The following was written by Grady Mitchell. Grady is a Roots of Success instructor, master trainer, and Advisory Board member, and recently joined us as Corrections and Reentry Outreach Coordinator. Grady was incarcerated in Washington state prisons for 37 years and was finally able to return to his family and community on January 28, 2021.

Last month, I got to celebrate my 23rd anniversary with my beloved wife, Patricia. Although we’ve celebrated our love and commitment to each other every year, this is the first year that we have actually been together outside of prison walls. I have no words to explain how incredible this feels for the two of us.

A friend of mine, Michael, is a jazz musician and guitarist who used to come inside the prison and perform for us out of the kindness of his heart. We made plans to see him perform for our anniversary, and I arranged for him to play her favorite song as a surprise. This will have been our very first date since I’ve been out, in a way making it our very first date, period! It may sound odd, but I was even more excited about celebrating our anniversary than I was about coming home entirely. My wife is the most important person in the world to me. She keeps me humble; she keeps me grounded.

The day before I wrote this, we went out shopping so I’d have a suit to wear for our “first date.” We stopped by a cafe for lunch and sat outdoors. One of the smallest things happened, and you may be surprised to hear this, but it was the greatest part of my day. What happened was this: a squirrel came close to where we were sitting to look for food. I thought, that squirrel is fearless. As I looked up, I could see all different people— of different cultures, backgrounds, ages; little kids, elderly people, playing on the golf course or just going about their day. These are the things I associate with freedom: stopping for an unexpected lunch and getting to buy my wife a delicious meal, people going about their day in this world we share with each other, living carefree and without fear. Everyone has their own experiences, opinions, and needs (like that squirrel) but they live in the world together and get along.

Activities that may seem simple or mundane for some hold a deeper meaning for me now. I don’t take anything for granted, and I notice everything. My wife asked me, “what are you looking at?” “The people,” I told her. “The beautiful green grass, the hills. I’m just enjoying the view.”