — four of them together as a couple. It’s beautiful. It’s frustrating. It’s worth it. I love being married to John and I love doing life with him. I love who John is and I love how he treats me. Even with all of that, the residue of prison is real and we are challenged daily with what happens when an individual is removed and isolated from society for decades. How do we live out this fruits of the spirit and make our marriage work?
Restoration. It’s the phase of this journey of post -incarceration that John and I are currently in. It’s challenging because a huge part of restoring something or in this case someone is, as the Bible puts it is, “making the crooked places straight.” The external straightening involves garnering gainful employment while learning all the relevant technology that governs how we communicate as a society that did not exist 20 years ago.
There is also an internal “straightening” going on wherein every way John has professed to and has lived during his time in prison is being assessed by himself and others externally on a constant basis. It’s hard to live under a microscope. Even my friends and family who are supportive yet skeptical of the sustainability of our union, at best, are peering into every decision to which they are privy to see if John is who he says he is and if he is worthy of me. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this ( I’m grateful for those who know what I’ve been through, care about me, and don’t want to see me get hurt again), without having formed a meaningful relationship with John or a proper working knowledge of the collateral consequences of mass incarceration and the hardships of reentry once one is released, things can quickly be misconstrued and the work John and I have put into our marriage and into his successful reentry could be thwarted. This was a driving force behind our decision to no longer isolate, but insulate — at least for the first few months.
For me the restoration is hugely focused on living together and loving on each other as newlyweds, even though this May will make our three year anniversary. It’s so easy to make John’s imprisonment the scapegoat for when things feel like they’re falling apart. The truth is, marriage is hard and requires work, regardless of the situation. Prison is to blame for a lot, but not everything. In many cases, we’ve found that prison exacerbated things we’d each previously experienced. This journey has taught me, as the opening anchor scripture says to let God go before me and level the mountains if I truly want this part of our marriage to work and help us grow. I find the biggest mountains to be the things I don’t understand about reentry. I only know what I’ve endured being married to John while he was incarcerated, and that I love him and wholeheartedly support his successful reacclimation into, not just mainstream society, but into our now shared home....but there’s so much more than that.
We promised you when we first started Speak Ya Truth to let you into our world as a couple married and loving each other in the face of incarceration with a transparency and authenticity rarely revealed. We stand by that because we know that by so doing, marriages, families, and lives will be saved. That feeling of loneliness that can saturate this walk of living and loving while incarcerated is pervasive and we both know it all too well. By providing a safe community in which to hear and be heard, Speak Ya Truth believes that those along this journey with us will be empowered. Whether living it personally or as members of our individual support systems, you will get a first-hand account of what we endure and overcome — and how you can, too.
Thank God for his restoration. We’re back. Love never fails. Stay tuned.
John and Vivett Dukes