Most people don’t set out to change. I certainly didn’t. When I walked into court on December 15, 2006 it had been more than a year after I was arrested on six felony counts in 2005. When you head into court for sentencing most of the details of your case have usually been ironed out. I thought that this was merely a formality. The prosecutor was basically giving me thirty-to-sixty days in jails as my sentence because this was my first offense. That was a far cry from the six months he had asked for initially. Then when I arrived in court my attorney and I were handed victim impact statements that were to be read at my sentencing. I read these statements and they were devastating. I cried while I read them. They made me feel awful in a way that nothing else in the process had done.
What saddened me the most about reading these statements was that I felt that their insight into my state of mind was wholly inaccurate. As bad of a person as I knew I was at that point in time I was well aware that the things that the victims of my crimes were accusing me of were simply not true. I want to make something very clear here before I go on. I was totally, one hundred percent guilty of everything I was charged with. I had stolen a lot of money and did so for years before I was caught. It made me feel good to take something I knew wasn’t mine. I can’t rationalize it any more than that. All I can say is that the person I am now is in no way representative of the person I was then.
When my case was called and I had to answer for my crimes I was terrified. I didn’t know what I was going to say. There was nothing I could say. The judge asked me why I did it and I explained it to the best of my ability, but even I didn’t know why I did it. I remember when I initially confessed this to my parents. I felt the exact same way. There was immense shame at what I had done. It had never hit me when I was doing it of course, but my mind basically blocked out how I was feeling at that time probably because it was so traumatic to me.
As I sat in court answering the judge’s questions I don’t think I made eye contact with her once. I remember taking in the pattern of the carpeting. I was studying it to keep my mind from coming to grips with what was going on. I studied the lines in the carpet linearly from one corner to the other until the questions stopped. When the judge stopped with the questions she seemed dumbfounded. She made a point to emphasize the fact that she didn’t think I’d ever find employment again something that stuck with me for close to a decade afterwards. In my effort to rebuild my life I’ve made it a priority to take whatever negative words are spoken to me as words of motivation. Her words however have hung over me like they were somehow more valid than the other words spoken in that room.
The whole process of going through community corrections is something of a blur to me now mainly because it’s a part of my life that I don’t really want to remember. It is a part of my life though and it’s something that has defined the last decade of my existence. Without this experience I never would have gone back to school. Without having gone through this I never would have found the motivation to be the best version of myself that I could be. It sounds strange, but the worst part of my life wound up being the best thing that could have happened to me. If I hadn’t gone to jail I never would have started a journal, which means I never would have started writing about my experiences. It was in jail that I started crafting my stories and listening to people because I realized that I would never be around people like this ever again.
As I’ve started looking deeper and deeper within myself for the answers to the questions that have been holding me back I keep finding myself dealing with this time in my life. For better or for worse it has been what has defined me. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason that this defines me is because it’s the one thing everyone tells me not to talk about. Society seems to be in agreement with itself that this is something I should acknowledge, privately, that happened, but then simply move on as if it were that simple. There is nothing about going to jail that is simple. You have to do something really wrong to get there and you’ve got to work even harder to overcome that experience. Against the advice of nearly everyone I know I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot try and hide this experience somewhere in my subconscious and hope that it resolves itself. That doesn’t make any sense. This is something that I’ve failed to deal with for a while now and though I recognize that there may be negative consequences to my professional future by writing about it the cost to my mind and body of not talking about it far outweighs any of the negatives that may befall me.
There’s an event in my life that I come back to time and time again. It’s the event that I look at as being the absolute low point of my life. It’s an experience that few people have. When I was sentenced I was given thirty days to report to jail so that I could spend the holidays with my family. That’s a luxury not a lot of people who are going to jail get. When I reported to jail in January I remember hugging my mother in the parking lot. She fought off tears as she held me for the last time until I was released. That’s an experience that I’ll never forget. That was the moment that I realized that there was more than one person in my life that could be let down. It sounds selfish, but when you’re twenty years old you still have a high school mindset. It was at this point that I realized that becoming an adult was a choice. Some people make that point consciously when they leave for college or something. I never left for college. I didn’t go on to do great things after high school. In fact, I didn’t leave to do anything after high school. That’s not what I wanted to do with my life at that point in time. It never rang true to me that making the decision not to move on in my life would have such dire consequences until I stood in that parking lot of the jail I had been ordered by a judge to report to, embracing my mother, but feeling like I was the loneliest man in the world at the same time.