Prison 101:17

STOP! This material is NOT edited for content. It is not fiction. It contains explicit language and descriptions of real situations. It is not suitable for minors, and may not be suitable for people who easily disturbed…


I thought about my circumstances when I first went to prison: I felt I had lost everything. I mean things it took years to build, I was still thinking in terms of loss, not what I might finally gain. After I began to get my life back I order, I still felt I had lost everything. It seemed impossible that I could ever be whole again, get my life back, material things, but I told myself that I am not a quitter. I’ll have it again.

I bring it up because when you think about rebuilding your life you don’t even think about all the people you have hurt. That takes some time. You have to begin to realize that you are not the victim at all. Yes, maybe you did lose, but those losses were because of your own actions. There were others around you who lost too, and those losses were not by their choice. You did that to them.

I have had five serious relationships. By that I mean relationships that mattered, not just sex or a six month thing, or a physical attraction. Everyone was bad. Everyone went south the same way for the same reasons. Sober, sitting in a prison cell, I thought about it. Then, when I went to group I talked about it. I realized I was falling for exactly the same woman every time, or, I was making a woman into the same woman every time, because a few of those times I was fortunate enough to have a woman who actually loved me, tried, but I was too fucked up to see it. What I am saying, is that I sabotaged myself every time. I expected the same things and so I got the same things. I treated them exactly the same and so they got sick of me, tired of the bullshit exactly the same. They became exactly what I expected that they already were, and even if they didn’t? I would never know because I could only see them that one way. Does that make sense at all?

The problem is, people who are traumatized, beat down by life, fucked over, and begin to think… “This is what I deserve… Who am I kidding? … I am a piece of shit …” In Group-Speak it is called the Self Fulfilling Prophecy, and a lot of people do it. It can keep you in failure all of your life. It keeps men and women going back to prison. A woman finding another man that beats her the same way the old one did, or cheats on her, or talks down to her, or humiliates her. You don’t need to do that. You are way too smart, I know you know it. Just draw some lines. And if you need encouragement get friends who do that. You have probably heard that before, but it is the only truth you need. When my friends need straight talk I give it, I guarantee that, and when I need to be talked to straight they do it for me too.

My problem was that when I was younger it seemed like everything came to me easily. My family was in music, aunts and uncles, so it was easy to walk through that door. That’s funny, there were no writers in the family, so maybe that is why I was not encouraged to write, but discouraged by my family. Then the streets and my self-esteem was about zero. It took a lot of work to get it back, and zero help from anyone around me. In truth I wasn’t looking for help. I already had an idea that people only used you, never helped you, and so I was setting the path that I would follow for the next few decades.

At a young age I had formed my walls, after that point there was only black and white. There were no gray areas. You hate me, you love me: I hate you, I love you. Absolutes, and no sane person can live a life with absolutes like that. Absolutes set in place by a child who was hurt and had no idea what to do about it. I was that child and I could not become a man until I learned to get past that and start the process of becoming a man. Becoming responsible, caring, open, and honest.

It was pretty discouraging. I just took some of what I learned to live on the streets, that fake it that you are tough, not afraid attitude, and I began to apply it to things I did. Pretty soon I was painting cars, learning to do body work, weld, and one day a guy said, ‘You know, you’re really good. How long have you been doing this?’ It was like an epiphany to me. A dumb street kid, oh, so you only have to learn to do it, do it well, and that’s it? It became my mantra. I won’t say I always did better than the next guy, but I always paid attention. And when it came to writing it was the same. I wanted to write, so I did. It was never perfect, still isn’t, but I have learned and I enjoy it, and when it came to rebuilding me it was everything. You cannot build yourself up, rebuild your life, until you have torn yourself down. Flushed out all the poison you have stored up, hatred, nonsense, unreasonable fears and beliefs, because every stone you try to place will fail. I began to work on being me. I could not spell correctly, write correctly, and I did not have even a basic understanding of writing, math, even the history of the country I lived in. So I began there.

In prison I read every book I could get on writing. I could not spell correctly, being a street kid, there was no school, and before the street I was a bad kid who skipped every day to get high or drunk or just wander the streets with my friends. I considered school and all subjects a waste of time. I paid for that. In prison I went back to school and got a GED, took the basic classes. Took a creative writing class, and then another, but the best thing was Stephen King’s books on writing, and Jean Auel’s comments on it: Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain. They all said similar things. Basically, if you want to write, write; and write about the things you know. Don’t write about an airline pilot if you are not familiar with what they do. You’ll waste a lot of time, it won’t flow. They also said, create strong characters that is ninety percent of the battle. And: Characters come directly from people you know. They may be exaggerated, or in some cases they may be very much like the person, or a group of people you know whose traits come out in a character you are writing. You don’t need to be a man to write a male character, or a woman to write a female character. We may be somewhat different in the way society grooms us, but underneath we care about, feel for, the same things.

I have written more than twenty manuscripts for novels. I have published many of those, and I wrote them all in prison. What I do now is take them from the notebooks I wrote them in and put them into my word processor. I also have journals and diaries from my time in prison, and a three book set I wrote in prison about life on the streets. The life on the streets books are tough to read, emotional, they were hard to write. The prison journals and diaries are hardcore stuff. Pretty much real prison life, day by day, for twelve years.

When I started my sentence, I had not drawn for many years. I used to do it at 12, or 13. Another thing I had liked, but had no faith in. I began to draw in prison and I had so many contracts for stuff that I had to stop. I couldn’t keep up. I would do wildlife, flash for tattoos, cartoon characters, envelopes, cards. It was crazy. I still smoked then and so I could earn a lot of packs of cigarettes pretty easily. It made me get good quickly. I had to draw things in a few minutes that I used to spend hours on. The writing came a few years later, and started with lyrics, not stories or novels.

Novels and stories started when I met a couple of mentally retarded guys and began to watch out for them. I would go to the yard with them and a few other guys, and I would tell them stories about what I wanted to write. The one guy remembered everything I said, and if I screwed something up in a story, he would tell me. So I began to write some of it down. At about the same time I had a chance to teach Public Speaking and in exchange, get into a creative writing course. I jumped at it and began writing. I spent that time developing the books, because I felt there would never be a time in my life where I would take that kind of time to do it, or have that kind of time to do it.

I spent a good amount of my time in prison observing. I did it because I was such a bad guy before. Self-absorbed. I wanted to see what the rest of the world had been up to while I was busy being an addict. I learned a great deal, including the fact that I didn’t really want to be alone. I didn’t really want to be an addict ever again. I did want other opinions, advice besides my own. I wanted the world that I had ignored, run away from, rejected.

Almost all of my time in prison I protected people. I found out I was a pretty good guy sober. I had also learned to fight on the street, kick-boxed for several years and boxed. Good talent in prison where several men show up trying to run the bully game and bluff you. I used it to stop people from messing with guys that were too weak to take care of themselves, either from the depression of being there, or just because they were never strong men.

In life I used to be kind of noncommittal about things like that. It is not my business, or what good will it do if I say something? But once I got sober and straightened out a little I said no to that. If I see it and it is wrong I’m saying something. Guys in prison were always telling me I was going to get stabbed up, I never did.

It taught me a lot about bullies, that they are really nothing when you call their bluff. It also taught me that some men are wrong and they will fight because they don’t know they are wrong. Even so, you have to draw lines and be somebody that has an opinion, has a set of values. On the outside I never did, but if you don’t have things you will not do, you may just do anything.

I met some guys in prison who were very good on guitar. I taught a few guys to play from scratch, who went way past my level. One guy said, ‘Hey, look at this thing I figured out in my cell. I wasn’t gonna do it because I didn’t know what you might think.’ I laughed and told him Improvisation is all of guitar, the best part of it. Both Blues and Jazz came from improvised scales, and rock and everything else is built off those scales. The kid was so good.

I met, taught, a lot of young guys that could have made a living from it. I had never done much with rap, but when I started a guitar class I had to change that. I ended up doing a lot of fusion work with young guys and they were stuck on rap. To them in their prison gang life, there was nothing else. So I learned to deal with rap and tried to teach them scales and how to read music so they could write their own stuff. Only in prison when I began to teach did I get to experience much more music because I had to learn stuff to teach to my students that would make them learn, and old C&W classics just didn’t do it for them, or 70’s,80’s and 90’s top forty either. It opened my head to a lot of very good music, including fusion and rap, soul, more.

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