Dealing with Emotions

I had a real problem with dealing with my own emotions. My Dad taught me how to deal with just about anything, except for my emotions. I asked him one time about that, his response…”I don’t know how to deal with my own shit, how am I supposed to know how to deal with yours?” At the time I laughed, it dawned on me later that he was being serious. I fell into the BAD habit of using drugs to cope with mine, which just ended up making matters worse. So what do you do? What have you found that helps you to ‘center’ yourself? I have to isolate myself and crank up some music, so I can block out the world and focus on me. It is those little things that help to focus me, helps me keep on track. Without it, I get so wrapped up in whatever is going on that I lose track of what is important. Next thing you know you’re on your way to prison for life, or you are in trouble for whatever, or you just wake up wondering how life got to the place that it is in. Find what works for you, lock on to that, and use it. You might end up finding another method that helps later, use that one too! Get as many tools together as you can to make sure you’re heading the direction you want for YOUR life. After all, you’re the one in charge of where you are going. Make sure you get to a place you really want to go!


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Getting Your Life Together

You need to quit trying to be an adult because your childhood years are important! Enjoy them, they don’t last long. Once adulthood sets in you’ll wish for the days of your younger years. We don’t think like that when we’re young, but you do as you get older. Don’t be skipping school with the boyfriend/girlfriend and doing shady things that will get you in trouble, especially when what I’m guessing you’re really trying to figure out is love and acceptance. I know you’re young and you’re just trying to figure out life, I understand that because I was there to not too long ago, but you have to practice self-control before things get too out of hand. A life in and out of detention centers, treatment centers, and prisons is not the life you want to gravitate towards. Believe me! This place is filled to the brim with people who coasted through life thinking they were invincible, thinking they could run and gun and just use and abuse people. It’s a lonely road and I promise you each and every one of these people regrets the road they chose. There’s a female prison in Wilsonville that’s packed full of women with the same story. They’ve lived fast, partied hard, and they’ve been abused by men who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about them other than the few minutes of pleasure that they provided. It’s sad. It really is. But the pattern is always the same. Young women trying to grow up too fast, experimenting with things that only led to unfulfilled dreams and broken hearts… You have the perfect opportunity to get your life together right now, don’t waste that opportunity because you never know how many second chances you’ll get in life.

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Instead of Hurting Yourself…

If and when you feel like hurting yourself, use a little self-control. Please. For us. Is it possible that you can find a better way to release your pain and frustrations? When I’m down and feeling horrible I write about it. I write poetry. I put down on paper exactly how shitty I’m feeling inside, and once I have it out and on paper I read it again and again while making slight changes and edits for clarity. When I’m done I have a finished piece of art that is beautiful and something that I can grow from and share with others to spark conversation. It’s an outlet and I hope you can identify something similar that would work for you. Hurting yourself is never the answer. When you feel like that please talk to someone and trust that the advice and encouragement they give will help you heal if you follow it.


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Your Decisions Matter

It’s okay to be kids and make mistakes, but it’s also vitally important that you understand that your decisions matter. Each one of them has the ability to change your life forever and cause others to feel unnecessary hardship. Your decisions can and will dictate the quality of life that you have. As a result of what I did I’ll have to live with what I’ve done for the rest of my life. I’ll have to see the parole board after a period of 25 years, which entails sitting in front of 3-5 people who hold my freedom in their hands. During that parole board hearing I’ll have to talk about my crime, my complete criminal and family history, my conduct while in prison, programs I’ve taken and what I’ve learned from them, a release plan, career plans, housing plans, and any support that I have from the outside community. It will be my job to show the members of the parole board that I can be trusted in the community. They can approve me for parole, or they can deny me for up to 10 years before considering me again. I’ve been here since I was 17 years old and I can’t tell you how scary it is to not know if I’ll ever get a chance to go home. And all of it over 20 seconds of extremely poor decision-making. The worst part? Committing a crime doesn’t just affect you or your victim. It affects all of your loved ones because they’re basically doing the time with you via visits, the stress that comes from having a loved one behind bars, and their overall naiveté to everything Department of Corrections’ related. I only say all this to let you see a glimpse of how bleak a future in crime can be.

As a teenager, and before my prison sentence, I was really struggling and didn’t have the confidence to speak up and ask for help. Instead, I started down a miserable path that ultimately led to my incarceration. I was a shy kid and my self-esteem was always really low because I had acne and crooked teeth. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was bullied often and just spent a lot of my school years bottling things up inside which usually just leads to more problems. I never really talked to anyone about my problems; I just kept them inside and let them build up because I didn’t know how to pull someone to the side and say, “Hey, I’m struggling and I need some help”.

I’ve been in prison for over 19 years now and I’ll tell you with complete honesty; I wish with all of my heart that I had done things differently. I wish that I had talked to people about what I was feeling and had the strength to ask for help when I needed it. I wish that I had focused on school more, and I wish that instead of doing dumb stuff to try to impress people I’d have just stayed at home with my family where I belonged. What I did was wrong. Not simply because I got caught and didn’t want to face the punishment. No, it’s so much more than that. It’s the fact that when you get a little bit older and life slows down enough for you to catch your breath, you just see things a lot more clearly. I started to see that all the lying I was doing to my mom just to stay out late with girls was wrong and contributed to my heading down the wrong path. I started to see that stealing things, even if it was small trivial stuff like candy or CD’s, it was still wrong. I started to see that my attitude towards school, lack of helping out around the house, and the snotty overall attitude I had was wrong because all I did was hurt those who loved me. So many small things, things that most kids do at some point or another, but they add up. They accumulate until eventually something happens and it’s enough to send the whole pile of poor decision making over the ledge. And then an avalanche of shit that you can’t dig out from under covers you. It took many years of incarceration before I was ready to be real with myself, and it hurt once I looked in the mirror because in the reflection I saw the real me. That reflection showed someone who doesn’t want to be a criminal, someone who values family and cares about doing right by them, someone who dreams of having a family of my own, furthering my education, and carving out a little piece of life that I can be proud to say I’ve earned. So much pain and heartache could have been avoided if only I’d taken life a little more seriously, if I’d have valued another human being’s life for the precious thing that it was, if I’d just shown an ounce of maturity and the willingness to be straight up with everyone.

I want you to know that you still have a chance. Make something of yourselves before it’s too late. You have so much life ahead of you and you still have the opportunity to make any dream you have come true if you work hard enough. This prison is filled to the brim with guys who chose to keep acting like they were invincible: doing dope, stealing stuff, robbing people, assaulting people, trying to create the easy life for themselves at the expense of others, etc. Eventually it catches up to you. It catches up to everyone. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t be like the people that are overcrowding these prisons! You’re better than that. Those of us in the RISE UP! hope that through our experiences you’ll learn a better path than the ones we took and now regret. Learn from us. Please.


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Doing the Work

Advice about growing up and about staying out of trouble…for starters, growing up isn’t easy and it’s something that continually happens, regardless of whether or not we want it to happen. Life really isn’t a walk in the park, it’s a series of events that progressively move you forward based on the decisions you make. Think about it this way, life is fairly predictable in that for the most part, if you want something, it’s typically pretty easy to figure out how to get there or get something. The harder part is actually doing the work that goes into arriving at that point or acquiring that thing. So the first thing you really need to do is figure out what you want. Forget about trying to figure out how to stay out of trouble and think about what you want. Do you want good grades, study hard…do you want to get good at something, practice…you get the idea. I think far too often, folks try so hard to stay out of trouble that they still get into trouble when all that needs to happen is changing the focus. Hope this helps.

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Sometimes there’s sunshine,
Other days there’s Northwest rain.
In some ways it’s all predictable,
And yet in others it’s all untamed.
I wake and work and eat and sleep
And then wake to do it all again.
And when I wake I fight in vain
To keep the battles fought within.
Warehoused within these confining walls
Working through the answers as my conscience calls,
Knowing sometimes sunshine bright at first can dim immensely as it falls.
And as the rain blots out the sky
And prison calls my name,
My sorrow cries out for forgiveness
In humbleness and shame.
7,150 days imprisoned
Never forgetting what I’ve done,
Intense regret for the pain inflicted
Blinding tears fading out the sun.
See, sometimes there’s sunshine,
And other days there’s Northwest rain,
7,150 days imprisoned on a lonely nowhere bound train.
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The Things We Do Live Long After We Do

You don’t have to be an adult or of legal age to be a productive influence in someone’s life. Whether someone you know or someone you don’t know needs help, remember that the things we do live long after we do. How we act and carry ourselves speaks volumes. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “actions speak louder than words”? well, it’s a lot more accurate than we want to admit. It took me a long time to come to this realization, but it was like a light turning on when it hit me. And let me tell you, it may sound crazy, but it did not hit me until about 5 years ago when I was 30. Hopefully it doesn’t take you that long to figure things out. I’ve not been a “model” inmate, I’ve had a lot of issues to deal with: anger, resentment, depression, self-esteem issues and a big ego. I’m not perfect, none of us are, but building our lives and character is always a work in progress. We can never improve enough. Be patient with yourselves, allow yourselves to grow and learn, and be patient with others as well as they don’t know what you’re going through. If you can do this, or learn to do this, you’ll be able to do great things in life. I am going to close this with a quote: the true color of a person’s character is directly related to the amount of time they spend in the pursuit of excellence. Keep your chins up and always strive for excellence.


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The Power to Choose

One of the first steps toward doing better today is accepting that you have a choice in every decision you make in life. Understand that any bad karma you create will be by your own doing. We tend to blame other people, or conditions we live in, for our negative acts. But that’s bullshit. No matter where we live, no matter what people are saying or doing around you, you still can make the right choice every time. If someone disses you, you don’t have to dis him or her back. If someone cheats you, that doesn’t give you the right to cheat someone else. If you’re broke, that doesn’t give you the right to steal. There’s never only one way to react to a situation. Your ability to always make a choice can be both a gift and a curse. The gift is that when you respond to a negative situation with positivity you lift that situation up and yourself along with it. The curse is that when you respond to a negative situation with more negativity you just push that situation, and yourself with it, down even further. So when you choose between the positive and negative response, you’re really choosing whether your life will be happy or unhappy. No one else is responsible because only you control your actions. You are your own best friend as well as your own worst enemy.


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In one of the programs that I have taken since my incarceration at 14 years old there was an experience shared that I would like to now share with you. It was a group discussion about why we did what we did to bring us to that room at that time. The age old question that so often is on the tips of tongues and yet less often actually gets asked with even more rarely an honest answer given. Why are you here? A surface answer is usually given when given at all. I killed someone. I robbed someone. I stole something from someone. However, the deeper truth, or question rather, is why did you do what you did to get where you are? So in this group, we were discussing feelings, (I know, men discussing feelings, right!) we were putting names to the feelings that typically get covered up with a curse word or gritted teeth. Among those words was “Shame” and a giant fellow prisoner stopped cold in his tracks and really started to grind his gears on this word and this feeling. He shared with me that in thinking about it, how many crimes get committed because of this feeling, because of trying to mask this feeling, because here it is, we feel shame for whatever reason, and then we react! We feel as if we should have this or that, we feel shame, and we deal drugs. We feel shame for being treated this way or that, maybe the clothes we have to wear or the car we drive, and when we’re approached about it we lash out. We lack confidence, is that because of shame? Consider for a moment if you have shame in your life. What can you do about it if so? Sometimes simple acceptance is all that’s required. Sometimes you need to take some action, positive self talks, learning patience, focusing on what you can improve about yourself. Many of us in that group decided that shame had played a rather large role in our circumstances. Don’t allow shame to push you towards making some of the same poor choices that we did.


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What Warriors Do

To be honest with you I struggle a lot at times. I have my fears, my anxieties, my stresses, and to wake up every morning and be the best man I can possible be through God gets tiring. People annoy me. Circumstances bother me. Not being in any kind of control over my situation straight eats at me. I have put my trust in God and trusting someone besides myself is hard to do. Reminiscing on my life is depressing when you look in the rearview mirror and see nothing but carnage. Lies and deceit, thievery and robbery, meaningless sex and drug abuse. To embrace my choices and not blame my dad for never telling me he is proud of me and always making me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Not to blame growing up poor and living in a trailer park. Not to blame anything or anyone beside myself for my own life is humbling. I could throw blame and receive sympathy, but I will no longer be a “victim”. That poor me shit gets you nowhere fast. Like I say in one of my songs, “life ain’t fair, mindset got my life wrecked!” It’s important to remember that our freedom matters. Hundreds of thousands of moms, dads, brothers, and sisters have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. And not to live up to our fullest is really a dishonor. Do not be conformed to this life, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12 verse 2, ‘tears and sweat are both salty but render different results’. Tears give you sympathy. Sweat gives you change. Be an over comer. Everything might be falling apart around you but hold you peace. That’s what warriors do.

Bobby J.

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