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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Seventh Circle of Hell: A Prologue

I've been to prison.

What image does that conjure in your brain? If you're like most people you picture a person who can't be trusted; who's greasy and disgusting, either in person or whose soul leaves a stain when he rises from a chair; a person who'd just as soon sell your kids into sexual slavery as take the time to order the #2 combo meal at the local McDonald's drive through.

You imagine someone hooked on drugs? Or with a drinking or gambling problem? Or someone who deals drugs to 10 year olds?

Maybe you imagine a sexual deviant. Someone who slips pills to unsuspecting dates and then records himself raping them as they're incapacitated. Or a person who has sex with children?

Or a person who shot a 21 year old saint while robbing them of their gum money.

Perhaps you picture a greedy bastard who allowed scores, hundreds, or thousands of hard working families to fall into financial ruin so he could live the high life?

Maybe a gang member who killed a pregnant mother in a drive by shooting, perhaps?

Or, in the odd case, a person who's innocent?

Regardless of your particular Rorschach, you likely imagine someone who possesses a certain defect; something that makes them incapable of conforming to the rules of society. Maybe they're addicted, maybe they're just selfish; but whatever the reason, they are different from you. They are flawed and so possessing of a proclivity to do wrong for their own gain.

Before it happened I was just like you in that I believed with every fiber of my being that I'd never be there. I was good. I was decent. I was caring. I still am. I had a well defined sense of right and wrong (I still do) and c'mon, there's no way I'd ever do something that would land me in jail (but I did). I felt I was immune from those influences; just like you are. Nope, prison was a place for those with a fundamentally flawed character. It was for the predators who never developed a decency for their fellow man. It was where we disposed of the slimy underside of society until the law forced us to release them. Locked away; forgotten; forsaken; [spit] good riddance one and all. No matter the circumstances, I knew I would always know that right was right and wrong was wrong and I'd be able to determine the difference and continue down the path of righteousness.

Then I was there. And the overwhelming weight of my opinions and disregard for what it meant pressed down upon me. I'd let down so many people. I'd tried to make it right, even when it wasn't required, but it didn't matter. The hypocrisy of being a supposedly "good" man behind bars glared at me from beyond the meshed windows and razor wire fences, where the air was "free." Most days "inside" I spent curled up on my rack, wishing there was a way to will myself to die. If ever there was a soul lost in the blackness of helpless despair... In retrospect I think I wasn't even looking for a light in the darkness; just a way out, whatever that required.

I've struggled many, many times over the last few years with how to write about this; for many reasons. One, it's hard to articulate. It's an event that stirs a great deal of emotion and, for me at least, highly-charged emotion makes me write either very well or very poorly. I'm hoping this isn't one of those "very poorly" moments. I suppose I shouldn't really give a shit what anyone out "there" thinks of me regarding what happened or my ability (or lack thereof) to articulate it in the proper fashion, but the fact is, I do care. I don't mind so much if people have a negative impression of me (although I can't say I like it), but I do mind that it's the correct impression.

What's often lost to the stigma and stereotype of being a "con" is that so much of what happened those years ago was the culmination of years of strain, struggle and stress that had me at a place where I literally did not care if I lived from one day to the next. I was on auto-pilot, and for whatever reason (real or perceived) I felt that I couldn't turn to anyone for help. I was alone-sinking-and trying desperately to claw for solid ground. And I made a choice which was never good, but seemed my only option at the time.

No one who hasn't been there could possibly understand; not if they have a conscience; not if they care what kind of man they are; not if they've ever obsessed over "what this means." Only when you stand on the inside of a dark, damp, 8x10 concrete box as the guard closes the door with a look of "good, another scumbag off the streets", hearing the sound of finality as the steel of door and jamb meet, feeling your world crash about your feet in a smoldering ruin while knowing that you, yourself, burned it to the ground (and not just for yourself, but your wife and kids too); only then, can someone tell me they understand. I struggle today with determining the right way to tell you, while not underplaying my guilt.

Second, so much of the emotion has changed. As I eluded to above, from about, oh, a year to a year and a half before to about six months or so after I came home, I had no desire for life. None. Every day was waking up to a set of tasks that I felt I had struggle to complete for someone else. Life was about responsibility; about obligation. Keep in mind, this is not an indictment against anyone. No one made me feel this way and in fact my wife, my kids, my family; none! made any such demand on me. That I felt this way was borne of my own belief in what I was supposed to achieve in life coupled with past setbacks (being downsized, facing bankruptcy, the belief that my peers were advancing faster/further than me, the belief that you only "matter" in America if you have a big house, fancy car, etc., etc., etc.). I chose to accept the weight of the world on my shoulders, thinking it was expected of me.

Another struggle in trying to write about this is my audience. See, there's a fine line when you "blog" (if that's what I can be presumptuous enough to claim I do; as opposed to just verbally jerking off in a realm where far more talented writers get all the proverbial hot chicks) between not enough and too much. Too much or too little and I risk losing the message and/or the reader. Many days I sit and wonder what I can write that will make someone want to read, or better still, return later. Or, *gasp!* actually comment to let me know I'm not just casting pearls to swine. Blogging used to be - back when it was invented as a joint effort between Gore and the pied piper of mindless followers - a venue to communicate; to share ideas, feelings, beliefs, blah blah blah. Then it became mainstream and now, let's face it, blogging is the new black. Everyone has one and the success and value of each is measured largely in the number of comments left or insipid award nominations granted or flashy, unique blog designs. Now I have something about which to write, but I still feel the need to be careful in how much I reveal.

See, as an extrovert I like being around people. But I find that I rather enjoy those people to be anonymous people. I don't really enjoy people with whom I work or play to know too much about me. Could this be because on some level I wonder if perhaps I do have a faulty character? That if they did know me better they'd decide what so many in the past seem to have decided? Or that I'd forever be forced to explain it over and over again? Or maybe that I'm better liked when I'm not well known? Welcome to useless introspection; population: me.

It took a long time for me to lay down the guilt of having put so many through so much and having disappointed so many more. But some of that has returned recently, I'm afraid, when someone I thought had forgiven my criminally stupid lapse in judgement insinuated that I am, in fact, not forgiven. It's been a struggle for me to re-convince myself that there are people out there who have choosen to look past that event and see the man I truly am.

I'd be lying if I said it doesn't still bother me. Not that I went to jail or that people, when they find out that I was there, still instinctively erect a protective wall between themselves and me (further proof that in general, people consider offenders to be flawed in some fundamental way, the way evangelicals might view homosexuals or the KKK might view "minority" races). What bothered me most wasn't that I lost several months of my life to it. I wasn't bothered most by the fact that others would look down upon me. Sure, some few people gave me hope. Katrina said she knew about it and it didn't change her opinion of me one bit. She reminded me that I was there for her when her life took a turn for the worse and over the years she'd come to see me as someone very worthy of her support. She still provides glowing character references for me too. And Brett actually became angry with me when I finally told him what had happened; not because I had screwed up, but because I'd not told him sooner and that I'd chosen to go through it alone, denying him the chance to provide support. I don't see Brett as much as I'd like, but I'll go to my grave considering him a brother. Most of the rest I didn't tell either because I like them very much and selfishly didn't want to give them the opportunity to discard me like so many others have or because I was so humiliated and embarrassed by my lack of judgement that I couldn't bring myself to disappoint them that way.

No, what really bothers me, still to this day, is that I ever did something that landed me in prison in the first place. Just like everyone else, I believed - and do to this day - that my moral compass is fully operational. I have compassion for those in need; I bristle at the thought of anyone taking advantage of another; I still give aid and support to those who need it even when I might need it myself. What bothered me from the beginning was not "being caught" or being locked up (although yeah, that bothered me a lot) or watching someone bleed to death after being stabbed. It was that I had done something that led me there. Maybe society was right. Maybe I am fundamentally flawed and should do the world a favor and just die in prison. Maybe I didn't deserve a second chance. Certainly a great many people I considered friends turned their back on me when they found out. Maybe my family would be better off without me. I certainly didn't care. The overwhelming emotion I had for two years was self loathing. I literally hated myself for what I had done: to myself, to my future, to my wife and kids, to those who believed in me. Yes, the world would be better with a few less of "me."

The only thing that hurt more was knowing the burden my actions had placed on my wife and our two beautiful children. I had let them down most of all. I had promised them that they'd never have to worry about money or having nice things. But it was a lie. A lie I told and perpetuated. A lie I've mostly been able to forgive myself for, but has recently come back into my head. Oh, I don't hate myself like I did back then, but I certainly do wish there was a way to truly erase what I'd done.

In preparing to write about this I went back and re-read many of the letters I'd sent to my wife when I was gone. The pain is obvious. The self loathing jumps out at you from the page. The almost primal cry for help is there, too. As I wrote over and over in those letters, "what kind of father; what kind of husband; what kind of MAN does this?"

Today I have mixed emotions. That man seems like someone else entirely. He's not me; not anymore. I've forgiven myself for that transgression. I am a good man. I am a loving and caring spouse AND a damned good father (at least I try ever so hard to be; I hope time proves it true). But the cliche about one lapse in judgement serving to erase a lifetime of good makes me cautious about printing it here. The truth is I don't know who reads this blog. And while I try to be transparent in my writings, I'm concerned about people coming away with the wrong idea of what this "is."

That being said, I'm not going to tell you the details of what happened. Not the official charge or where they disposed of me for those months. No details of the actual offense. The more perceptive of you will likely be able to figure it out eventually, but I'm not going to reveal it in a venue that is akin to taking out a full page ad in USA Today. The details don't matter anyway. As far as those go, however, know that what I did was not in any way related to violence, drugs, abuse, or sexual deviancy. I didn't beat my wife or kids. I didn't get caught selling a pound of crack to an undercover officer. I didn't devise some private "game" between me and any child. You'd be surprised about what's illegal nowadays (I know I was), but yes, I should have known better. Regardless of the offense, it changed me in ways I'd have never thought possible before and I'm taking a huge risk in mentioning it here because I suspect some people who read this know me personally but do not know about this segment of my past.

What I am going to relate (not today, though; this entry is already too damned long) is what led me there, how it felt to be there, and how walking through hell served to make me a better husband, father, friend, employee, and human. And, hopefully, about how I overcame the relentless disdain that society heaps upon those who return home. Now I know the blogosphere is supposed to be funny an' all. But this is also therapeutic, so bite me if you don't like it. heh. Believe me, there were funny parts too. You want one? Ok, here's a hook: the day I was treated to a cow manuer shower when I activated the spreader from down wind.

Or, I could just keep it to myself and post endless pictures of celebrity boobies or my dog taking a dump. Your choice.

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