Life in Prison – My road to responsibility and change

The process of change began in that jail isolation cell. It has taken many paths and roads since.

I reached out for counseling and therapy at the first prison where I was housed and have continued regular visits since. In 2009 I began weekly phone calls with James Yates, PhD, on topics ranging from Zen koans to Gestalt psychology. He has been a mentor, teacher and friend who has helped me find my way. This was also the year I began daily meditation and the practice of directed introspection. I realized that only by understanding myself, good and bad, could I move toward change in an orderly fashion. It has also given me the ability to better relate to others.

Besides James I have been blessed to find amazing 12 Step sponsors and a Presbyterian minister, Louie Andrews, who have helped me continue this journey of growth and service.

I have maintained employment in the prison system, working as everything from a VCE furniture assembler to law library clerk. I currently work as a maintenance electronics tech. I have been infraction free for almost 14 years.

In 2017 I both graduated from the State Electrical Apprenticeship and began volunteering as a mentor in Buckingham’s Shared Allied Management (SAM) morning program. I have worked directly with individuals suffering from mental health issues, facilitated programs, taught yoga as well as NonViolent Communication and led a Spanish language class. Though I had tutored guys in Spanish or for their GED previously, this was my first formal opportunity to mentor and teach. It confirmed my desire to pursue work as a counselor or social worker when I get out. I have never felt as good as I did being of service to others.

In 2018, after 15 years of study, I completed my bachelors, cum laude, from Ohio University. It took so long because the cost was prohibitive and everything had to be done by hand and through the mail. I could only take a few classes at a time and was often waiting on an assignment or exam to be returned before I could move on. I am ever thankful to my mother for making this possible. Without her, I never would have had such an opportunity.

I have taken every program available, completed a trade and utilized all the resources of the DOC and outside organizations, to educate and prepare myself for the best possible future. I have read everything from Camus to Jane Austen and still take advantage of the library.

I want to follow in my father’s footsteps. A down and out drug addict, he got clean and worked as a substance abuse counselor. He helped so many people that they filled an auditorium for his funeral service. I wasn’t able to attend, due to my incarceration, but drew strength from his transformation and the impact he had on so many lives.

Having completed my bachelors with a focus on psychology and sociology, I want to pursue a masters in counseling or social work. I work well in a one on one setting and have lived experience that allows me to better understand at-risk youth and those suffering from substance abuse issues. I am where I am thanks to the free sharing and teaching of others. The only way to keep the goodness I have found is to pass it on.

12 Step groups have kept me sober, grounded and spiritually healthy over the last years. I plan to jump into meetings and already have a sponsor and strong sober network.

Having worked with a Zen teacher for a decade and met for years with a minister, I look forward to exploring the social facet of religion and spirituality. This includes community events and service opportunities.

Over the last 16 years I have made physical, mental and spiritual changes. I was a heavy drinker, smoker and drug addict when arrested. I am now in in better shape than I was as a high school wrestler. I eat healthy and look forward to being able to enjoy fresh foods one day. Physical fitness has taught me discipline and helped me overcome body-related insecurities that contributed to my substance abuse.

Aside from the good I have reaped what I sowed. I have learned what it is to be lonely and completely powerless. My father died and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I have been assaulted and robbed. I have learned what it is to be victimized. I better understand the full impact of my crimes. I needed these harsh lessons.

I have watched people move on with their lives, no longer including me in them. I have also found new friends and family. My mother and I are closer than we’ve ever been. My step-grandfather adopted me when my father died and has been a limitless source of wisdom and love. I have been taken on as a godson, found a best friend of 13 years, connected with childhood friends and become close with people all over the world.

I have spent half my life (my entire adult life) in prison for the crimes I committed. I am ready to move forward and make a positive change in the world.