We’d like to share a candid piece written by Paul, a participant in our Substance Use Disorder Treatment (SUDT) program and an inmate that is currently serving a life term at the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC).
“This is a story about me, a story based on a happy-go-lucky kid who wouldn’t take a nap unless he was taken for a ride on a tractor. What good times… if I could only stay in those times when I was four or five years old. Just innocence with no memories of my mom using drugs in front of me, of her being abused by her boyfriends, me being scared to death of them and of me trying to get any ounce of love or attention from my mom. Drugs and partying were more important, though. It’s real lonely locked in the cab of a truck all night while mom’s getting drunk at the bar. It’s real lonely roaming the woods and orchards at seven and eight years old so you don’t have to go home. Home’s where the drugs, violence and mom’s boyfriend are.
So, the disconnect starts to happen, even at age eight or nine. I felt that since nobody else cares, why should I care? Instead of acting out, I withdrew inward. ‘I must be worthless if mom won’t protect me from being treated like a piece of crap,’ I thought. ‘What’s that they say about her? It happens to her even worse.’
‘School sucks. I have to make sure nobody knows about the drugs and all the pot plants out back, or else! So, no friends. It’s just me, my pellet gun and watching out for anything that moves.’ The longer I spent with myself, the more withdrawn I’d become.
Now, I’m 10 years old and dad’s somewhat pulled himself out of a drunken stupor he’s been in for a decade or more. I’ll give him a try. My 10-year-old brain thinks that will fix everything. The problem is, if you put a dysfunctional little kid in any setting, he’s still the same dysfunctional kid. So, now it’s my stepmom who is the problem. So, as lonely as those woods and orchards were when I roamed them all alone, my room all by myself with a thousand page novel was even worse.
I found a few friends, though. I found in them the validation that I never found in my parents. I made the choice that anything that I had to do to be accepted, I would do. I got suspended for bringing a knife to school to impress my friends. Afterwards, a whole new side of my stepmom came out when she hit me on the head with a bottle of Palmolive dish soap. So, I ran away four miles all the way to town through pear orchards, creeks and woods. This cycle of nonsense continued for about one and a half years. Eventually, my dad kicked me in the ass and told me to go live with my Grandpa. I thought, ‘That’s great because Grandma and Grandpa buy me things. They have a farm and I get dirt bikes and guns to mess with.’ More confusion began to set in as I chose to associate love with possessions. This is the point where I chose to introduce drugs into the equation. I felt that as long as my work got done, I could do whatever. I still wanted to be accepted, ‘So, hell yeah, I’ll try anything,’ I thought. After all, I’d seen it done a thousand times by my parents. I had a choice and I chose to be accepted.
I was now drunk on acceptance and I needed more and more. ‘Let’s run around, get high, ride dirt bikes, shoot guns, etc.’ I found a new group and thought, ‘Hell yeah, they’re crazy as hell with no connection to family or society, just drugs, violence and dysfunction.’ Great combination, right? It was at this time that I went from victim to victimizer. I chose to help my friend murder another one of my friends. We were all 16-year-old kids, juniors in high school. I just wanted to be accepted and never gave any consideration to what I was doing or the pain and suffering that followed. Can you imagine being a parent and having to open your door to two Sheriff Deputies who are telling you that your kid has been murdered? The anguish, it destroys your life. Everyday for the rest of your life is filled with this one moment in time. You don’t get to see your kid graduate high school. No college, no grandkids, no career! I could of chosen to do the right thing at anytime, but I didn’t.
I came to prison the same selfish, dysfunctional person who was seeking acceptance. I was engaged in extensive violence, adopted racist beliefs and joined a prison gang, had people victimized and spent the better part of 16 years in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit. Fourteen years straight the last time, then I dropped out and left the gang life behind. Since then, I’ve tried to find why this withdrawn and shy little kid would go on to abuse drugs, commit murder, become a racist prison gang member, have no remorse or self-worth and be in denial of it all and more importantly, how to change that.
Here’s the most direct explanation I can give today: That wasn’t WHO I AM. I discovered that I put up a protective shell around that happy-go-lucky kid and developed false fronts, masks, traits or whatever you’d like to call them to deal with my loneliness. If you believe you’re worthless, the loneliness is easier. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I’m worthless anymore, I did it to myself. If shy and silent Paul was developed past that, it would have saved some abuse. Just avoid it at all costs, roaming the woods. I discovered that I carried all of these traits into my teenage years and built even more traits to help deal with the need to be accepted: The ‘I don’t care’ or reckless trait, the drug user trait, the ‘It’s all cool’ trait and it goes on and on – All just to fit in.
I discovered that I lacked any connection to people because I didn’t love myself. I felt that I had no value and closed myself off by 10 years old. I discovered that lack of love and value was directly connected to my participation in the murder of a friend, my acts of violence in prison, joining a gang and perpetuating racist hate for decades. If you don’t love yourself, you’ll never love anyone else. Most importantly, I discovered that it’s about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice. We don’t need to understand the who, what, when, where or why’s to start to forgive. So, I choose to forgive. To forgive my mom for exposing me to drugs and violence. To forgive my dad for abandoning me. To forgive my mom’s boyfriend for abusing her and I. To forgive my stepmom for all the abuse. (They all have a story too, but I don’t know their history, pain or childhood.) But, most importantly, I forgive myself. How can I ask for forgiveness if I’m not willing to give it?
I also believe that it’s about love. But, what do I know about love? I’ve never felt it and never gave it to anyone, let alone myself. So, how does a man who probably doesn’t deserve it, find love for himself and others? It starts with, yup, forgiveness and then acceptance of myself, the good and more importantly, the bad. No more guilt, shame, resentments and most importantly, lack of self-worth. I chose to wake up everyday and reaffirm WHO I AM and that I have value as a person. I will continue on this path to get back that happy-go-lucky kid who would only nap if he got a ride on the tractor.
The closer I get to my core-self, the closer I get to being healed. Being healed means no more victims. Everything I do is for my victims and all victims. It’s all about the choices I make today.” – Paul
For over 40 years, WestCare California has been providing an opportunity for individuals to lead fuller, richer lives. Our team of multi-cultural, experienced and credentialed staff is dedicated to providing the best care to everyone who enters our doors. Our goal is to uplift the human spirit by providing the skills and support necessary for individuals to achieve their dreams and transform their lives.
WestCare provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in both residential and outpatient environments. Our service domains include mental health & wellness, substance abuse and addiction treatment, housing opportunities, education & prevention, criminal justice and veterans programs. These services are available to adults, children, adolescents and families.