GROWING UP GOONISH
I was born in 1983 at J.P.S. What that really means is I’m old enough to remember pay phones, designated smoking areas indoors, Saturday morning cartoons and McGruff the crime fighting dog taking a bite out of crime. That’s right, the concept of my brain sizzling over easy on drugs is forever Etch-A-Sketched in my mind-
“I’m not a chicken, you’re a turkey.”
-Bring on the Pogs and swat a pop bracelet across my wrist and tell me which one of the Transformer cartoons was your favorite. Unless you’re a bit older and just so happen to dig on the Thundercats. Either way it was a wonderful time to grow up. So much change and rapid growth took place that our minds couldn’t begin to grasp how massive the strides in our technological advances were actually going to be. We had absolutely no idea how many lasts our generation were about to experience; lasts that were naturally accompanied by a massive amounts of firsts.
The ever present ebb and flow of life was about to take me down a mystical path in the most unusual way possible. Back in the 90’s I wasn’t exactly enamored with a huge thirst to unravel the mysteries of the Universe. Having been raised Pentecostal I often drifted off in services drawing sketches of random heavy metal bands covered in pentagrams and inverted crosses. Purely created from a rebellious state full of teenage angst of course. My parents were ashamed of my blatant disregard for the Faith and ran me through a decent amount of therapists afterwards.
Unfortunately, the drawings were the least rebellious behavior I was into at the time. I had also been stealing cartons of cigarettes from the grocery stores and selling them to my fellow minors at school. All this after being kicked out of a really nice private school where I was caught selling my ADHD medicine to another student. By the time I was 15 years old I was a fullon drug dealer who sold the drugs out of my parents house. I would smoke cigarettes in their home and chase them off any time they tried to interfere with my business. Eventually they sent me up north to live with my biological Father, but I just took my bad habits with me.
I was caught in the glitz and glam of it all. The flashy watches and the piece and chains. The Sprewell rims and the attention you get from all the people who want to live your life. What I didn’t factor in was that the other side usually takes notice and records the activity to share it with judges and prosecutors who are also incredibly interested in your lifestyle. I was arrested for the first time at age 17 in Detroit for careless and reckless use of a firearm. I called my Mother back in Texas the second I made it to a phone just to find out it was Mothers Day. Can you imagine how she must have felt?
You would think the looming threat of serving 10 years behind bars would deter me from a life of crime but it was quite the opposite. Now I had nothing left to fear and decided to go all in. After beating the charges in Michigan I left the whole gun toting craziness to the actual gangsters and headed back down south. I was more than happy to scratch with people who had a beef without playing up that whole gangster bit big on the silver screen. I’m just not cold blooded enough to shoot at people day in and day out. I’m sorry.
Besides, drugs are cheap in Texas and everyone wanted them. Then the police kicked in the door to my parents house in a drug raid. All the neighbors watched from a place of morbid curiosity as they pulled out a small crew of young adults with all sorts goodies; not just the drugs either.
See, my friends had the bright idea of going through all the cars in the area and stealing anything that wasn’t bolted down, and breaking the bolts on a few things that were. Naturally the police were very happy to escort us all off the property in front of my incredibly mortified Mother. I still remember the pain on her face as she melted down and screamed through the window at me.
I ended up signing for four years of shock probation. It was a sort of scared straight program for first offenders where they send you to a prison camp for 6 months before probation actually begins. I took all their classes, paid all the fines, and jumped through all the hoops until I was three months from completing probation successfully.
I had survived an ankle monitor, drug offender education programs, an anger management class and even discovered the joy of trying to find an apartment in a decent area with four felonies on my record. All that blood, sweat, and tears resulted in me getting a public intoxication charge in the middle of yet another drug raid. I called my P. O. as soon as I was released and he informed me that his higher ups had decided that I was going to prison for this little stunt.
So I took a greyhound to Michigan and went about my business. Everything went well for a while but I was eventually picked up and extradited back to the Lone Star State. I was then sentenced and shipped off to TDCJ.
HIDING BEHIND THE BIBLE
You see a lot of fraudulence in prison. We make jokes about people being able to live up to the old Army slogan of “be all you can be.” No one knows each other from Adam so it isn’t that difficult to sell people whatever dream you want to. The common ones tend to involve how big a dope dealer somebody was begging one to question who was doing all the drugs if everyone in prison is Tony Montana.
Then there’s the extension of the county jails prayer circle. You know, the guys who utter a foxhole prayer to God that goes something along the lines of “if you get me out of this I’ll never smoke another rock or rob another human being ever again.” Hardened convicts waiting to be sentenced and shipped back to prison tend to walk past these prayer circles and say things like “you wasn’t going to church in the world,” or “don’t get scared now.”
In prison you see a lot of guys that aren’t an active part of the street culture flocking to the Bible. See, turning your life over to God almost guarantees you won’t be bothered all that much. Some convicts, deep down, like the idea that someone may actually make a lasting change that turns their life around. The rest leave them alone because there just isn’t any benefit in messing with them. It’s also seen as a hustle. There’s the guitar player that wants to keep up his practice who decides to join the praise and worship team. On Torres Unit they had an entire dorm called the God Pod where they did all these religious studies for guys who want to become preachers when they leave. The real kicker was this pod was actually air conditioned which is a huge deal considering how hot it is int desert climate found in that region. That’s always hustle worthy.
Now, the repeat offenders will flat out tell you that all those guys are hiding behind the cross because they’re scared. They’ll tell you about the huge trash cans full of jailhouse Bibles right on the other side of the golden gates leading out of the Walls Unit- back then we were all released from Huntsville. I would love to tell you that is a lie and there are no such trashcans but I have seen it happen with my own two eyes. These guys also tend to take the $100 check given to them by the prison system and spend it on hookers and booze. It is what it is I suppose.
This cultural phenomenon has became known as jailhouse religion. Where people convert to Islam just in time for the Ramadan feast to take place. Some lifers actually travel from religious unit to religious unit learning about the different world religions. Hate it or love it this is only a thing because prison is a great place to minister to people who desperately need something to believe in. Besides, not everyone who turns their lives over while incarcerated in disingenuine.
I have a study Bible I earned from a TDCJ chaplain because I completed a study course. The gentleman who donates the Bibles like the one I received is an ex-con himself and still carries the Bible from his last 14 year stretch with him to this day. Another friend of mine still volunteers as a guest speaker on Sundays years after being released on top of running a construction company with his wife. There are a ton of religious organizations that send free spiritual material to all who ask for it. From Action Comic Bibles to lectures of Llama Thubten Yeshe our prisons are full of spiritual gems awaiting discovery.
For me, it was We’re All Doing Time by Bo Lozoff. Not only did the book focus on the common threads found in all of our planets belief systems but it also contained a clear and concise guide on meditation, complete with cute little chibi characters doing yoga. My relationship with my environment began to change as I started developing my own spiritual regiment. Little by little my eight by 12 box became less restrictive as my interior world grew more and more expansive. It was during those early years in closed custody that I really internalized several spiritual lessons that would serve me later on in life.
I mean if this is what the haters call jailhouse religion then praise God because mysticism saved my life. Some of you will go above and beyond anything I could even imagine. What do you have to lose? Deuces.