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The Cape of Experience Tied around My Neck

From Entombment to the Precipice of Freedom

July 18, 2023

This piece is the second installment in our new series of contributions from currently incarcerated writers and artists. Spectre wishes to thank Empowerment Avenue for making it possible. The inaugural piece is available here.

People remember things in different ways–or so they say. My memories often flash before my eyes like old Polaroids haphazardly taken by a novice photographer. The photos, once taken, then embossed with emotional imprints, serve as proof of my existence. Their resolution diminishing with time, the fidelity of their imprints fading: old ones can feel like the memories of a stranger and I the unreliable narrator.

At a small farm in the high desert of southeast Oregon, a ginger boy ties an afghan around his neck. Bare chested and brave he stands on the arm of the sofa. He looks to his loving grandmother and claims to be Superman–she cautions him against his claim, yet he assures her gravitational forces don’t apply to him. A moment later the concrete floor contests his youthful postulations while proving the depth of his ignorance. Face and chest bleeding, he gets up off the ground.

I love this child. He was happy and optimistic. There was nothing he could not do. But this happy memory also serves as a metaphor for much of my life. Since then I have taken many dives onto unforgiving surfaces. These dives too were driven by an unrealistic perception of my relationship with the world around me. Somewhere along the way I lost the superhero inside myself. Through painful experience and bad choices, I became a villain.

The ginger boy sits pressed against the passenger door of the cab. His mother on his left, a crying baby next to her–his new baby brother. A strange man drives the boy away from his life on the farm.

This is where the darkness in my life began. I was now six and had lived with my grandparents since age two. Life would not be the same after my mother reclaimed me. The strange man driving the cab became my enemy and my father; my mother a battered wife; our trailer a dungeon; and I the redheaded stepchild who was beaten accordingly.

The ginger boy stands at the entrance of a dark hallway, his mother screaming for help. Above her a man tears off her clothing, beating her with his fists. The boy grabs for a weapon–a fire poker–and swings the implement. The man turns, and the boy flees. Barefooted, the boy flies through the grass in the moonlit night. The sheriff lives next door; he only has to make it across the field. Banging on the door, he calls for help.

While the grownups pick up their pieces, the boy plays Lincoln Logs on the sheriff’s floor.

Other photos exist from those days. Happy ones do not. Moving became common. We would run, relocate, and begin again. I stopped feeling the difference between all of these various places. There was Portland, a new brother, then Yakima, Kent, Lacey, Olympia, and Vancouver.

The abuse didn’t stop when my mother left someone. Not for me. What she endured, I not only witnessed, but became the outlet for. I struggled at home and at school. I was nine when I first ran away, thirteen when I ran away for good. Foster homes, group homes: nothing could restore the broken trust.

The streets called to me like a siren that led me to crash along the rocky shores of incarceration. Waves of despair crashed over me every time they threw me in that cage until my vision of a future eroded away with the tide of my youth. Those repeated stints in detention taught me my place in society.

No matter how hard I kicked and screamed for my humanity there was always a darker hole for me. The darkest hole in Thurston County juvy was a cell with no bed, sink, or toilet. In place of those amenities, a single hole in the floor–covered with bars–served as receptacle for human refuse. I spent weeks at a time in this cell when I misbehaved. The abuse I endured in juvenile was equal to any other–only this time, there was no way to run from it.

The ginger boy stands before the court. The prosecutor, caught in the zeitgeist of the super-predator narrative, demands that the boy be expelled from the juvenile system and declined to adult jurisdiction. The boy stands alone, without parent or advocate. “Anything to get out of this place,” he thinks, in no way understanding the consequence of his capitulation.

Those repeated stints in detention taught me my place in society.

While kids my age graduated high school, I sat in adult prison fighting with goon squads in solitary confinement–me against NFL-size men in full riot gear. Hard men became my professors, and I majored in hard time. Released at twenty years old, I found myself out of touch and unable to relate to my peers in the free world.

I tried to reinvent myself. I fell in love with a girl in Seattle and became a father. Not knowing how to be a dad, I fell short of becoming the man I wanted to be. I held a grudge against the world. It owed me something, but I didn’t know what. I was broken, but I did not know how I was broken. Drugs became my god, and I worshipped at the altar of selfishness.

I could not look in a mirror when my addiction led me back to prison. I felt like a fucking loser. I had become my father–my biological father–a man in prison leaving a fatherless boy in the world. “Never again,” I swore. I would use this time to become a better man. I had to get back to my son. He deserved more from me.

A man lays in bed reunited with his son. Missing each other for so long, they talk about everything and nothing at all. The young boy looks to his father. With wisdom past his age he implores, “Dad, promise me something.” “Anything, son,” the man says. “Promise you will never hurt somebody and go back to prison again.” The man unknowingly lies, “I promise son. I won’t.”

My determination to fulfill my promise was no match for my dysfunction. When the challenges of life overwhelmed me, I turned back to drugs. I hated myself for using again. I tried to escape my pain through pipe and needle–a vicious cycle of destruction that ended with me shooting a man in the leg.

My third trip to prison not only broke my oath to my son, but it also took my life. Struck out for my crimes, I am sentenced to death by incarceration–entombed by my mistakes. But it is a fate I refused to accept, nor could I accept the man I became. So I went to work.

Through sincere introspection, I figured out that the problem–the only problem I ever had–was me. That is where my change–the real change–began. Then I learned to serve others, to be a part of a community and to make a difference in other people’s lives. This is where my healing began. Somewhere along the way, prison stopped being the place that kept me from doing bad things and started being the place that keeps me from doing good.

I stand bare-chested today, not on the arm of a sofa, but on the edge of something greater: I stand on the precipice of freedom, the possibility of release due to progressive legislation. I have the cape of experience tied around my neck, the floor is still concrete. I know well the gravity of my decisions and I will land on my feet. Look, I am Superman.



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