THE STONE THE BUILDER REFUSED

GROUND ZERO

I talk a lot about everything coming from the one and returning to the one because I see life as a cyclic journey with no clear end or beginning. As such, sometimes our paths take us back to the places we started from. This isn’t always welcomed but it almost always happens at some pivotal moment where we need reminded of just how far we’ve came or just how far we have to go. This weekend offered me just this sort of lesson.

I am an ex-convict. I have given up 7 years of my life going in and out of jails and institutions. I do not make excuses nor do I blame others. I did most of my time because I enjoyed the lifestyle. I enjoyed the thrill of living beyond the law and outsmarting the system. As with all things the pleasure eventually faded and the reality sank in. I’d love to tell you that I became an instant success story that transformed my life into this pristine and beautiful dream but that simply isn’t so. Addiction and personal demons kept me at odds with my fellow man for quite some time.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

About a decade after I had realized just how alienated I’d become from society I had passed the point of no return. The sate of Texas had given me enough rope to hang myself. I had acquired so many felonies that the minimum sentence they could offer me was 25 years, even with 15k on a lawyer. Some of you may know this already but this represented a turning point in my life. It was from this place of desperation, after being offered 40 years, that I prayed out to God. Not the sort of foxhole variety of “get me out of this and I’ll…” or any such nonsense, but a genuine prayer for those around me. For my parents to not blame themselves for my mistakes. For my daughters to not carry a hole inside them from my absence. For the young men I encountered to take things to heart when I speak of a better way. See, I deserved what I was facing and didn’t have any delusions about it.

What I wasn’t expecting was to be offered the opportunity to use, not only my talents, but my experiences as well. I wasn’t expecting to be sent to a state run rehab where I was to meet a mentor and forge lifelong relationships. I wasn’t expecting grace, or mercy. Yet here I am.

Upon returning to the land of the free I’ve pretty much accomplished what most people consider success. I still own a home- thanks to my parents- and my oldest daughter and I still create art together. I got the girl, the car, the job working in live production with a great company making decent money.

The flipside is probation is still a very real part of my life. I’m in IOP- intensive outpatient program- where I receive group therapy twice a week. I report twice a month and also go to court twice a month. I call a color line every morning to see if I am to submit a random drug screening. That sort of scheduling makes it difficult to live a normal life.

Two weeks in a row my color was called on days I had been scheduled to work full days. The first time I showed up to work two hours late and lost $60. The second time I left work early to catch a bus in the freezing rain. I caught a cold waiting on a bus that was 30 minutes late. Naturally, I was late to drop my urine sample and they denied me at the door. The result of this fiasco was a three day sanction in Dallas County Jail. It is difficult to accurately express how frustrated I was. I was being penalized for being the “first” person in the 4-C program to not drive illegally. How can it possibly be my fault the bus was running late due to weather? What of the others that are always reliant on public transportation? How is this a fair system?

FULL CIRCLE

When has life ever catered to our sense of fair play? When has life not pitched us curve balls? 98% of my problems have resulted from my inability to recognize how I cause myself more stress by being lazy, or not prioritizing properly. Sometimes I just forget to breathe and simply be alive. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Either way, I was going back to county to sit in those same plastic chairs to watch those same shows on Bounce waiting to get fingerprinted and dressed out in those same county stripes (although my first trip there were all white jumpers). Anyways, the only thing I had any control over was my attitude towards this trip.

With that in mind I decided to look at it as a sort of quarterly review to evaluate how I measured up compared to my expectations and the goals I had set for myself. At least this way I could return with a renewed sense of vigor even more energized than before. I wasn’t serving out a sanction I was resetting the clock and getting back to the basics.

See, we ex-cons always run the risk of recidivism. A lot of us become accustomed to being accommodated and not having any responsibility. Was I struggling to make it in the “real” world? Was I having difficulty with the “simple” things the state required of me? Or did I just want to run the show and feel in control?

The truth of the matter is I’ve always been a bit lazy. I’ve always looked for the shortcut. This was no different. I could either play the victim and scream about the state “hoeing” me out out or I could accept the fact I am at their mercy. I chose to walk so far down the wrong road that they had to threaten me with life in prison. I chose to take matters in my own hand and I broke the law. The judge didn’t ask me to grace his court with my presence. My counsellors didn’t ask me to hop on their caseload. No. I did that all on my own.

As for how I felt that wasn’t so easy to accept. A part of me struggled. Why? I had forgotten my blessings. I had forgotten my prayers were answered. I had forgotten my life had meaning and I was to share my pleasure and pain with the kids struggling with what I had once struggled with. Moreover, I had forgotten to do so with an attitude of gratitude. Maybe there was someone inside I was meant to impact and offer a kind word to. Maybe I was to be a living example that people can change. With that in mind I found tranquility.

It’s no wonder the ladies at book-in exchanged looks when I smiled for my photograph. It must’ve seemed strange that someone could actually find peace at this part of their journey and yet here I was. Not because it was a joyous occasion but because I could still be sitting in a maximum security prison serving a 40 year sentence. I could not have a loving family to return to. I could not have a job or a blog to share the pleasure and pain of it all with others. I had forgotten how far I’ve came.

Sometimes we have to revisit ground zero to remember why we started. Every day I spend free is a gift. Every breath of fresh air I breathe is a blessing. It is good to be alive.

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