I didn’t know exactly what to write today. It should be somewhat of a special day for me, however it isn’t exactly how I would have imagined I would be spending any days like this years ago. This will be my third birthday in custody, so I have been somewhat putting off writing this blog post.
I will be turning 33 years old today, on January 14. With it being such a uniquely personal day for me, I wanted to try and share some existential thoughts in this post, to allow my readers to share this experience with me on a more personal level.
Birthdays haven’t always been a great event for me. I am what many may call ‘low-key’ – someone who really goes with the flow and doesn’t set high expectations for celebrations, especially those focused on me. However, in recent years, I have come to value experiences more than physical possessions. So naturally, birthdays mean more to now me as I get older.
I have, as a rule of thumb, always shared experiences like this with a very small group of people who know me intimately. I have never really associated with large numbers of friends or maintained huge networks. I carefully pick who I allow into my inner circle. I am truly an introvert at heart, while of course having tremendous extroverted tendencies in professional settings. But at the end of the day, I enjoy being around a select few, people I know extremely well. These are the people I have shared experiences with on a personal level.
Being an inmate in the federal prison system, I have literally met thousands of people in the last several years of jumping in between so many institutions across the United States. I have been in transit from facility to facility, travelled on buses and planes continually to reach my final destination, Fort Dix Federal Prison Facility, the largest US Federal Prison. It is a shame I have not been able to keep in touch with so many of these people who I have come into contact with. I have seen some pretty horrible things, but I have also met some incredible people. People with hopes and dreams and wonderful intentions. Some very intelligent people. Very awesome people who just need to set their sights on a slightly different path to those dreams, and use the skills they posses to help benefit the community rather than taking away from it. I have been impressed and inspired by many of these people.
So naturally, with my personality type, I have had to shift how I interact with people. Prison has allowed me to see more good in people (I am a realist, generally) and it has allowed me to find more value in opening up to others. I now try to be a part of other’s lives and try to help them achieve a path to greatness, rather than sitting back and allowing nature to take its course. So, being that I have become more interested in impacting the lives of people I have come into contact with in a positive way, this is one very positive way that prison has changed me for the better. I am more open with people.
I am also more comfortable with being vulnerable with others and sharing myself with them. Pretty hard to imagine in a prison environment, right? I read in a book once, that something about how forced confinement brings people together. There is a level of familiarity and intimacy that comes with being around people every moment of the day, something that normal life can not compete with. Surrounding myself with the right types of people can bring really good elements out of people. Prison isn’t just filled with ‘bad people’ – many are incredibly respectful and tend to have a higher ethical centre than many people I have met in the normal walks of life. Finding these people can be tough though. That being said, prison will either make you a better person (for a few), or a worse criminal (unfortunately for a lot). It’s all who you surround yourself with and who you allow to influence your views. This is why I want to find a way to promote more interaction between positive role models and individuals within the prison walls of America.
Finding strength in here to really make myself more vulnerable comes from my desire to make a positive impact. For the chance to make a positive impact by being here, I have to accept the risk of being vulnerable in an environment where it could be very bad for me physically and mentally. That being said – I would like to share one of my favorite Latin words with everyone. INVICTUS – it means UNDEFEATED. Not necessary in that you have never lost a battle, but in the sense that you choose not to lose the war. And I live by this – with the willpower necessary to NEVER GIVE UP. So while I may lose a few times by opening up to others in order to hopefully help them, I choose not to be defeated.
So, for my birthday today… What I really want is to be able to open up to people out in the world, to be able to share some of my deepest feelings about this experience, and to maybe be afforded with the chance to help make a positive change for others. I have always been a fighter – I stand up for what I believe is right, regardless of the consequences. For that very reason, I turned down a chance to possibly avoid prison and not go through the hardship, and instead stood up for what I believe is right. I accepted the possibility that I would face years behind bars. And that outcome and choice has shocked so many people I have come into contact with. But I always tell people, that I can put my head down every night, before I go to sleep, knowing that I did what I felt was right and am fine with the outcome for that reason. I fought and I of course lost. But doing what is right is what matters to me. As someone important once said to me: we don’t get to choose the situations we are presented with, we only choose how we react to them. What is right is rarely easy. What is right rarely comes without hardship.
I have endured a substantial amount of hardship over these last few years. This experience has naturally been hard on me. But I would do it all over again. I would face this burden with open arms to help those I have come into contact with. So today, on my birthday, I choose to live by another Latin phrase – Carpe Diem. It means enjoy the day. And I have enjoyed the day. I have had a ton of time to sleep and think to myself today. I am happy today, knowing that I have the power to make a positive impact in the world. And I want to help others on that journey, and see that they can do the same. I am happy today, knowing I as an individual have changed for the better. I am thankful today, that I am alive and in mostly good health. And I am thankful for everything that has happened in my life, good and bad – because it has made me who I am today.
I will share more of my adventures within the criminal justice system in the coming posts, as well as more about the laws and policies that impact so many citizens of our fine nation. But today, I want to share my happiness and I want to remind everyone that it is how we frame our experiences rather than the experiences themselves. I am happy today – in Federal Prison, locked up and taken away from everything I cherish the most, and even with all I have experienced – I will enjoy this day, because I want to leave the world a better place than when I came into it. I will enjoy this day, because I have been given the gift of life, to live and make decisions to do what I feel is right. And for my birthday today, I want to share that happiness with everyone.
To conclude this post today, I would like to share my favorite poem with all my readers, written by William Ernest Henley, titled “Invictus”:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.