COMPASSION DESTROYS THE EGO
I am TDCJ #1437106. I am everyone in the scenarios outlined in Part One of the series and yet I am none of them all in the same breath. I’m just a regular guy who finally made enough mistakes to say enough. Literally, all I did was stop running and do something new. There is nothing special about my journey from then to here and now. That’s because what I’ve done can literally be accomplished by anyone who chooses to get more out of life. It’s not always easy work and it does require a huge amount of honesty and self evaluation but I guarantee you that the freedom waiting on the other side of that work is far more spectacular than any other feeling you could ever imagine.
During my first stretch in TDCJ the books I studied actually planted a lot of the seeds that eventually helped me to transform my life and bloom for all to see. Of course, none of them seemed significant at the time it was happening but when I look back now I can almost see Gods invisible arms carrying me over the rocky roads..
I read voraciously while I was in prison.. I mean I had to be the only guy who’d hit 500 burpees and walk the yard reading Plato’s The Republic afterwards but there I was. I poured over various subjects from political science books by Lawrence Lessig to Steven Pinkler How The Mind Works. I just really love reading.
There is one book in particular though which stands above the rest, This book had a lasting impact on my way of thinking beyond all of the other titles I absorbed; Bo Lozoff We’re All Doing Time. This book struck a chord deep within me and I must have read it at least 100 times during my first sentence. His philosophy that all religious teachings actually compliment each other in spite of the cultural differences we argue over was something I just believed somewhere deep in my bones.
Factor in such a philosophy with the fact that he included instructions on how we could practice meditation, or yoga, right there in the prison cell and I was completely hooked. One of the cool thing about the Human Kindness Foundation back then was the soft spot they had for us convicts. So when I wrote them to speak about one of the mystical experiences I had they wrote me back within a week and genuinely encouraged me to put the spiritual path first in my life. These weren’t just empty words either. They even included another book called Deep & Simple with a personal note scribbled on the inside of the cover with another meditative practice they thought would help deepen my understanding. That sort of dedication to America’s forgotten cannot be appreciated enough.
Now, I’d love to tell you I came out of prison this really really humble and changed man but that simply isn’t the true. In some ways my ego had grown exponentially after, not only surviving, but thriving in the belly of the beast for years because… well… not everyone does. The penitentiary had hardened me all the same though. Being shoved in an 8’x12′ for 23 hours a day and forced to strip down to your boxers before sticking your hands out a slot to be cuffed has that effect though. Yet this is how they move us around. Each closed custody inmate gets two escorts who will march you down the run standing on both sides of you clutching riot shields and batons everytime you move around. This sort of barbaric treatment can make one feel like an animal and really damage their psyches.
Let’s get back to the books now. A strange byproduct of reading a massive amount of books was the paradigm shift I eventually went through. It’s kind of hard to be a happy little drug dealer when you understand the ins and outs of a 740 billion dollar a year drug industry. Once you start grasping the socio-economic crisis behind our American ghettos it leads to all sorts of uncomfortable questions. I’ll go down through there one of these days but for now let’s just focus on the ego.
While I found it easy to hustle and make money in the streets I was finding it more and more difficult to justify the part I was playing in the destruction of others. Most addicts have these terribly tragic tales chopped full of so much loss and misery that it’s easy to see why they’re staying high all the time. Hustlers only seem different. In Part One I told you each group has the same psychological profile and the only thing that differs is how they solve their problems. One dresses impeccably and buries his childhood trauma underneath expensive clothes, success and thuggish demeanor. The other does whatever it takes to alter their state of being so they never have to face their pain again. Get money. Get high.
Here’s where they meet in the middle. Both groups are still running from themselves and masking what they feel or pretending like they don’t feel. Both groups still have highly developed egoes that prop up the lies they present to the world as true. Both groups have allowed their dreams to be smothered by a cold and unforgiving society. In that way, both groups are victims.
There was a time in my own life where I bridged the gap between these two seemingly different groups by falling for a girl who had struggled to free herself from heroin for years and years. Yet, once I had crossed over from my dope dealer bridge, instead of helping her get clean I just started using heroin with her. At first it was a lot of fun. We’d stay up super late every night and have these delightful conversations. We’d laugh and joke oftentimes making love until the sun came up. This carefree relationship carried on for months before I learned an ugly truth about heroin. See, heroin demands your attention and never begs for your intimacy, it just takes what it wants. One day you wake up sick and realize that heroin has officially stuck an enormous hook in your back and wrapped it around your spine.It then yanks you down to the depths of Hell.
Entire years passed by in which I had little to no recollection of what had happened the day before. I would go watch movies with friends and families and then see a commercial for it the next day and vocalizen my desire to go watch it only to get met with sneers and odd looks. My girlfriend and I continued to cling to our own brand of normality in spite of how bad our habits were. We created two beautiful baby girls together even though neither one of us was actually responsible enough to even entertain the idea of actually parenting. So we did what we wanted to.
Not like it’s much of a shocker but I lost both of my daughters to their Grandmother in the mix of all that addiction and turmoil. The woman that carried those beautiful little girls to term ended up paying the ultimate price and died a really painful death. Like Against Me! would say “some people just aren’t the type for marriage and family .” That’s just life I suppose.
After my girlfriend died I found myself bombarded with message after message from friends who handed me both kind words and death threats alike in equal parts. All these lofty opinions of how I should have been kind of cluttered my inbox for close to a month after her death. Now that everyone else has moved and all but forgotten her it’s the family- the Mother, the daughters and myself included- that still fingers through the old photographs and smile. We’re the ones who remember not the people who shared all their egotistical opinion at the end.
Obviously, huge chunks of my ego died throughout that whole ordeal of Kathryn dying and the custody battle that ensued a few short days later. Yes, I went from losing my best friend to being thrust into family services while the scars were still fresh. I also tried to diving into another relationship with the deceased best friend knowing I was still clinging to her and grieving but I needed something that had been close to her.
I stopped by the school where they had scattered her ashes in secret one day not so far off from meeting up with her bestie. As I sat there looking into space I just started talking and getting all of my grievances about Kathryn off of my chest. I told her how foolish I had been in dating her BFF. I complained about her Mother and her siblings cold hearted natures and told her how disturbing I found it that they were able to un-attach from me and look at me as if they’d never even seen me before. I told her how happy I was she moved into the next life cycle and promised her we’d definitely see each other again.
The next morning I went to the mediator after our family services group meeting and told her I was backing out of the custody proceedings. I explained to her how unsafe my home environment was for my child and spoke on some of my own Mothers behaviours that bothered me. I spoke as a Father who wanted his children to be safe. I spoke free from the ego and all of its trappings and I haven’t seen my kids since that day. The Grandmother whisked them away and it’s doubtful she even offered a second thought to what will become of me or whether or not I should even know my seed.
It’s also guaranteed that it doesn’t actually matter. Ego screams that this woman should get in touch with me. Ego screams of all the wrong doings and mean things that were said and the sheer tragedy of it all.
However, we human beings have these wonderful heart centers that process what others may be feeling as well. Once we open our hearts to what others are going through we sort of just get over ourselves. See, this woman had just lost her child, a child who had been getting high with the man standing before her in the last moments of her life. This man had lied to her instead of telling her the truth. A truth she had long since been prepared for because a decade of heroin abuse doesn’t tend to end any other way.
Compassion springs forth from the painful moments that really rock us to our cores. Something about the pain I saw in her eyes took my defiant little ego down to nothing within a few seconds. I hung my head low and explained all the gritty details she asked for knowing she had every right to know.