(Editor’s note: The Vanguard is proud to announce a new project in partnership with Incarcerated Allied Media. Thanks to Dr. Joan Parkin and D. Razor Babb. These articles are published by Incarcerated Individuals at Mule Creek State Prison and part of the Mule Creek Post publication.)
By Earl S. Breckenridge
“What lies behind us and what lay before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) Late U.S. Supreme Court Justice
SOME TIME AGO I had a close friend locate my oldest living brother from whom I’d been estranged for decades. She discovered he’d become a professor at university. She went to visit with him and reintroduce him to the person I’ve become, and she knew and loved. She showed him pictures and relayed to him the remarkable transformation I’d undergone since his last encounter with me. Unfortunately, she related back to me, I remained the cunning 15 year old of more than 40 years ago in his mind.
Initially hurt, then angry, I’d realized I was wrong. He had every right to doubt the genuineness of my transformation, and be suspicious of a productive relationship. He needed time.
When people who knew us during antisocial expression don’t equally experience the hard work and step-by-step process of change we go through, their doubt is justified and healthy. The adverse impact and influence we’ve had in their lives require its own process of mending. Calling attention this fact warrants delineating some of the highlights of my pursuit of sanity as hopeful
foundation for rebuilding what’s been lost.
The adverse effects of prolonged incarceration are subtle and pervasive. Each are challenged to adapt strategies of survival. Ignorance of the demoralizing realities of daily prison culture; the darkening of hope, plus a lingering history of adverse childhood experiences, conspire to highjack and overwhelm neural processing and engender choices and behaviors of self-destruction. Such as gangism, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
What do you do when what you need to nurture in order to rebuild your future (i.e., heart and mind) must be shut down and adapt in order to survive the dangers in the present? There’s comfort and security in collective madness: Sanity is a solitary trek less traveled.
From 2009 to 2017, after 28 years into my LWOP, which had begun at age 19 in Old Folsom in 1983, I began a severe and escalating mental deterioration. Twice placed in crisis bed for swallowing razor blades, five subsequent years in EOP, meth and heroin became a seductive alternative to the mental anguish and persistent suicidal ideation which provided temporary relief before plunging me deeper into helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.
After time, energy, and attention in therapy, medication, extensive reading, and group participation (especially MRT), I began to cultivate, grow, and extend spiritually, morally, cognitively, socially, and practically. I learned to identify, confront, and rectify past and present traumas precipitating mental deterioration and maladapted personal and social behaviors. A reemerging delight in intellectual acuity prohibited activities that obstruct or diminish capacity and potential for excellence. The medicinal function which drugs – prescribed or illegal – temporarily suppressed have been permanently mended. I’ve been free of self-destructive behaviors since 2017, and graduated from CCCMS in 2019.
My great liberating and empowering truths, which engendered the hope and faith antecedent to genuine change and enduring transformation, that I desire my brother and all who knew my former depravity to know are as follows:
- 1) No matter how adverse our past or present circumstance, it is how we choose to perceive, process, internalize, and respond that determines the impetus, direction, and momentum of our life narrative.
- 2) With this enlightened responsibility is empowerment to identify, confront, and rectify all choices and behaviors that restrict or limit my creative potential to realize the life of my choosing.
- 3) God doesn’t abandon the soul desirous of truth to forever squander in the darkness of its corrupt imaginings.
Enduring hope, which anchors the soul amidst its adversities, and lifts it into infinite possibilities, of necessity is bigger that and affines itself to the seeking soul.
“The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
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