July 1, 2019, 4:22 pm
I am not the same person I was ten years ago when I first came to prison. In some ways, I appear to be the same person, but when I look back at who I was then, I see a much different person than I am today. Yes, I’m older, in better shape (but less hair!), and hopefully wiser, but there’s more to it. Prison has a way of humbling people, if they are willing to be taught by the suffering–even if that suffering is self-inflicted. I have been humbled by my incarceration.
Prior to prison, I had a lot going for me. I was a father and husband, a successful business owner, a community and church leader, and I had political aspirations. I wasn’t wealthy yet, but I was on track for financial success. Nevertheless, despite all that I had, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy. I lacked confidence, though I projected otherwise. I was disconnected from people. I felt isolated and alone–but I didn’t think I needed anyone either. People aren’t dependable. They disappoint. They leave you right when you need them. Better to fight my way to the top single-handedly.
Prison only reinforced many of these feelings and beliefs. My sense of isolation and abandonment increased. The tenuous connections I had to some people were severed. Happiness became an unachievable illusion. And any shred of confidence I had mustered was stripped from me as the prison gates closed behind me. My protective shell of pride–in my accomplishments, in my abilities, in my aspirations–was shattered. Prison had brought me face-to-face with the insecure, frightened child I had buried deep behind my walls of self-reliance. In my attempts to protect myself from being hurt, I had imprisoned my past pain behind an illusion of needing no one. Prison was a mirror that showed me the cost of my pride.
I had lost everything coming to prison, but I didn’t bear that price alone. In prison I learned how much my incessant drive for success had cost my family. I passed on the feelings of isolation and abandonment to my children. I taught them that people–even those who are supposed to love you–aren’t dependable, that they disappoint, and that they leave right when you need them the most. Unwittingly, I had passed on the worst kinds of lessons to my children. It’s incredibly humbling when you realize you’ve done the very thing you despised in others.
Undoubtedly, I have more to learn. I’m still in the process of transformation, and that probably won’t end until this life is over. But hopefully I’ve learned to be teachable, to listen to others, to recognize that I need others in my life. My experience in prison has taught me that I don’t know it all, that I’m not always right, and that living behind walls–prison walls or walls of self-protection–is harmful. Prison has taught me to appreciate simple things, to be grateful for things (and people!) I took for granted in the past. It has taught me that living a life for others is much more fulfilling than living a life consumed with my own achievements.
I regret the man I used to be. It is painful to recognize that it took coming to prison for me to really look honestly at myself. I regret that my growth has cost me and those I love so much, but I hope that the rest of my life will be an investment in paying forward what can never be repaid.
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