The members of RISE UP! were asked about how we find ourselves in the storm surrounding us…that’s a good question and I think it’s very much different for each person. Some things for me were really straight forward, like drug use. As soon as I got locked up I made the commitment to my family as well as myself that I would never use drugs again and that was surprisingly easy for me. I wasn’t under the influence when I committed my crime, however I know that drugs were a part of what was wrong with me. They were part of the poor choices I was making. I remember even in those first 6-months after having made that commitment I got some pills from someone and while I kept them for a couple of days, I didn’t use them and ultimately flushed them down the toilet. I was still slightly struggling with the idea of: “well, pills aren’t necessarily drugs are they?” I knew the answer and that’s why I often speak on the “right versus wrong” voices we hear. We know better, it’s just a matter of whether or not we choose to listen.
I keep my head up under these circumstances by knowing that my choices today affect tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that. My past has taught me that lesson all too well and every day I live with what that future looks like when values slip away and all of the negative things that life has to embrace are taken in. I maintain hope for a brighter tomorrow, for opportunities to express myself in ways and to individuals that change their life trajectory for the better.
Getting beyond the guilt, shame and regret isn’t easy and in some ways you never do. For me, I see the man I am today as far greater than what I would’ve become otherwise, however that came through the taking of another’s life so I owe a debt that cannot be paid yet has to be worked towards; making amends also has to be done. If I sat in a cage and lamented my shortcomings 24-7-365 and only beat myself up for the failures of my life I would serve no positive purpose. Realizing that giving back is incredibly important goes a long way. My years in a youth correctional facility really helped to formulate that in me and taught me the value of moving in that direction.
The power that comes through service work, giving of yourself and your time and just making the choice to do what is right rather than what is wrong is extremely empowering. Developing empathy was tough for me however I got a lot of help from a program called Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it’s a program that occurs outside of prison as well as inside. Marriage counseling can employ it as well as other forms of therapy, group type or otherwise. It has this phrase that goes something like: “Everything anyone ever does is in an effort to fulfill their needs” I really had the playing field leveled when I actually got this through my head. Being dehumanized though my incarceration and then with social / educational opportunities being humanized made a big difference in seeing that too. I never realized that prison does so much to dehumanize someone but once it was pointed out, through the experience of being treated like a human being again, totally organically too, it kind of clicked that I had that responsibility to treat others with a new level of respect, empathy.