My Unique Dilemma

Written by Eric Burnham

Personal growth, to me, means becoming the person I was designed to be. I’m not too sure where the balance is found between nature and nurture in the formation of my spirit as a unique human being. I do know, however, that I’m just one incarcerated man trying to overcome my past mistakes and make a positive impact on this crazy world. I kind of think that’s what life is all about: taking the bad and using it for good. Eric Burnham #12729124 Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution 2500 Westgate Pendleton OR 97801

June 2, 2018

As of 2018, I have a little over eight years left before I go before the board of parole and potentially release back into the community. Although I’m admittedly a bit apprehensive, I do feel prepared. I’ve put in considerably effort improving myself not only psychosocially and spiritually, but also relationally. It is extremely important to me that I not impact others negatively. 

Previously, I was ludicrously self-centered, focused only on what I could get in life and out of life, with very little regard for the struggles and feelings experienced by others. Rather than positively impact the lives of others, I was hurting virtually everyone with whom I came into contact. Once I finally realized how I was affecting the people around me everyday, I was able to choose how I impacted others. It was because of this revelation that I decided to pursue a career in counseling. 

I’m currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program (having earned a Master’s degree in 2017), and by the time I go before the parole board, I will have my Ph.D. in Counseling. For my certification, however, there are some additional requirements. I must complete 300 CEUs (Continued Education Units) in counseling and log 4000 clinical hours of actual counseling. While I have met the required 300 CEUs by taking several counseling courses in addition to my degree program, I have been unable to log any clinical hours. But I do have an opportunity to do so, which presents a dilemma. 

I expect to finish my Ph.D. program by mid-2021. At that point it will be possible to transfer to another facility and participate in an alcohol & drug treatment program that will help me log my clinical hours, allowing me to secure a CADC I or II (certification) prior to going before the parole board, and, I believe, increasing my chances for release. Having my certification will also make it easier to enter the workforce with a felony conviction on my record. 

On the other hand, once I complete my Ph.D. program I could go to work in one of the industry jobs that pay around $150 per month, allowing me to save a considerable amount of money for my release, and, I believe, increasing my chances for successful re-entry into society. Money is a critically important aspect of security as I acclimate to a totally new culture — I came to prison prior even to 9/11! Being able to save around $2500 can go a long way toward helping me get established. 

My dilemma lies in the fact that I cannot do both. If I enter the A & D program in order to log my clinical hours, I will be unable to save any significant amount of money for my release. And if I go to work in a job that pays enough for me to save real money, I’ll be unable to log any of the clinical hours I need for certification. It’s a difficult decision, and I haven’t made up my mind yet. I still have a couple of years before I have to decide, but it’s still an ever-present, anxiety-producing hurdle in my path that I know is coming. I think about it often. I’d be lying if I said I don’t long for some guidance, but in prison, rehabilitative guidance simply does not exist.

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