I used to wear my past like a badge of honor. I used to see “The life,” as cool—like I was some kind of infamous gangster who always managed to slip through the fingers of law and consequences. I saw myself as untouchable.
And the junk—the cocaine habit, the vials of crack, crack pipe, the candle and bent-upwards spoon I used to cook my batches, and the alcohol, or any substance I used to put distance between myself and everyone around me were all tools of the trade.
I was asked if I felt proud of my past.
I am not proud of who I was.
I am only proud of my accomplishments that stemmed from what I used to be.
I admit to myself, to God, and to everyone that I have marks in my skin. I have scars, externally and internally, as well as emotionally and spiritually. I have miles on my body—or wear and tear, so to speak.
I have recollections of backseat trips in squad cars to the local precincts. I remember the experience and smell, along with the dim feeling of poor lighting, which hummed in the corridor on the outside of my cage. I recall breathing the stale air, which consisted of men being held for an overnight stay, all in line, and waiting for a moment to stand before the man with a black gown and gavel. All of us were closed in small quarters on a tier that reeked from a mixture of cleaning solution, unclean bodies, and bathroom functions.
I admit to being part of the uncomfortable stir in the cages beneath the courthouse. I know what it means to sit and listen to the jailhouse lawyers preach, as if they knew law better than the court appointed attorneys and the judge, but yet, there they were—sitting in a cage alongside the other criminals and awaiting to be arraigned on charges of repeat offenses.
In the worst of my positions and in the weakest of postures; my hands were placed flat, chest down, and face pressed sideways on the hood of a police car. My legs were behind me, spread wide, in the typical “Frisk” position. My arms, one by one, pulled behind my back and then connected by the feeling of cold steel handcuffs that closed around my wrists. The sound of steel linkage clasped tightly to bind me and symbolize the suffocation of my freedom.
I admit to this. I admit to the laws I broke and the wreckage I created. I admit to the hatred I spilt while feeling irredeemable, as well as irreconcilable, irritated, and irrelevant. I admit to each of my wrongs that range from the categories of simple irresponsibility to criminal. I admit to it all.
At the dawn of my clarity, I was in the darkest of places. Drunks hollered about their rights from neighboring cells. I looked up at the mute colored, flat-tanned ceiling in my cage. The walls were the same color with names etched or scratched into the paint. Words like, “Revenge,” and “Slaughter,” were etched in the lacquer coating on the wooden bench that sat against the wall. Across was a stainless steel commode with no seat to lift and there was a drinking fountain at the top of its frame.
I tried to sleep on the uncomfortable, hard wooden bench before making that morning trip in a cold truck to see the man with a gavel.
I was awakened here. I was awakened in the worst of places with the worst of people. And by awakened, I do not mean forced from actual sleep. By awakening, I mean the kind of a spiritual sort.
It was as though I faced a mirror. I was able to see myself for the first time. The denial ceased to shade me from what I had become. My lips were cracked with white burn marks that came from smoking a glass pipe that nearly killed me. I was sick from the mild results of a chemical reaction. My space was taken away from me. My ability to walk anywhere except the tiny confines was temporarily removed, and furthermore, time did nothing but move slowly as I waited for my chance to stand across from the judge.
There was no hiding from who I was or what I had done. More accurately, there is no place to hide while locked in a cell. There was no one I could honestly blame. There was no way I could rationalize myself or my behavior—there were no excuses or any way to paint myself in a better picture. All had fallen, and fortunately, I landed at my bottom.
Was I proud of this?
There is no pride in being legally removed from society. There was no pride in my appearance or the hidden fact that I was so thin—that rather than admit to my malnourishment, I tied my belt-loops together instead of wearing smaller pants or a tighter belt. In the depth of my sickness, my weight dropped down to 80lbs. I was skeletal-like. My skin was a pale shade of green and my eyes were sunken with dark rings beneath them. True, I was young. I was a young, stupid kid; however, I was a young stupid kid in an adult game.
I saw the worst of my city. I saw the worst of its capabilities in places like, B17th in Far Rockaway or beneath the train trestles in East New York Brooklyn. I was very much a part of the sickness in places like 134th Street and Willis Avenue. I saw violence and gunshots. I saw my life nearly close on Jerome Street at Liberty Avenue while trying to cop with my last $40.
Was I proud?
There is no pride in crawling across floors with a cigarette lighter, keeping the flame lit, while searching on my knees for fallen pieces of white powder in the dark. There is no pride in the fiend that comes with freebasing cocaine or in the depths to which one reaches to redeem themselves from its horrible need.
Moreover, there is no pride in the insanity that flooded my system and left me willing to do unthinkable acts, just so I could get my head right.
I was not proud of hiding from the police beneath the ground in my town’s sewer system. I was not proud of dangling in a heroin nod, swiveling downward against the outside wall of a deli at the intersection of Prospect and East Meadow Avenue, or falling into a slowly decaying, but yet, somehow taunting and beautiful sickness.
I supposed no one understood me or why I did what I was doing. I supposed anyone looking from the outside in—was just that—they were someone on the outside and I was simply too far in.
They looked at my weakened, frail body; they saw my behavior, but they never saw the inside of “The nod.”
Perhaps it was actually me on the outside and the junk or whichever substance I took was my way of maintaining a shield between myself, life, and the rest of the world.
Anyone watching me never understood the satisfaction of slithering through a synthetic porthole, like a cocoon, which is also known as drug addiction. No one understood—except for those who were lost like me. But in the deepest of my sickness and in the bleakest of moments, my eyes opened to a light. I saw a view of the morning sky leak through a partially leaned-out window of the holding facility. It was the morning after my arrest. I was in a cell and segregated from my life. I was removed from my system and routine.
Was I proud?
No . . . I was grateful.
I remember feeling relieved because life intervened in a time when I could not stop myself. And dare I say it; I was fortunate to be caught. Otherwise, had I not been taken into custody, I am certain my name would have joined a long and growing list of casualties.
I am not proud of my past. And though I have grown to where I can laugh at myself or speak openly about what I was, I remember where I came from and what I went through.
I am not proud of my past in any way; however, I am not ashamed.
I am not proud—I am grateful.
I am grateful for the falls that led to my transformation. I am grateful for my experiences and understanding because they have taught me how to relate to others. As a result of my path—I have been given a chance to repay what I have taken and make amends for my sins.
No, I am not proud of what I was.
I am proud of who I have become in spite of what I was.
I am proud that I surpassed what others said I would become.
In many ways, I have beaten the odds against me, and I have done so for more than 24 years.
(Continuously and successfully)
Sobriety does not come without work nor does success come without effort.
And, In my efforts to become who I am, at last, I can say I am proud.