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ARTICLES, STORIES, AND PUBLISHED WORK
"Worth Every Tear"
AA Grapevine, The International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous
Several years ago, I was stealing to get by, barely surviving the life of an active alcoholic.
I was a puppet, with solid liquor dictating my every move. I'm not sure if I was unable or unwilling to put the brakes on, but my Higher Power did for me what I could not do for myself.
Early one morning, I went into a store and picked up two brand new chainsaws. I walked right by the cashier and out the door. Just as I did, an officer tacked me from behind. I recall the feeling of relief that swept over me: I'd never have to live that way again, I thought. I was free!
I was going to jail, but there was more peace to be found in there than in the lonely, desperate life that I led. Over a period of time, I had build the walls of the strongest prison that one could ever imagine with my guilt, shame and feelings of uselessness.
What I did wasn't that serious of a crime in the grand scheme of things, but our judicial system tends to give up on people who have substance abuse problem.
It wasn't the first time that I'd lived behind barbed wire or gun towers, so I was prepared to become just another number and statistic. In many ways, being in prison is tantamount to being in a big, dysfunctional fraternity. Unfortunately, the brotherhood revolves around pain, misery, and suffering. Some days, it was hard to find anything to feel grateful for because of the atmosphere of negativity that pervaded just about everyone and everything around me.
I served most of my sentence in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in a Florida prison. Every fifteen minutes or so, an armed officer inside a truck would go by our dorm. From time-to-time, I'd watch them drive by, and my eyes would tear up as the sun reflected off of the razor wire that topped the fences.
The program went well because I chose to put my all into it. I lived and breathed recovery. The days passed quickly and before I knew it, I was ready to go home. It was an assembly line process, with another man ready to take my bunk by the time I completed the program. For my hard work and a little "good behavior," I was given a transfer closer to home. I began to write people, groups, and organizations that might be able to help me in my transition. Few people took the time to write me back, despite the hundred letters that I sent out, but one finally came back that opened the door for my recovery in Florida.
There's a program in many areas called "Bridging the Gap," in which AA members meet people coming out of institutions and take them to meetings on their first day of freedom. I was told that I was willing to go to a a meeting every day for a week, I had a good chance of making it. So, I gave it a try. Every night, a man who knew nothing about me (save for my desire to live a different life) would take me to an AA meeting. I followed his footsteps, took suggestions, and it worked!
Today, I am very active in recovery. I'll never forget the efforts of the men whose service work and undying commitment to helping others gave me another chance at life.
One day, I hope that something that I say or do will spare someone else the pain I've gone through over the years. If I'm able to do that, every mistake I've made and every tear that I've shed will have been entirely worth it.
A Note From 2023: If you are wondering why I share this so openly, it's to share hope, by reminding people that no matter what challenges we face in life, recovery is possible. There were a handful of men and women in the Program that supported me unconditionally along the way (some without even knowing me), helping me to change my life and way of thinking. Although disappointed, my family always stuck by me, helped me to transition into society, and supported my recovery.
There are many men and women that are in prison for lesser charges than I faced who didn't have the same chance or the loving support of their family, friends, or a support group that welcomed them home.
The system is quick to lock people up, yet it lacks the resources and empathy to get people the help that they sorely want and need. People that are incarcerated are treated with little dignity and many are not given a fair chance upon their release, yet society scratches their head when many people end up in trouble again.
With support and understanding, perhaps we can help to transform people within the criminal justice system from simple statistics into the human beings that they were always meant to be.
By the time that this article was published, I had close to two years in recovery and was working as a paralegal in a medical malpractice firm in Palm Harbor, Florida.
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