Photo by kalei peek on Unsplash
We don’t see things the way they are.
We see them the way we are.
— The Talmud
Most teenagers can’t wait to turn 18, a time marked by the independence (and adventure) of them moving out on their own, embarking on their dreams via college or serving their country, or the mere prospect of forming new relationships. However you slice it, it’s when youthful adults venture out into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) to come into their own.
So tell me, when you were younger, did you ever like a guy or girl, a food, or anything, and as time passed, you stopped liking him or her or it? It’s like you “aged out” of who or what you were previously enamored with or entranced by. I mean, I used to enjoy hanging out with certain types of people, and now I avoid them like COVID-19. Unless they’re doing something positive, I classify such types as “Hi and Bye” acquaintances, whom I spend as little time as possible with.
For example, I have some past “so-called” friends who believe I’ll get out and smoothly segue back into our youthful pastime activities without missing a beat. Some even say, “Jay ain’t changed.” Hmm, that’s naive and mildly disturbing given that I will have spent “18 and change” (i.e., over 18 years) in prison, and they expect me to leave prison as the same person I came to prison as?! Although, and most unfortunately, there are some guys who press the psychological and behavioral pause button upon entering prison, and re-press it when they release, I’m definitely not one of them.
Contrary to prevailing frenemy belief, prison turned my life upside down, which as I later discovered was actually right side up. I came to prison because my upside-down outlook on life skewed my perception of reality. Paraphrasing my opening quote, the world did not change, rather, only my perception of it did.
I’ve spent years trying to figure out where I went wrong, and the further back I looked the closer I got to the answers. Pre-prison, I was living my life through my tattered past. As Dr. Phil said, “The past reaches into the present, and programs the future, your recollections and your internal rhetoric about what you perceived to have happened to you.” I learned that I was living my adult life through the tragedies of my negative social environment growing up.
And since my formerly-flawed thinking produced criminal behavior that, in turn, resulted in me having to serve 18 and change in prison, I’m often overtaken with residual guilt, shame and remorse. It’s like a web that wraps you tightly, squeezing tighter and tighter with an endless thread. Don Miguel Ruiz explains this in The Four Agreements:
How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and punish ourselves…. Every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.
And then there are those in society who seek to tighten the web even more by reminding you of your past mistake at every corner — without considering the mitigating factors that contributed to your downfall — pushing you to relive the past on an endless loop. They forget that every saint has a past, and every sinner a future. They judge with four fingers pointing back at them. They demand retribution, but when they (or their loved ones) are standing in the shoes of the accused, they beg for mercy and leniency.
But the good thing is: I’ve incubated for years in this concrete cocoon and improved myself in ways that the majority in society cannot because they haven’t walked my Road to Redemption, where I’ve had to revamp and reinvent myself and overwrite my faulty thought processes with success-oriented programming. Every day I use my 18 and change to update my life outlook and further disentangle myself from the web of guilt and shame.
I approach each new year as an exciting new chapter in my life, as one of many phases of my metamorphosis. I am a new creation, a phoenix risen from the ashes, a butterfly ready to explore and perceive the same world (i.e., minus the landscaping of technological innovation) through a different, more colorful lens.
And if ever accused of being the same person I was when I committed my crime, I would simply reply, “True, I am the same essence. But in terms of form, I have changed by leaps and bounds and become someone exceedingly better.” Therefore, my world has changed — but only on account of my perception changing over the course of my 18 and change.
As you embark on the new year and hope to improve some aspect(s) of your life, I want to give you a handful of positive affirmations for 2021 (in the era of COVID-19) from my affirmation stockpile that has helped me develop the right attitude to overcome WHATEVER life throws at me.
God willing, I’ll be released in 2022! Happy New Year!
Positive Affirmations for 2022
We have to be greater than what we suffer.
The world is hard. You have to be harder.
You gotta do what’s best for you with the time that you got.
–Detective Pikachu, movie
I am the captain of my ship, and the master of my fate.
–Dr. Ivan Joseph
Fall seven times stand up eight.
Sometimes, the only way to heal our wounds is
to make peace with the demons who created them.
–Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, movie
Sometimes we’re tested not to show our weaknesses,
but to discover our strengths.
The darkest nights produce the brightest stars.
“How am I racist? I’m Black!”
Racism is something I never gave much thought to for most of my life, I just didn’t ascribe to the unconscious practice even before I began waking up. My opening quandary is an actual, honest-to-God exchange between an inmate and a corrections officer. The officer was white, the inmate black and they were joking each other; mostly. But it brought clarity to something I had been feeling for a long time during my incarceration but wasn’t able to identify. Racism, directed toward me!
When I heard this statement, it dawned on me, there are actually some people who truly don’t know what racism is. The American Heritage Dictionary defines racism as 1) the belief that a particular race is superior to others, and 2) Discrimination or prejudice based on race. I think it’s important to note that although the numbers are balancing out some, the prison population is predominantly black. Debating the reasons behind this fact is not my goal here. Reaching out to my brothers in blues (Fla D.O.C. has blue uniforms for inmates), is my goal, to let them know that I can feel racially discriminated against too. Not just by my fellow inmates who believe their conversations overheard are their right, but also by the direct use of some of the terms like white boy, cracker and other disparaging words intended to hurt and propel one race over another. And by the staff who have to be hyper vigilant in not committing any professional or political snafus by making any kind of a disparaging comment because of the ignorance that white people don’t or can’t feel discriminated against. How do we fix it?
I have to admit that after my last question, I felt a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the vastness of that query and had to put my pen down, not to return for a week. My pulling away from the subject felt like a real dilemma as to whether or not I could continue without an answer as how to make things “right” after so many years of static thinking from the two primary races that make up America. I should also mention that in 2015, the Spanish population outgrew the black population to claim the dubious title of the largest minority in the U.S. But the Spanish prison population is still third place.
Most people perceive prisons to be some sort of separate entity; a body of its own, distinct from the “it won’t happen to me” crowd. That mistake in thinking has left most people without any concrete ideas about prisons, prisoners, and race relations in prison. Prison is essentially a microcosm of what our society has become, not a representation of the people that make it up but for the ideals that have been propagated by an idealistic group of a few people with a vision that is actually limited in scope and context.
I have concluded that the problem with race relations is not a problem of a few, but of epic proportions plaguing the human race. Maybe I’m showing my own worldly ignorance, speaking out of place for cultures I’ve had minimal experience with, but when millions of people have to seek refuge from their homes because of internal strife, and then have to deal with not being able to find a safe place because of the ability of a few demagogues, spewing poisonous rhetoric to the masses, creates a false sense of separateness…and there’s nothing tenable about human suffering…nothing. Ah, but I digress on a global scale.
Let me scale back a bit. Ethnically speaking, it’s up to prisoners themselves to make their lives better; more equitable. How can they do this when there is absolutely no model for selfless thinking; inside or outside these fences.
Say your two year old hits another child like kids sometimes do. Do you then hit your child as punishment and hope they learn it’s not okay to hit? Some do! How counterproductive is that. It’s not a mixed message you’re sending. It’s Unequivocal…it’s okay to hurt people, period. We as thinking beings, cognizant and emotional, are in a state of shock about how we treat each other and the excuses we make to do it are as numerous and tenuous as the differences we think give us the right to be prejudicially racist. Greed, as opposed to need, is no different in prison than it is outside of prison. Somehow we have convinced entire generations that they need to be materially superior in order to have a sense of self. We spend endless resources and energy on teaching self esteem in a society full of ego maniacal, undereducated and dissociative people who have no understanding what it means to treat each other with equality. So maybe my dilemma is not so remote as it relates to prisoners, but there has to be a starting point for everything, even the beginning of the end of something as destructive as racism. No matter who it is against or who it’s from. How much more evident could it be that our method of dealing with what we consider our criminal element just doesn’t work. Is it our goal to perpetuate our children hitting each other? Because the message we’re sending by taking all human dignity from someone we perceive as having done harm to our fellow beings is doing just that.
A couple of modern prison systems who got this message loud and clear are two relatively unlikely to be thought of as progressive, Germany and Norway. The message they are sending to those who infringe on the dignity and security of their fellow citizens is a simple one. There is another way.
Through wonderful folks and organizations like AI, we too can stop the proverbial hitting of our kids. But it has to come from the top down. I’m not saying we need to rid ourselves of the justice system, but if we want it to reflect our goals of justice and equality so our citizens can treat each other without prejudice due to anyone’s race, the American prison system is a great place to start.