Time Served, Lessons Learned: Michael Tidmore on starting over after prison

In the state of Illinois, nearly half of released inmates end up back in prison within three years, according to the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council. Several factors contribute to recidivism, including lack of access to mental health and substance abuse services, and obstacles to obtaining jobs.

Successfully reintegrating into society after being released from a correctional facility is challenging and often requires significant life changes. Echo wanted to know what these transitions are like and how ex-offenders cope when hope seems out of reach. We discovered a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities available to former inmates. See the web-exclusive interview with one man willing to share his story with us.

MICHAEL TIDMORE describes himself as a kid who got in trouble. That “trouble” led to a man’s death and put Tidmore behind bars for nine and a half years. Since then, he has been committed to keeping kids out of trouble as well as helping them recover from it through his work as Youth Program Coordinator at Teamwork Englewood.

On his past: 

I’m just a human being that got in trouble as a youth, and I’m here. I guess I’ve been redeemed. I am just doing the work that I feel as though it’s my purpose to do.

I was expelled from high school [Paul Roberson High School]. I wasn’t really that focused academically, and then as I was expelled, I kind of got more and more into mischievous things and the street life.

On society reintegration:

The challenges were almost like getting off a spaceship. I had to re-acclimate myself and my mind back to the world.

Being incarcerated for so many years… it’s like your dreams, thoughts and your whole mindset are survival; it’s like being in a world within a world.

Once I was released and able to freely roam and walk and see individuals and their lifestyles—I had to adjust to that.

On new opportunities:

I went back to my old church that I attended before I was incarcerated. The pastor introduced me to a chef that did a lot of catering to the stars when they performed at what was formally known as the Rosemont Horizon. I didn’t know anything about cooking but I did know how to wash some dishes. I humbly took on the dishwashing role. I never complained and that led to other job opportunities.

On combatting the stigma: 

Most of the things I did when I was incarcerated were getting me ready for my release. I know that I would have people that would judge me or feel threatened by me. I tried to keep my focus on being humble.

Check back in June to read more stories in Echo’s Flux Issue.