Drugs and Decisions

In 1993 I decided to change my life around, and get back onto a positive path. I worked hard at leaving the drugs alone, especially what we called ‘Crank’ back then. In a few short months I went from being strung out, broke, living in my car to having 2 jobs, was able to stay at my Dad’s house again, and had even started my own business. I felt good, I was back up to 185 pounds, my head was clear for the first time in a long time, and I had just turned 21 the month before. To say the least, I was rolling! I finished my first big job, as a new business owner, and got paid. I was standing in line at the bank, to cash the $800.00 check I had in my hand when a girl I had been chasing around while in high school came up to me. We talked for a minute, and I took her out to lunch to catch up. Now having been working so hard has drawbacks, like being boring! So here I am, in my mind on top of the world, and before me is a little treat that I had been wanting for years! Hmmm, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is going!

I agreed to meet her later that night at a friend of her’s place. Now the only thing on my mind was a night off of working so hard. I felt I deserved a reward, and she was going to be it. I showed up, and things went well. Started drinking and next thing I knew; it was a full-blown party. Late that night I started to get tired, she showed no signs of even slowing up. Long story short, she offered me some crank, to keep the party going. I should have said no. But I made the decision that I could control it this one time. I could limit myself now, even though I never had been able to before.

Less than 2 months later I was getting weighed in at the county jail, the cops there in utter disbelief of “Skeletor” before them. Weighing in at 125 pounds while wearing my leather jacket, steel-toed boots, Levi’s, and a flannel shirt. What was I even doing here? It was just one line. Why are they booking me into jail for the kidnapping, torture and Aggravated Murder of an 18-year-old man? One decision, that’s why. I’ve been in prison ever since my arrest in 1993, serving Life Without Parole. I never get out kids, NEVER!

Now you might think that would be the end of my drug fueled poor decision making debacles. You’d be wrong. This is hard for me to share, but I’m going to in the hopes that you can learn from my mistakes. In February it will be 4 years since this happened. I was in my cell, in the middle of doing a shot of heroin when my cell door opened. My brother stuck his head out while I finished what I was doing. We were getting called to a visit, cool surprise right? Stash everything away real quick, and head out to visiting. My Dad and our Aunt came down to surprise us, nothing better than a day spent with the family you love, right? Right? About an hour in, I start getting that itch; I want to do another shot. Still have an hour of visiting left, so I make a decision. One decision, remember that.

I tell my Dad that I’ve got to get back to the cell and take care of some business I left out. He knows guys, me not being able to eat or drink all the goodies Auntie put on the table would have told him that. But he knew, because I told him the truth. I cut my visit with my Dad, the most important person in my world, short so I could run back to my cell and do another shot of heroin. Pretty screwed up, huh? It gets worse. Less than a week later my Dad died in a car crash. I never saw my Dad again. I’d give my own life right now to get one more hug from him, and I threw away the last hour of my last visit with him to do a shot of heroin. That one decision haunts me every single day of my life. The regret gets so bad sometimes I nearly end it. The strain of it crushes me, EVERY SINGLE TIME I THINK ABOUT IT! I’m sitting here right now with tears running down my face, snot on my upper lip, the PAIN is still that real, that potent. Some big, bad convict I am, right?

ONE DECISION, that is the difference between a life worth living, and a life of pain and regret. I’ve thrown my life away so many times, due to bad decisions. Drugs cannot help you make good decisions, only bad ones. I beg you, PLEASE don’t do to yourself what I have done to me. You all deserve better than that, you owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your families. One decision, think every decision through because you never know which one it will be that decides the rest of your life.


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Imagine darkness, if you will, and in that darkness thousands of prison cells encrusted with the rust and filth of ages. Imagine the thousands of fingerprints gripping unforgiving bars of steel as the forgotten men inside come to terms with their solitude.

Imagine the loneliness, the despair, and the silent cries that the imprisoned men drown themselves in as they sit in decrepit 8×6 foot cells. Cells that have warehoused thousands of men before them and will warehouse even more after they’ve gone.

Imagine if you can, those thousands of men sitting alone in their cells with their heads in their hands thinking of the damage they’ve caused to themselves as well as others. The bridges they’ve burned. The unrelenting reminders that if they died within the stagnant filth of their rusty prison cells, what they’d be remembered for most is being failures. Failures at life. Failures at relationships. Failures at opportunity. Failures at many things and most likely remembered for nothing more than who they were on their very worst day.

Imagine. Just imagine the thousands of men who are lost, destined only to be swallowed up by a raging river of regret, shame, and forgotten dreams. A river that flows slowly through every prison, methodically stripping the humanness from within just like sediment is loosened and carried away from the muddy banks of a rivers edge. Is this the beautiful, retributive rainbow of karmic justice that our society touts as effective? Or are these thousands of men just renters of space, destined to be swept away in a swiftly moving current of torment that leaves in its place nothing but another layer of filth and rust? Another empty cell that will quickly be filled?

Imagine grief. Imagine the oxygen depleting heaviness that grips a person’s soul with an iron like grasp. A grasp that refuses to let go and only seems to tighten when alone and contemplating the choices these prisoners have made.

Imagine the grief when self-honesty is unavoidable. Imagine the blinding clarity in the unmistakable errors that haunt these men ceaselessly in inescapable dreams and nightmares. Imagine not having that escape, that needed relief, that ability to make amends beyond the time spent in a state of segregation and societal separation. Imagine the forlorn reality that grief induced reflection is oftentimes the most brutal of punishments. Imagine.

Imagine the effects of time. Imagine the days, the months, and the years passing by without purpose or meaning. An hour here, a week there. Just blurs of catatonic numbness and institutionalization interrupted by shakedowns and strip searches from the guards who despise these men’s very existence.

Imagine self-worth, or for that matter, the lack thereof as these thousands of men in prison become more and more aware of the understanding that society has in large part given up on them and cast them into the outer darkness of exile. I mean, that’s what it is right? Exile?

Imagine the long drawn out exhale that comes when a man lowers his head in defeat. Exiled. Banished. Placed into a warehouse where problems aren’t meant to be solved but rather hidden away as though time itself will somehow make the needed repairs to the men’s penchant for deviance. Imagine it. Feel it. And if you can, pull forth the strength to emphatically put yourself in the shoes of the imprisoned. Imagine it for a second within your mind. Isn’t there a better way? Imagine if there was.

Imagine entering prison as a teenage first time offender. A young man full of life and vitality, and within a matter of a few short years being reduced to a shell of your former self because of the hope draining imprisonment in which you find yourself. Imagine.

My name is James and I’m sitting in the rust and filth as you read this. And as you read this…know that I am regretting my past immensely as my own fingerprints grip the same unforgiving bars of steel that thousands before me have held. I wish I could imagine something different. Something different than the six thousand, eight hundred and nineteen days that I’ve been imprisoned since the age of 17 for a cowardly act of violence that didn’t have to happen.

I’m so sorry.

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Weathering the Storm

When I was young I remember thinking about and wondering if anyone cared. I just felt alone and it’s weird saying that because I had a decent family and always had everything I needed. But inside, I just felt alone and I didn’t understand life at all. I remember feeling like a nobody, wondering why I didn’t fit in, all those self-defeating thoughts that don’t serve any positive purpose. Everyone always told me I was popular, good looking, all the things that I didn’t relate to or see myself as being. I think the biggest issue, looking back now, was that I never talked with anyone about my thoughts or shared some of the sadness that was there. I had opportunities, but I just never opened up. Big mistake. Part of becoming a well-adjusted young man is seeking others out as a sounding board, asking for advice, listening and realizing that you’re not alone and that others are going through the same things as you. When you isolate yourself emotionally and just bottle things up you’re creating a toxic brew, trust me, I’ve been there and done that…If you keep doing something and it gets you nowhere, it might be time to buckle down and try something else. What might that be?

  • Ask yourself what you want out of life. Be realistic! Don’t start off by saying a rich movie star or something crazy.
  • List a few goals you can set to get yourself on the right path
  • Start practicing some self-control (don’t run from problems, part of growing up means tackling things head on and adapting as you go)
  • Incorporate a humble attitude (the world doesn’t owe us anything, it’s our job to create our own happiness)
  • Get your education, you’ll never understand how important it is until way down the road and you look back with regrets at having not taken it seriously.

Do you and don’t worry about the rest. Get your education, rebuild trust with your loved ones, get some job experience, etc. If you get frustrated with people not showing you respect or trusting you, take a second and remember that you did some damage and it’ll take a while to get those things back. Be patient. Work hard. Set a goal for yourself that before you act a fool you’ll pull an elder to the side and ask for some advice because as soon as you try to do things in the moment when you’re pissed it just goes bad. Take a deep breath. Your life matters my friend, and if you just weather the storm for a while and get to the point where you’re making wise choices things will get a lot better. Take care.

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Appreciating Family

If we approach life with a humble attitude, treat others as we’d like to be treated, and just take things one day at a time, so many of our problems could be avoided. By nature we’re all pretty selfishly motivated, and that means we’re rarely thinking of things beyond the scope of our own reality. It’s a hard pattern to break, but one we should all be trying to get rid of every day. When I was out there, back when I was seventeen, I can see now that I didn’t truly appreciate my family like I should have. My little brother always wanted to play, throw the football around, and ride bikes with me. He wanted to be with me no matter what I was doing and it breaks my heart now because I saw it as a burden then. I just wanted to kick it with girls and do my own thing. I didn’t want to be bogged down, and yet now it’s clear to me that he and the rest of my family are the only ones still around me, still showing me love. I wish that I had understood how special it is to have them by my side back then. I’d give anything to be able to do things with my little brother now, and the same goes for my sister and my parents, but other than visiting with them in the visiting room there’s nothing I can really do. It’s amazing how much we lose out on when we act like a fool and get in trouble. I think what I’m trying to say is make sure you appreciate your family each and every day. You’re not going to have them in your life forever and you’ll sure miss them terribly when they’re gone. Trust me.

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You Deserve to Be Happy

My name is Wizard, I’ve been in prison since 1993, and I am NEVER getting out. I made some bad choices early on, and I don’t get another chance. So hopefully you can make the necessary changes in your lives to prevent ending up like me! I don’t claim to have all the answers, wish I did. This is what happened, and what worked, for me.

Almost 4 years ago my Dad died in a car crash. That event almost broke me mentally and emotionally. I made the decision to mask my pain with drugs, instead of dealing with things head on. I ran from the problem, because I thought I couldn’t deal with the loss of my Father. I was determined to destroy myself as I had had enough. Not my finest hour. My doing drugs only affected me, right? Nope! What I couldn’t see was the effect I was having on my family and on my friends. I was so wrapped up in making myself suffer that I was blind to the fact that they were suffering right alongside me.

Straightening up to make my life better, didn’t have any appeal to me. So I had to find a reason to change. For me, that is my family. They are more important to me than anything. Had to face the fact that I wasn’t acting like they were. So, I started doing things for THEM, things I knew would make them proud or happy. Was it easy, no. In fact, it was the hardest time of my life. I had been using drugs and violence to escape the pain I was in. When I quit using that crap as a coping mechanism, all that pain, all that hurt was still there. I had to face it, not run from it. My family helped me thru that, continues to do so even now.

Change isn’t easy, true change takes A LOT of work. It takes being honest with yourself about what your problems really are, and being steadfast in your resolve to do whatever it takes to fix the areas in your lives that you need to fix. It won’t be a quick process, and at times it will seem like you’ll never be able to succeed. There will be days that you will feel like it just isn’t worth the effort. But over time, it will get easier, you will realize one day that things have gotten better. You might even come to like the guy looking back at you in the mirror. Whether you realize it or not, you do deserve to be happy, all of us here want you to be happy. When you start proving to yourself that you’re capable of change, you’ll find that other people will come out of nowhere, wanting to help you, eventually even ask for your help! Unlimited Potential, that is what all of you have.

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Truth about Murder

Taking a life is something that changes everything about who you are. The court stuff and prison, the way people look at you, the way they treat you, and the things they say about you. There is a feeling of guilt that is deep, way deep on the inside the real you, it feels like you are damaged beyond repair, like you could never do enough rights. I could save a hundred lives and still feel this emptiness because of the life I took. I never consider killing again. Murder never actually accomplishes anything, Taking a life cannot solve anyone’s problems it just creates more pain and hurt, damages families and communities forever, and sadly some never come back from that bitterness and despair. I held in my feelings for years because I didn’t trust any adult in my life I had been hurt as a child and couldn’t get over it, so I paid the price and that lead to murder. Find someone to share your thoughts with any adult in your life. You need to share; it is too much for a man to carry that burden by himself. I wish you the best and hope you find peace my friend.

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Learning to Deal with Anger

Anger, sadness and regret are not things you should hold in. You have to find a way to deal with your frustrations. If you don’t process that stuff in a healthy way, you will end up hurting yourself, or someone else. It sounds like something a counselor would say, but it’s the truth. I never killed anyone, but I hurt a lot of people and there is no satisfaction in it, only more pain. I didn’t use to feel that way. My prison sentence is marked by assaults. I never cared much. Yet, once I began to care, it didn’t make sense to take out anger and guilt on other people. Those issues were mine to own. Just today I found out that I will be able to get out of prison a couple years early. I’ll have to go to an intensive treatment program. They weren’t going to let me go though at first. Why? They said my anger and previous assaults on prisoners and staff were too severe. I got lucky. I guess my point is this: in the moment acting out seems like it makes sense. Anger needs to be vented. But that shit will affect you in ways you could never know. I’ve been in prison for 8 years and almost had to stay an extra 4 years for decisions I made when I first arrived. I still have anger. I always will. I choose to deal with it by finding the root cause and working to change it. Doing that saved 4 years of my life. Don’t hold that stuff in. You are young and capable and will find direction. Start by working to figure out why you’re so angry.

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Your Life Matters

I didn’t wake up that morning thinking that I was going to hurt someone, and to be honest with you I wasn’t trying to be a criminal. It was just some of the most unfortunate circumstances you could ever imagine, and here I am. I’ve been locked up for almost 20 years now and I don’t know if I’ll ever be free again. It’s so easy to get here, but it’s hard to leave. Whatever issues you’re going through, get help. If you don’t know where to turn for that help, ask someone for advice. People have been there and done it. You’re not alone. Your life matters and if you’re just pissing it away with stupid, selfish behavior you’re only letting yourself down and hurting those around you. Prison is not the place you want to be as this isn’t living! Its being stuck in a box and surrounded by thousands of pissed off men who couldn’t care less about your problems. Trust me, I came here young and I know the games. They’ll drive you absolutely crazy man. Try to change your behavior, do things differently, think differently, give others your respect and go about your day acting in a dignified way that warrants that same respect returned to you. You’re young and you still have time to turn things around, and people will help you, but 99% of the effort needed to change and improve your life has to come from you. What are you going to do? Keep your head up man!


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Surviving the Storm through Good Choices, Service, and Hope

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.


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Stop and Think: Prison is Heartbreaking

Blog administrator’s note: The members of RISE UP! are frequently asked what prison is really like or if it’s really as bad as it is portrayed to be.  Here, James answers that question for those who are curious.

Is prison really that bad? I think it all depends on how you think about life and what your expectations of yourself are. For me, my answer to this question comes as a 36 year old who received a life sentence at the age of 17. Prison sucks man, that’s the truth of it. What’s so bad about it? For me:

  • The worst part about being in prison is the total separation from my loved ones. When my mom is in need, I can’t be there to help her, which really hurts because over the course of my 19 years of incarceration I’ve wanted so badly to make her proud again. The biggest fear prisoners usually have while incarcerated is the death of a loved one, and unfortunately it happens all the time in here and is something that was close a time or two for me with my own mother. It’s a very hopeless feeling to sit in prison when I know my family needs me.
  • Prison is a lonely, cold, and unforgiving place and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being real with themselves. When you’re alone with your thoughts, when you can’t run from the fact that you’re here because you’ve harmed others, you really stop and think about the things you were doing and the choices you were making. They become regrets that you constantly struggle with. When self-honesty is at the forefront you’ll immediately admit to yourself that all your poor choices weren’t worth it. They just weren’t. I think it’s safe to say that when we’re out there on the streets and doing dumb shit we’re in some way trying to mask our pain, or we’re trying to get our needs met in ways that maybe aren’t the best, right? Peer-pressure, wanting to fit in with the crowd, wanting to escape from our inner pains, I mean, when we’re doing dumb stuff there’s a reason behind it if we stop and think about it. So. Stop. And. Think. About. It. Sitting in these nasty ass prison cells isn’t the place to finally have your light bulb moment. T.V. shows like to portray prison as tough, and masculine, and whatever else, but the truth is it’s heartbreaking. I dream of so many things that you guys on the outside take for granted, and I may never have a chance to regain my freedom in a way that would allow me to make some of my dreams come true. We spend a lot of time thinking that second chances will always be available. I’m here to tell you that sometimes those second chances never come so it’s important to make choices wisely in each and every moment.
  • Another thing that’s really bad about prison is how fickle friendships are in here. You’d be amazed at how quickly your “boys” will turn on you. It happens all the time over really petty stuff. Everyone in prison is in pain, usually over self-reflection and regret for the poor choices made. So what happens when you have 2,100 men who are in pain, in the midst of depression, dealing with anger issues, and who have a host of other things going on in their minds and at home? You get a lot of confrontations, a lot of fights, a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of mental abuse, a lot of broken friendships, and a lot of stressful anxiety over not being able to get away from this environment. There’s no time outs, no options to get away from those 2,100 other men when you finally realize you’re tired of this life, nothing other than day after day of the same ole stuff.

I think it’s important to say that right now, whatever you have going on, there’s still time to get your stuff together. Be authentic to who you are when you’re alone with your thoughts and contemplating your dreams, break away from false friends, start making repairs to your relationship with your family, and set some goals that you can meet realistically.

What I wish I would have realized was how critically important an education is. I thought of school as a drag, and I made excuse after excuse after excuse as to why I was skipping, failing classes, and being a clown. Everyone back then told me I was smart. Everyone told me I had potential. Everyone told me back then that 10 years down the road I would end up regretting not taking my education seriously and you know what I did…I laughed at them because I thought I knew everything. I thought I was invincible. I thought I was young and everything would be easy, and that life would just magically be level ten awesome without any real preparation or effort on my part. But they were right. I was so wrong and I regret my approach to school immensely now that I’m humble enough to see where it might have taken me had I only applied myself.

what I hope for you to hear in my message is that your life matters, and it’s up to you to reach out and make the efforts required to ensure it will be a wonderful one. Will you? You can start today.


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