I’m here in cell 210 in FCI Cumberland (Maryland), not a good place to be. I am around a lot of different people from all over the world and all walks of life. I talk to guys who are never going to see the streets again. I talk to guys who have been locked up 20-25-30 years. The crazy part is that most of these guys don’t have anything on their minds. Their hopes and dreams are gone. The only thing they look forward to is watching TV, playing cards, using drugs and working out. Not many of them read books and if they do, it’s a ‘hood book, a story they’ve already lived.
I’m an older version of them. Fortunately, I’ve finally learned my lesson. I was a hard-headed kid looking for attention. As I got older, I started smoking weed to be accepted by my peers. My father was somewhere else, so I only had my mom. And although she is my rock today, back then she used to beat me a lot with cords and tree switches. That was the only type of discipline she knew. But as a child, you don’t know how to respond. I was always afraid of what might come next, so I kept a lot of things bottled up inside. I looked for love and acceptance in everything.
When I was 13, I was touched the wrong way by a man. I was afraid to tell my mom, so I just stuffed it deep inside me. I found it hard to be close to any man, thinking he would touch me where I didn’t want to be touched. I started acting out in school, fighting anybody I felt could be a threat to me, even teachers. That’s also why I started using drugs.
I was teased a lot because I couldn’t afford the shoes and clothes my friends had. But when I started selling drugs, things changed. I could buy clothes like theirs. I could afford a haircut. When I was 17, I escalated to crack and started cycling in and out of jail. When I had a son, I thought he would be the answer to my problems; I had someone who loved me and I loved him in return. But crack got in the way. My addiction continued to spiral. I never spent a long time in jail, but when I got out, I went right back. I didn’t have any more kids because I was afraid. I didn’t want to do to what I’d done to my son to another child. So, whenever a female told me she was pregnant, we aborted the baby.
This time in prison has been the longest – two years of a seven-year sentence. And it was my wake-up call. I’m focusing on changing my behavior and my thinking. People like me aren’t bad. We’ve just made a lot of bad decisions. But we can turn it around if we believe in ourselves. And on the hard days, we have to reach out for help. Here is not the place to get it though.
So many of the guys don’t see that they are doing the program the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) has set them up to do. (The prison staff) give them TV, and tablets and MP3 players for playing games and listening to music—in other words, to keep our minds from doing anything productive. Instead, they fill their brains with visions of walking in the shoes of a movie star or rapper. The best way to keep a man down is to keep giving him everything he was already chasing when he was free: an illusion.
Think about it: The library is the size of a cell, but the TV area is as big as a living room. I look around and see a lot of people who still don’t have their GED. Yet they know what time the TV shows come on. How will they go home and not come back to prison if they don’t have the tools to stay out? The thing is, everyone’s doing the same thing. So, who’s their role model?
The BOP doesn’t help. It could assure that everyone can access GED courses, even while COVID precautions continue, and if you don’t complete it, you don’t get released. It could teach everyone a marketable trade. Then, maybe, the guys here would start to take pride in themselves. It could place people who get caught selling drugs in a special housing unit so they can be watched much closer and given real support. But the BOP doesn’t want that because it’s more work for them.
My own change point didn’t come until I was quarantined in a cell by myself for four months while in transit, with no phone calls, no email and no books to read. That’s when it finally hit home: This is what my life now amounted to—a cell and a 6-minute shower twice a week (that was the only time I was allowed out). It was very cold in that cell, so I paced back and forth from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to stay warm. I prayed out loud, asking God to help me with me. I was my own biggest problem. I knew that for me to get something different, I had to do something different. I knew how to break the law and sell and bag up drugs. But I didn’t know how to save me from me. The mind that created the problem couldn’t be the mind that solved it. I had to change the way my mind was thinking and working. So, I read instead of watch TV. I’ve read over 200 books in the last two years. I plan on writing a book to help people like me. I stay away from the people who use and sell drugs. I don’t gamble; instead, I seek a spiritual “high.”
Today, I have my CDL license, and I’ve started a trucking business, ready for when I’m released in a month. I’ve learned that getting high and breaking the law doesn’t make the pain go away. Even now, the pain is still here. The difference is that I’m learning to deal with it. I want to show the world I have what it takes to be a productive member of society. I have a burning desire to show myself and others we can change for the better.