Source of image: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

When we came to prison, it’s ultimately to serve out the punishment that was handed down by the Courts. This is the basic premise of the Judicial System and how society maintains order. And for centuries this has been the process… you break societies laws, then you’re judged and punished. This system may have some flaws and may not always get it right, but the general concept is one that’s easy to understand.

Sadly, the side-effects of this punishment is the “collateral damage”, that’s left at home when we go to prison. Of course, at the base of this is the selfishness, that plagues most criminals and the people involved in criminal and/or drug related lifestyles. Because if you have family and friends, who choose to remain by your side while you’re incarcerated, then they’re handed down the same sentence by those Courts. This is A LOT to put on anyone, but especially those who don’t live the same lifestyles as we did… they have no preparations for the hardships that are about to come or what to expect of the time ahead of them! See… jail, prison, violence and death are all very real options in the lives we chose. So, going in I was prepared for whatever came with that life.

Now, all this would be easy to handle, if it was just me that had to face the time. But, over the past 28 years… I’ve been to dozens of Court dates, probation & parole meetings, been in and out of jails & prisons. And over (almost) 3 decades of being in the legal system… I’ve faced the pain, sadness and disappointment of some of the most important people in my life. I’ll tell you this… receiving a sentence of LIFE in prison was what it was, but turning around in the Court room to see my Mother crying was infinitely worse. Or having her come to any one of hundreds of visits, inside jail or prison, and seeing her sadness turn to tears as the visit ends is by far the worst punishment I could receive! What I’ve put her through is unbearable at times.

Our real punishment isn’t the time we’re caged in these prisons… it’s realizing the pain we’ve caused to those we’ve left behind. Trying to explain over and over, that it’s nothing they did or didn’t do that led us down this path. This is a conversation I’ve had WAY TOO MANY times with a Mother who can’t escape a guilt she created for herself. This is, by no means, even close to the truth… ‘cuz she was a better Mother than I probably deserved at times! Yet, after almost 28 years of my fucking up… she still won’t let go of this ridiculous and unfounded guilt. Believe me, the real guilt is that… as her only child (serving LIFE in prison) I’ve left her alone, to fend for herself. Shes at an age where she should be able to enjoy her retirement and travel… not continue to work and remain stuck in this shithole of a state because she doesn’t want to move away, while I’m in prison here, so she can stay close. I mean I love her for her unconditional love and unwavering support, but she deserves so much more… and failing her as a son is such a harsh punishment!

Then there was the conversation I had today with my Daughter, that really prompted this whole post… I’ll just say that she’s been going through some rough times and has been playing from a shit hand, for years now. It’s been a real roller coaster ride with all the ups & downs, twists & turns… never too long of a lull between the action. And instead of being there to help her navigate through these tough times… I was in prison, while she suffered her own punishment. I failed her and wasn’t there when she needed me… the most ironic part is how I spoke in my post on “Family” about being a better Father than my own (at her age), by being present and in her life… but I was so much worse and ultimately a failure who wasn’t physically there any of the times she really needed someone! I guess it’s almost like how it was for my Mother with me… who felt like it was all her fault somehow, but the difference being that my Mother was present in my life. I’ve always felt like if I was there, that I could’ve prevented some of the pain she went through?! Just like in our phone call today… I’d made mention of how if I was there, that A LOT of shit she does wouldn’t be going on and a couple good “feet in the ass” could cut short some of the b.s. she’s going through and gone through. And, she came back saying how she wished I never would’ve left and had actually been there. That was a very crippling gut check… that shit choked me up and had a ton of guilt, sadness and a sense of failing her all slam on me, at once! Because, I know I should’ve been there to hold her when she was sad and protect her when she was scared or in danger! Actually it took me back to 2004, when I was in prison (on a parole violation) and I was on the phone with a very smart 4 year old, who asked me… “when are you gonna come home?” which I couldn’t give an honest answer to, besides as soon as possible… then she came with a super hard kick to the gut, by saying “will you just stop being bad, so you can come home?!” Even now as I write that down, it chokes me up! To fail her and not be there when she needed me, is a punishment that far exceeds any sentence the Courts could come up with. And leaves me with the realization, that I denied her the Father she needed… after I was blessed with the chance at being hers!

And these are just 2 of the people (albeit 2 of the 3 most important), in my life who’ve been hurt and/or abandoned because of the life I lived. Of course not a lot really stuck it out, but I can’ blame them… ‘cuz this is far more than should be expected from anyone. But, as I’ve said in past posts… I give the utmost respect to anyone who knowingly subjects themselves to this life, to stand by their friend, family or loved ones in prison. This is an against all odds type of situation, where the hardships are piled on and its one struggle after another that we have to overcome. And believe me when I say there’s a list of casualties I’ve left behind… who’ve been fucked-up and fucked-over by me coming to prison. Friendships that fade, relationships that erode beyond repair and plans that’ll never see the light of day. But, regardless how it makes me or any of us in here feel, it’s our burden to bear… it’s how it affected those people I truly care about, that torn at me every single day I’ve spent behind these fences!

Like I said, I didn’t come into this life with blinders on… I knew the good & bad and was prepared to accept whatever came with this life. Whether it was through my own actions or those of another… whether there’s actual guilt or not… I knew, full well, all the outcomes and still signed on the dotted-line! However, what I failed to really understand and take into account was how many other peoples lives I was signing on that same line! I failed to really see how much impact the consequences would have on their lives?! But now those same people have become casualties of the criminal justice system, through no fault or action of their own… having to face the consequences and punishments of someone else actions, simply because they loved & supported them!

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