18 and Change

18 and Change

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.
–Spiderman, movie

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.
–Japanese proverb

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.
–Bumblebee, movie

Honoring My Victims Every Day

Honoring My Victims Every Day

We are pleased to share this Opinion Piece in The Oregonian by guest columnist and frequent AI blogger Martin Lockett.

I had been drinking all day on New Year’s Eve of 2003 and then, had gone to a party to celebrate more. Later, as I drove my twin brother home, he tried repeatedly to get me to slow down, to drive more carefully. But I ignored him.

Moments later, I sped through the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fremont Street and crashed into a car. As I was being interviewed by a police officer, he told me that I had killed two people and another was being life-flighted to Emmanuel Hospital.

It was days later when The Oregonian newspaper was delivered to my cell that I grasped the devastation — and the irreversibility — I had caused my community. It turned out that my victims were actively working their own programs of recovery from substance use. They had turned their lives around and were helping others do the same. Now they were gone.

Employees and clients at Volunteers of America and other recovery-related organizations were in shock and disbelief as they learned about the tragic deaths of their friends, mentors and loved ones.

Nearly a year later at my sentencing, I was confronted by my victims’ family members who were just a few feet away from me as they gave their victim impact statements. They offered me forgiveness that I didn’t deserve, yet they also made it known I took something immeasurable from them that they could never get back: Any more precious memories they’d ever make with their mothers.

Then I stood up, turned around and addressed the courtroom: “My indictment says I acted with extreme indifference toward the value of human life, but I can assure everyone here that my feelings have been anything but indifferent since the day this happened. And I know it’s not much consolation, but I vow to spend the rest of my life doing all I can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

With that, I was sentenced to 17 years and six months.

For the next three years I lived with immense guilt and shame for the senseless decision to drink and drive that fateful night because it changed the course of these people’s lives forever. But once I was able to forgive myself, I was able to positively channel that energy into making a difference in the lives of others, carrying on the legacies of the people I had taken from this world.

In keeping with that solemn life vow that I made more than 14 years ago to my victims’ family and friends — and my own — I have used my time to earn an education toward a career in counseling. I knew this would give me an opportunity to help others struggling with addiction, the same addiction that led to me killing two people. In these efforts, I have earned a master’s degree in psychology and published my memoir, “Palpable Irony,” in an effort to detail and warn against the dangers of drinking and driving. Three years ago, I was given a rare opportunity to share my story and help lead panels of victims hurt by other impaired drivers here at the prison. This restorative justice program provides profound healing for many men incarcerated for fatal car collisions as well as victims who come in and tell us their heart-wrenching stories. Those in attendance are incredibly moved and grateful for having heard so many compelling stories that urge them not to drink and drive.I currently work as a certified recovery mentor in a drug and alcohol treatment program at the prison. I mentor men one on one, counsel them in group settings and assist them with recovery-related issues. This is such a unique position within the Oregon Department of Corrections, and I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that I would be entrusted with such a responsibility. Through this effort, I have earned state certification as a recovery mentor, and I expect to receive my state certification as drug and alcohol counselor early next year. This work is my life’s passion. Not because it makes me look good, or makes a lot of money, or because it could reduce my sentence. It can’t.

Rather, I do this work because my reckless actions took two beautiful people from this world. Therefore, I will honor their precious lives and bring meaning to mine every day through using my story, education and experiences to help others not follow in my footsteps.

And, because I said I would.

— Martin L. Lockett, MS, CRM, is serving the 15th year of a 17-year sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.