Coming Out

Wouldn’t you think that after so many years of hiding, hiding would be easier? That it would bother me less? I know I’m not alone; we all hide a little. I suppose the extent to which we hide is just a matter of degree.

Last night I mailed a letter to my father. I told him I am bisexual. It’s something I’ve kept secret from my family, with a few exceptions, and even some of my friends.

When writing the letter, I was on edge; trying to think of the best way to say something so important, so uncomfortable, was difficult. I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Was I making a mistake? I know my father, right? Telling him wouldn’t damage our relationship, would it? The truth is, I’m not sure. He and I never had a discussion that breached the topic. My father is conservative and I was raised catholic. When writing the letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was about to damage one of the most important relationships in my life. Will he still love me the same? I’d like to believe he will. Even though I was apprehensive, I finished the letter, in doing so the importance of it hit home. I’ve stuffed and mailed plenty of envelopes, especially since my prison tenure began, but this was different. There was something special about dropping this letter into the mailbox. As it left my fingers and disappeared through the slot in the box, I was filled with a sense of pride and relief. I knew at that moment, no matter the outcome, I had made the right choice.

Ideally, I would have sat my dad down and had a face to face conversation, but I mailed the letter from FCI Allenwood, a low security correctional institution located at the foothills of White Deer, Pennsylvania. I’m in jail. I’m a federal inmate. Prison is an eye-opening experience, starting the minute you walk through the door.

Arriving at my new home was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I hadn’t slept much the night before, my stomach churned as I made my way to the front gate, knowing when it closed behind me, my freedom would end as my life as a prisoner began. The booking process was tedious. There was lots of waiting in a holding cell. I was strip searched to ensure I hadn’t brought contraband onto the compound. My mugshot was taken and my tattoos photographed and documented. A nurse took my vitals and I was handed a bedroll and told to head to the unit that would become my home for the next few years. It didn’t take long to realize that prison takes you back to an earlier time where bigotry and ignorance were the law of the land. With just a few footsteps, decades of progress seemed to simply disappear.

It has been six months since I self-surrendered, and since then I have lived among a hatred that I naively hoped no longer existed in this world. This ignorance has driven me to and prompted me to write my father yesterday, and you today.

I am not open about my sexuality here. Not out of embarrassment or lack of pride, but to be 100% upfront, it’s because I’m being selfish. I have a daily routine and friends, and I don’t want everything to change. I suppose it’s the same reasons I told myself growing up – the same reasons to convince myself to continue to hide. Who I am should never depend on where I am, yet it does.

Yesterday I was reading and had two inmates standing in front of me, discussing a gay man they knew. They kept referring to him as a a “fag” and spoke about him like he was nothing more than scum. I wanted to put down my book and scream “I’m gay! You speak to me daily, eat with me, work out with me. How can you base your opinion of someone solely on their sexual preference and not their personality?” These scenarios are not the exception unfortunately, the are the norm. Just recently during the NFL draft, I overhead another inmate: “The NFL is making it seem like it’s okay to be a fag. I swear if my son came home and told me he was a faggot, I’d punch him in the face.” Once again I wanted to speak up. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. Yet again, I said nothing. I stood there, quiet. That is true cowardice, knowing what is right and not standing up for it. I can’t put it any simpler than this: I was scared.

I have a friend in prison named Mark. He is openly gay and I have mad respect for him for being who he is here. I told him that I’m bisexual. It’s liberating to be open about that with someone here. Still, I find the thought of anyone else finding out to be daunting. Recently, he said something to me that really struck a nerve. We were speaking about the times when I could have stood up for myself but didn’t. He said, “When people hide who they are, they end up being part of the problem; and you are either part of the problem or part of the solution – there is no other option.” He admits that as an openly gay man, even he is at times part of the problem. I had never looked at it that way before, but it is so true. I am part of the problem. I guess I’m not as brave as I ought to be. Is it the world I grew up in that makes me fear being open about my true self? It saddens me to think that so many others feel the exact same fear.

Friends and family members who I have not yet come out to will inevitably read this. Well, this is me. This is who I am. Today I’m more comfortable that I was in the past. I’m far from the bravest person in the world, but I’m getting better. What I know today with no uncertainty is that I no longer want to be part of the problem. So what’s the solution? I wish I knew – but whatever it is, these steps are my first toward being a part of it.

- John

Untitled

I can’t say that I was the kind of person who thought that there is someone out there meant for every single person in the world. This concept of “soulmates” as I suppose many would refer to it seemed overly ridiculous to me. Maybe I just grew up more pessimistic than those who believe in such things. I think the simplest way to put it would be to say it just struck me as too beautiful an idea, that your perfect match existed. That the universe could hold the power to bring two people together who fit so well as to say they were made for one another. And then I met her.

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone put the feeling of that moment better than Paulo Coelho did in The Alchemist. He said, “It was the pure Language of The World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, its easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether its in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other the past and future before unimportant. There is only that moment.”

Everything changed after that day. I no longer saw the world in the same way. I no longer saw it as it had always appeared to me in the past, as a dark and ugly place. I couldn’t any longer. I had seen real beauty for the first time. Not what I thought was beauty but true beauty in the purest sense of the word. I saw it in her face, in her body, in her eyes, in her soul. Time stopped in that moment and when it started back up again nothing was the same. I knew then as I know now, she is my soulmate. Maybe you just have to experience such perfection to truly believe it with everything in you. The only thing more beautiful than her is the incredible perfection of the universe in all its complexity to allow every moment to lead us to each other. Its as though every star in the sky lined up perfectly and there we stood.

Every day before, I hid myself from the world, my true self, never able to see the beauty that I was missing out on. Then every bit of that beauty stood before me and all of existence changed. Nothing ever appeared the same and I would never go back to how it was before. It was as if the universe spoke to me and told me what love was. She is my soulmate and I am hers.

What a beautifully complex and amazing world we live in.

Best Friends

I sit with you for six hours. We talk about anything and everything imaginable. Laughing at all the humorous things that have occurred in our lives since we last had the chance to sit and speak. I love that even with all that we have going on and how difficult our lives have become, we still laugh together. You tell me how your days have been going, and I tell you about mine. We talk about how our friends are doing, the updates keep my mind on what really matters in life, the people I care about. We reminisce on people we used to be close to who are so distant now. I focus on the good memories, they are what matter most to me. We talk about our future, its comforting to discuss it. To plan it. It reminds me that this is temporary and soon shall pass. I drink a bottle of 2% milk, which is so much better than the skim milk I have become accustomed to. To be honest, for these few hours I always forget how much our lives have changed in the past three months. In this moment all that matters is my best friend is here with me. I realize in these moments when we talk about how we are that no one gets me quite like you do. It is like the whole story of our lives was written to bring us together. I get so lost in our conversing that I forget that you soon will have to leave. I hold your hand in mine, never wanting to let it go, knowing that soon I will have no choice. You say “I love you John,” its amazing how much power such a simple phrase has.

Then before we know it 3pm has come. Its time for you to go. We say our goodbyes and you head out the door. Nothing hurts me more than watching you walk away like this. “Its only temporary,” I say to myself.

I walk back to my unit. Reflecting on my life, I decide if I had the chance I wouldn’t change a thing. Through all that has happened, good or bad, every little moment led up to us being together. I would never risk a present without you, no matter what I had to go through in the past. I couldn’t do this without you.

I hold a paper in my hand, you sent me it. Its a picture of some random couple kissing on the beach. It says “A relationship is perfect when two people can act like best friends and lovers.”

How perfect you are for me.

Carmex Lip Balm. One Dollar and Ninety Five Cents.

You would think this is the most ridiculous thing to find yourself focused on. Chap stick. What a tiny thing in such a busy life, but I have been sitting here all morning thinking and my mind keeps going back to this tiny tube of Carmex. I think its how much it reminds me of home that I can’t get away from. There is not a lot in your daily activity in prison that makes you feel at home. It’s loud, bright, and stressful. All day. For these few seconds when I was putting on this chapstick this morning I was right back at home. Maybe it was the connection in my brain of that smell to home. I remember using it all throughout my childhood, its what my father had around the house. They say smell has the strongest connection of all senses. Whatever it is, I think the point is how much prison has made me realize how much I appreciate the little things in life. You would usually just go about your day with not a bit of thought as to something as minuscule as a two buck tube of chapstick. At least I know I would pay it no mind. Now that tube of chapstick is the closest connection to home in my day. Though any of time they mean nothing, those little things hold so much power when they are all you have to keep yourself uplifted throughout your day. I don’t understand how I ever took anything in life for granted. I know one thing though, I never will again. For now though, I will just put on some more chapstick and remember how much I have to look forward to. How lucky I am and have been, to not just have the big things in life, but the little things too. We almost seem to get so caught up in our lives to not reflect on the beauty of it all.

How strange and amazing it is to just exist at all.

Ahimsa

To live one’s life doing as little harm as possible.

What a beautiful world we would live in if we all remained mindful of this throughout our lives. It is impossible to cause no harm to others, its just part of life. I have caused plenty, not just in the aspects of physical harm, but emotional as well. I think the key is making a commitment from this point forward to cause as little harm as I can.

I believe the key to this is to take it one step further from not causing harm, and focusing on compassion towards all other beings. Until recently, when I heard the word compassion I thought of small acts of caring throughout your day, such as giving some spare money to someone without. I still believe these are acts of kindness which show compassion, but upon reflection I see true compassion as so much more. Its a permanent lifestyle, to put others first without any expectation of thank in return, a way of thought.

I don’t mean only gratuitousness through giving money or material possessions, but sharing the wholeness of yourself. Your grace, your love, you trust, you caring, your intellect; sharing your existence with all those you encounter.

We have all shared this generosity at some point in our life. I would be hard pressed to believe any one of us did not feel good for their being compassionate. “Selfless selfishness” I heard it referred to. That in helping others with no expectation of return we gain so much more than we could imagine, gains on a deeper level than we can fathom.

Its not an immediate change, but a process consisting of many cast of kindness, all which begin to change the way you approach things. The process for me has just begun and I know I have an amazing journey ahead.

So many statements have held power overtime and are as strong today as they were when first said. This shows that power every time I read it, so Ill leave you with it today:

“If you cant love King George V, say, or Sir Winston Churchill, start with your wife, or your husband, or your children. Try to put their welfare first and your own last every minute of the day and let your circle of love expand from there. As long as you are trying your very best, there can be no question of failure.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Negativity Is Contagious

Maybe its the environment you are in when in prison or maybe its human nature, but I just can’t seem to get it out of my head today. I’m not so much shocked of how it is, I do not think it is strange to find negative people bring out the negativity in others. What I find shocking is that even after I identified this cycle of negativity around me, it still manages to affect me. When in prison, there are negative people almost everywhere, there is not way around it. You are constantly subjected to the negative talk and people. It is not the ideal environment to be in when recovering from drugs and alcohol, or just trying to fix your life. I recognize that prison is not the easiest environment to stay positive in, but prison is easier when you are positive.

Self improvement is not the biggest focus in a prison. Its filled with a significant amount of people complaining about their circumstances, blaming others for putting them where they are today. Most people put focus into mollifying their actions instead of owning them.

I am not innocent in this, I have lived most of my life being pessimistic, and I never failed to express my pessimistic beliefs to others. When I am around these people I go right back to my negative frame of mind. I don’t want to say everyone does the same, I try to stay away from such absolute statements, but I can say a significant amount of people hop on the negativity  train and ride along with others. It’s very cyclical.

I have no room for judgement, I am merely being observational. I was just as pessimistic a few years ago. I saw no future in which had anything positive in comparison to the present. I suppose I still have some negative views I hold as truths. I think its difficult to be 100 percent positive all the time, if not impossible. I still see the world as it is. It is suffering. Everyone spending day after day in a world of misery trying to be happy. Yes, in itself that it a negative statement, but its the things we find in our lives that outweigh this misery which makes us positive people.

What changed in my is my outlook on my life as a whole. I found what makes me happy, what makes a difficult life worth living. I found my best friend, the perfect companion, I just happened to get lucky enough that when I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me, she said yes. Ever since that day life has not seemed nearly long enough. She makes me want to be positive, to live better, and to be better.

This is my focus for my time in, to remember the positive in my life, spread my positive though to others, and surround myself with people who wish to do the same. I find that it is the best way to stay happy, and in the end, isn’t that what matters most?

- K

Why I Am Thankful For Prison

John wrote this and I wanted to share it.

With every minute that we live, life presents us with new obstacles and new challenges, a constant stream of new experiences, many of which, if not most, resulting in nothing but a fleeting memory. It’s the few moments and experiences, those which hold so much power as to define you as a person, which truly matter. It’s just as much the event as our receptiveness and perspective that makes this true.

I want to make it very clear, I HATE prison. It is a detest I could never put into words. In it being the most miserable and horrible time I can remember, I am still thankful for it. I realize how incredibly ridiculous this sounds, as when hearing this, the first thing one would ask themselves is “what could possibly instill a sense of gratitude in someone for time in prison?” That is what I wish to explain.

I recognize that prison is a punishment, much more than it is a deterrent. If it was an effective deterrent, none of us would be here. Its punishing you for actions which the law dictates as wrong. Whether they are or not is beside the point once you are in prison, as you are going to be here regardless. I definitely feel as though I am being punished, I think you must have something wrong with you if you don’t. The federal prison system is not about rehabilitation. With all of this in mind, life is about making the best of any situation, and I try to look at my daily life in prison with this in mind. So how does that even begin to equate to my being thankful?

It is no secret that I was using drugs, heroin and other opiates for the most part. I wasn’t just using them socially here and there, I have a problem with drugs. Time and time again my drug use hurt those around me and myself. Yet I ran right back to drugs every time. I was on a quick path to prison or death, I ended up in prison.

I remember the countless nights I would talk to Sarah, telling her how badly I wanted to quit, everything in me wished I could, but I just couldn’t. This may be the hardest thing to explain to someone who has never had a serious addiction. That is where I was when  I was raided, on a downward spiral, leading to nowhere positive.

March 20, 2012, I quit drugs that day, I don’t think I will ever forget the date. When I was on pretrial, I was required to attend group meetings twice a week. They helped me stay clean, although it was a constant struggle, and still is. I took the power back that drugs had taken away from me.

So here I am, sitting on a plastic stool in a prison, eating a cheap, disgusting pack of tuna, writing this; and in this moment, being truly thankful. Even I find it a bit ridiculous, but I am. When I was free, I never would have just sat, even for five minutes, and thought about how I need to improve myself. Not how I could help someone else, but in all sense of it, focused only on what I need to do to better myself. I have a lot of issues I need to focus on, and for once I am doing so without hiding behind the numbness of the drugs to quell the pain I feel. I have been given a second chance to be a better me. A sober, confident, positive, and healthy me. I have been given a much needed break from my life to evaluate what I need to work on within myself. I would never have taken the time to reflect on my life if I was still out looking for my next fix.

I think Western culture plays a huge part in this constant need to be busy, be it the demand for productivity or just the thought that downtime is wasteful. This culture where we live in the future, always looking so far forward that we ignore the present, so busy doing things we never just stop to be, to just exist in the moment we are in and appreciate it, to recognize just how crazy it is to be alive at all, to exist.

A few days ago someone said to me “Your surroundings should not dictate your happiness.” I think this is what I need to focus on while I am here. This is my time to embrace a bit of selfishness and focus on improving me.

I truly want to use my life to help others, but how can I help others when I have not helped myself? I truly believe we should all set aside 30 minutes to an hour a day to do nothing but sit and reflect on what we can to do better ourselves, because not one of us is perfect. It just so happens I’ve been given some time away from everything to fix me. Of that time, I have about 11,000 hours left. I am more than thankful for that opportunity than most of you could begin to imagine. I needed a break to reflect on my life more than most.

Yesterday, someone on my unit, when talking to me, said “You either leave prison more negative or more positive.” I fully intend on the latter. A better person, not only for my wife, my friends, and my family, but for me.

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