VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Memories That Change Perspective – A Day at Great America

Photo by Sven Piper on Unsplash

By F. Orlando Wells

I’ve spent a great deal of my life looking at so many negative things about it and reliving some really bad memories which I now realize have impacted how I’ve chosen to live my life and the many bad decisions that I made leading to incarceration.

I spent so much time looking at and living that sadness and tragedy that it became easy to bury the many great and happy experiences that also happened along the way. I guess it’s easy to focus on the negative when it so dominates your existence, but this story is about how I am learning to look at things through a different lens so I can see the world, other people and myself more positively.

A young couple adopted me when I was 9 and for the last 50 or so years I painted them in a very negative light, thinking that I did not fit in nor was I ever really loved. Things between my adopted mother and I are still strained, to put it mildly. If I’m being honest, we just don’t like each other and never really did, so neither of us is upset with how things are. My dad, on the other hand, is a victim of my distorted thinking since I threw him in the same box as I did his wife, which in truth was unfair. I convinced myself they were not good to me and disregarded any need to be a part of their family once I ran away at 13 years of age. Working with distorted thinking makes it easy to disregard facts, though.

I found out my dad passed away recently and in his obituary he claimed me as his son even though there has been zero contact for over 20 years. I assumed I was written off by him due to my incarceration and was cast out. I choked up to find out otherwise, based on his final writings, that not only did I matter to him but was loved. I had conveniently forgotten all the many wonderful things he had done with me that good fathers do with their sons.

He taught me how to fish, be a good sport in competitions, camping, dedication, loyalty and community activism. This story is about when Marriott’s Great America opened. The commercials that talked about it made children in California bananas, featuring the newest design in roller coasters that had huge loops and corkscrews that promised a thrill like no other. My siblings and I were dying to go but knew finances made it unlikely.

One morning my dad pulled up in a giant Suburban truck and piled us kids in, which included some of the neighbors’ kids. We thought he was driving us to school. Boy were we ever wrong!

WE knew we weren’t going to school that day as soon as he got on Highway 101 South, which prompted a barrage of questions from us to which he just smiled and said, “You’ll see.” The ride south caused that kind of excitement you feel the first time you walk out on Christmas morning and see all the presents and stuffed stockings that weren’t there the night before, the barely contained energy where you’re hopping around and go jump on your parents in their bed and wake them so you can start opening stuff. This was that type of excitement because dad never did anything this spontaneous. For the next hour and a half, we played all the road games to occupy our minds and contain our angst.

San Jose came into view and I had an idea about where we might be going, when dad announced to us to read the sign coming into view. There it was in big giant letters: “Marriott’s Great America”! We were the luckiest kids ever!

We pulled into the parking lot, got our tickets and $50. He walked to the gate with us and said everyone be back at the carousel by 7 PM. It was like all the kids were shot out of a rocket, watching them run off. I stayed for a moment with my little sister, turned to dad and hugged him. I don’t ever remember ever doing that again, which somehow bothers me now. I could be wrong, it was a long time ago.

Everything was as advertised and it was in fact one of the greatest days of my life. The point of this story is that when you’re in prison, most of your time is spent reflecting on all the ways you’ve gone wrong in your life which leads to fixating on all that negativity. We explore our traumas, our criminal thinking, all the terrible things we did, and all the damage we caused or inflicted in hopes that knowing these things will help us find a new path to a healthier happier life. We often just want to make sense out of all that so we can do better, which is okay to a degree.

Taking a moment to remember this one fantastic moment of my life led to remembering many others I had conveniently forgotten about, but in thinking about the good memories the burden of my mistakes became a little bit lighter, and the lens by which I looked at life began to change. My life is not a series of awful experiences that hurt me, even though some of them are. By looking at the whole picture, I find that there are many other parts that are positive and affirming that help me to see through the distorted thinking and that there is much more to my life than I have been thinking. I have been writing a pretty bad story about my life for a very long time, and I have finally realized I’m the one holding the pen and controlling the narrative. It has dawned on me that if I really want to change my life, it’s time to write a different story.

I guess if you examine your life and all you look at is the negative, it’s certainly all you’ll find. Maybe looking at some of the good things might trigger something much more positive and have a significant impact on your perspective.

I really miss my dad and wish I could tell him what I’ve learned and that everything he taught me is being put to good use now. I miss you, Dad.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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