Ronald, 48

Ronald, 48

There’s absolutely nothing wrong for loving one from afar, when that’s the best action, to keep you on the path that God intended for you to travel.

Ronald, 48

Incarcerated: 3 years

Housed: San Quentin State Prison, California

Is there a point when even God loses hope in someone like me? Like the age old saying, ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Thinking back, trying to remember some good I might have done, is almost impossible, due to the dark cloud of wrong I’m reminded of daily, especially when the cell door locks for the night. That’s when things become dead quiet, leaving only you and your thoughts. 

Where did everybody go? What happened to all the friends I thought I had? I’ve learned most people surrounding you are only there because of what you can do for them. Whether it be money, drugs, protection or simply company to pass the time. 99% of the time you possess something they want or simply desire. Being raised by the father I was dealt with, was in one hand a blessing, and the other, a curse. Trying to constantly get one’s approval, will drive you to learn similar crafts hoping for an – ATTA BOY! Which seems to always never come, but learning multiple crafts will most certainly put you in a position, where others are drawn to you. 

Being an only child would somehow prepare me for years of solitude. Most people who find themselves without the slightest hope of ever being a free man once again, having the opportunity to function, as a law abiding citizen, might have thoughts of deep hopelessness or even contemplate suicide. I, on the other hand, completely accept my wrong doings and the time behind bars I have been allotted for breaking the law. I’m actually thankful for being, “Saved from myself.” But most importantly for keeping others safe that I could possibly hurt, whether the hurt was physical or emotionally. Sadly, the hurt usually affects people I love or care about. 

The time I spent trying to gain my fathers approval has given me some bad traits. Always being the total opposite towards people than my father was towards me, and people that seemed to be a part of my life for one reason or another. I would never see them for the people they truly were, because I didn’t want to pass on the hurt of not being good enough in my eyes, or constantly pointing out their flaws. This passive way of accepting would come back to haunt me, and rip open my heart out, because I believed people were good when they simply were rotten, broken souls. Clearly, two broken people aren’t good for themselves let alone each other. “Birds of a feather flock together,” the outcome is always bad for both individuals in the toxic relationship. There’s no balance. It’s either up or down. Truthfully mostly down, but low self esteem or some form of insecurities will give the feeling of: this is probably the best it’s gonna get, so having someone is better than having no one. I could find nine bad things in a person and one good but because of feelings like: I don’t deserve better because of all the wrong I’ve done, I’m lucky to receive any amount of love from anyone, I’ll take whatever I can get. Yet, when the other broken person’s mood swings are up, down and all around, you’ll develop even more insecurities, due to the lack of emotions that should be given from both sides in a healthy relationship. But when you don’t love the person in the mirror, you truly can’t love anyone else. I’ve told women over and over again I love you, yet my actions tell a completely different story. When there has to be some type of drug to stimulate emotional, physical or any type of affection towards one another the relationship will soon become more and more toxic and damaging to the weaker of the two. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing both the one being abandoned and the one running for dear life. Yet, the sickest part of it all is just for that one moment we felt loved, we’ll find ourselves returning to that horribly toxic relationship in hopes of a different outcome. My outcome was catching a life sentence grasping for every straw of possible hope. Do I blame her for the outcome? Absolutely not. My insecurities blindfolded my judgment of the relationship. And not only my shortcomings but her as well. I can’t think for a second I’m remotely capable of fixing another, when I’m broken as well. 

So, who do I blame?

My father never gave me the affirmation I seeked from him, or his mother, who treated him that way. Her father maybe. The blame can go back generations. One, two, three generations – who knows. 

Why was I so in need of his approval? 

Many people I’ve talked to could be perfectly okay without the approval of anyone. Well, hold on! Let me backup just a tad bit. Many have come to the same conclusion. Some sooner than others but if you’re right with God, you’ll start to like that person in the mirror more and more until the like becomes love for yourself. Then and only then, can you possibly love another, as God has loved us. Real love doesn’t keep a tab of what you’ve done for others, almost having the feeling of having to earn it. When random acts are freely given from real love, there’s too many to keep track of. Once you’ve learned to love yourself, loving others will come with the slightest of effort. Now comes the hard part. Loving others doesn’t mean accepting the parts of them that could be your downfall. Stand firm in what is right, because what is right and just will keep you loving that person in the mirror. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving one from afar, when that’s the best action to keep you on the path that God intended for you to travel. It’s okay to be a little selfish when it comes to loving yourself. Hurt people, hurt people! Love can heal all things but the healing must first start internally, with you and soon the love that you’ve generated for yourself will overflow to others for all the right reasons. The best reason is that, “Love doesn’t cost a thing!” But when you don’t love the person in the mirror,  you truly can’t love anyone else.

Eric, 53

Eric, 53

I have learned how to manage my addiction, along with my depression. In the process, my self-esteem has slowly built up.

Eric, 53

Incarcerated: 11 years

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional, Ossining, New York

Eager to change my life, I have acknowledged that my drug addiction was one of the contributing factors that led to my incarceration thrice. With this in mind, I decided to attend the weekly Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings the facility offers. I have been to NA meetings before, but only attended because it was mandated by parole after testing positive for drugs. It was not something I really wanted to do. A refusal, however, would have resulted in a parole violation- and a return to prison for up to a year. Since I was forced to attend, I listened half-heartedly to stories of other addicts, never internalizing the message. My heart was not in it, I was not ready to stop using. I did not believe my addiction was going to escalate, nor was I going to commit crimes to support my habit and ultimately end up back in prison. I thought this time was different, and I was in control. That reasoning was my addiction speaking. HELLO!!! THERE ARE NO SUCCESSFUL DRUG ADDICTS!!!

Volunteering for NA meant I was doing it on my own accord…for ME! It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made! During one meeting, I heard the saying, “You have to change your people, places and things.” While I had heard this saying before, it did not hit home like it did that meeting. I felt a real sense of clarity about my sobriety. For the first time, I recognized the patterns I had engaged in before. They included the same negative people, the same negative places and the same negative things. It made perfect sense to remove myself from all of the things that could potentially be triggers or pathways to doing drugs. To this day, I can not allow any distractions or outside influences hinder me from accomplishing my goal. I must PUT IN THE WORK! 

I began applying this outlook immediately. I graduated from friends and associates who were either using drugs, glorifying drugs, and soliciting drugs. This was not an easy thing to do. Some, quickly noticed, and questioned why I was purposely isolating myself from them. The only thing I could say, “It’s not you,  I’m just going through some personal shit.” Over time, my conversations with them were in passing, minimal, and superficial. I no longer had anything in common with them. Soon, many stopped talking to me completely. Good riddance’s! I then stopped going to the yard as often as I had, except to call my mom once a week. Distancing myself from people, places, and things that were associated with drugs, negativity, criminality, and even gossip, felt foreign at first, but it was working! I began to find myself either alone or with people who were doing positive and constructive things like going to school. After awhile, I felt like my sobriety was not a fantasy, but finally real. I was, and still am, fully committed to staying sober while being mindful and constantly aware of things that could potentially trigger me to use drugs.

I have learned how to manage my addiction, along with my depression. In the process, my self-esteem has slowly built up. Although my mother sounded joyful to hear I was attending regular NA meetings, and I was serious about my sobriety, I think she was skeptical at first; a feeling she was justified to have. She had heard many empty promises, several times before. I couldn’t disappoint her again. She was the only one who was there for me during all of my bids and bull$#!+. I put this poor woman through hell. She did not deserve any of this! Nonetheless, she continued to support me on my journey.

In 2015, my 24 year old son, Joshua, graduated from the University of Houston. Words alone cannot express how proud his accomplishment made me. I was, however, stricken with guilt for not being there during his graduation and the biggest moments of his life. I had spent most of his life in prison. Although he never expressed it, I know he was deeply affected by my absence for most of his upbringing. Although he does not know it, he has played a major part in my transformation. I owe a lot to him. He told my mom he could not understand why I was not in college, especially since I was in a prison that offered college. How he knew this, was beyond me. I wondered if he intentionally planted this seed for me? That statement surprised me. I earned a GED in my younger years, but I never thought of myself as college material. I just couldn’t fathom how a person who was nearly 50 could finish college or benefit from it.

Some of the new people around me were college students and told me I was wrong and that I could do it. They said if I could stick with it and get my degree,  it was almost certain I would not come back to prison. Statistically, the recidivism rate is less than 3% for people who leave prison with a college degree versus the state average of 45% of those who leave prison without one. The recidivism rate is even lower for individuals over the age of 50.

The following two years were challenging. I had not been to school in nearly 30 years. I could not enroll in college and excel in the work required without brushing up on some academics. I needed training in writing, english, math, history, critical thinking, research, to name a few. I needed to get in the habit of studying before I enrolled. First, I enrolled in the intensive year-long “Certificate in Ministries and Human Services Program” (CMP). The courses were college level work; strenuous and very difficult, with an absurd amount of dense reading. Then, there was of course writing, writing, and more writing, critical thinking, and contemplation of subjects I had never really spent time on. For me, there was no social life, no playing or sleeping in. It was a damn hard year, but I learned, and earned A’s in all my courses, and graduated with Honors.

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