It was my last day on the farm. I was about to embark on a new journey and about to enter into a new, unknown chapter. It was a morning like any other. Like usual, the sun came up over the mountains the same way it did for the 11 months of my stay. I was a dorm supervisor. I was a leader and senior member. I was someone with a respected name and position, a friend to many, and a brother to some. It was strange to think how this would be the last morning I woke up in the dorm. This would be the last time I had breakfast with my housemates. This would be the last time I had to answer to the daily regiment and follow the house rules. It was strange to think that after this morning, I would be released to a new freedom and never have to wake up in this place again.
I can remember seeing the sun come up through the brown horizontal blinds in the basement window of bunk house. I could see the orange hue in the sky pushing upwards above the tree covered mountains in late September. The leaves in the trees had already begun their transformation from green into color. the air was no longer overly warm. The winds were cooler now and comfortable. The season was at a lull between summer and winter and the surroundings were colored beautifully.
From the window, I could see the small pond off to the right. I could see the pasture behind it with the mountains further back in the backdrop. I could see the big red barn off to the left, which had been vacant and absent of farm animals for a few months. The sheep were sold and the cows were gone. All the pigs were gone too. But the barn remained like an empty hallway or a vestibule of memory that I would carry with me for as long as my mind will function.
Many things happened at the farm. I went through good times and bad. I had breakthroughs and suffered loss. I met good people here. I met bad people as well but even the bad ones had a place in my heart.
It was strange to think about this on my last morning. But more so, it was crazy to think of who I was on the day when I arrived.
I was driven in a van from a previous facility by a man with longhair in a ponytail. I was still foggy and hazy. I spoke funny with my mouth hardly opening, which gave me a mumbling sound. I could hardly read because my eyes couldn’t catch up with the words on the page. My eye/hand coordination was poor. My mindset was off, and me, I just wanted to run.
The longhaired man with the a ponytail was an ex-addict himself, reformed from prison, sleeved with gangland, biker tattoos and jailhouse tats with some perhaps reflecting the fact that he may or may not have committed the “Blood in” murder or violent initiations. The longhaired man had changed from his previous life and became a helpful, hopeful person. He was no counselor or anything of the sort.
He was just a man that worked at a place known as Re-Directions that lived an extremely hard life, went through hell and back, survived prison, survived battles, fights, bullets, was nearly killed more times than he cared to admit, and as a result, he turned his life around and made a choice to help others.
I always admired him.
It was clear that I was afraid. I was quietly sitting near the window and watching the views change along the long and quiet Upstate New York roads. I remember it was early October and there was a light snowfall underway. Everything around me was country-like and pretty but I was in no shape to appreciate the views. I didn’t care that the Upstate world took on a Norman Rockwell appeal, like the kind you see painted on plates of America’s heartland and the beautiful pastimes.
The sky was already growing dark and more and more, the closer the van made its way down the long dirt road, turning into the long driveway of the farm, and the closer the van came to pulling up to a parking spot is the more I wanted to jump out of my skin with fear. I wanted to run. I wanted to get away. I didn’t want to go here and I certainly didn’t want to stay. But I knew what my choices were.
I knew that I was remanded here by the courts and that, in fact, if I chose to leave, I would have face this mandate and face the service of one year, plus 90 days in the county jail. Neither of these choices was appealing to me.
Yet still, I just wanted to run away. I wanted to get out of the van and put it in the wind. I wanted to take off but I was very far from home and even further from anyplace familiar.
Besides, I had no friends. I had no one to call. Even if I did call and said I was in the wind or on the run, no one I knew would come to get me. If anything, they would have said, “Good luck,” at best and then returned to their scheduled routine trips to East New York Brooklyn for some crack and a few bags of dope.
No, I was on my own now. I remember pulling up and thinking I needed to say something. I felt like I need to say anything to get me out of this.
God, I wanted to cry.
I was wished I changed long before this. I wished the courts weren’t a thing to me. I wished I had listened to every warning I had received prior to my conviction. I felt like a dog feels while heading to the pound; abandoned and desperate. I was desperate for a home and desperate for love.
Passing by the first bunkhouse while driving along in the van, I saw a statue of Mary the Mother of God. I noticed a man emerge from the front door of the bunkhouse. In my estimation, to the best of my recollection, I had never seen a Franciscan Priest before. I had never seen anyone wear the brown garb, —except for Monks of course, but this was on television.
I asked the longhaired man with a ponytail, “They have Monks her?”
The longhaired man with a ponytail tried to calm me down. Yet still, I felt like a dog on his way to the pound, about to be caged or put to sleep. I looked out the window, brokenhearted, beaten and frightened.
I knew there was no way out. I knew they were going to try and separate me from me. They were going to take me away.
I knew this place was rumored to be strict. I was told rumors, which were accurate to some degree but overstated in others. I had no idea what was about to happen. All I knew was the sum of my behavior had added me up to this.
“I can’t go to this place,” I said.
“I can’t stay here. They have Monks here,”
As gentle as a father would speak to his own son or an older brother to his younger sibling; the longhaired man comforted me. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now. But trust me; this place is going to help you.”
When I arrived, the longhaired man hugged me like I was his kid brother. It was amazing to me though how at one point, he was probably monstrous and possibly murderous, but here he was now, holding me, consoling me with a tear in his eye because this man could feel my fear.
“Take care of yourself, kid.”
“Just do what they tell you to do.”
The first few months were hardest. The changes were difficult. I was yelled at. I was sat in corners. I had to wear signs around my neck. I was shot down and put in the pot sink to wash dishes.
I had to wax floors on my hands and knees. They cut my hair short. They took away my Walkman and my music. They took away my black leather biker jacket, which to me, was an item of prestige.
My jacket was part of me. I had some crazy times wearing that jacket. I had secret compartments in it, which came in useful on when being patted down one night by an officer in Uniondale.
Pushed and shoved and hollered at, the officer never found anything on me because the package was hidden in a secret compartment in my black leather biker jacket. Nevertheless, the jacket was taken away as a sign of my image. They took away my t-shirts that linked me to music or anything the proprietors of the farm considered negative or inappropriate.
I was stripped of my image and taken out of my element. And I refused to surrender. I refused to give in. I denied the house rules. And I paid for it. I tried to remain defiant, but each time I defied the rules, I was responded to by the rest of the inmates of the house.
I wanted to run but there was no place for me to go. I wanted to get high, but there was no place for me to cop. At minimum, I wanted a cigarette, but this was not an option for me either.
Safe to say the old me would not let go. Safe to say this place was going to be the death of me, which it was. This is where the 17 year old, longhaired, Long Island burnout in me went to die.
This is also where I was reborn, which I say carefully and mindfully. I do not say reborn in the “Born again” sense or in the eyes of God. Instead, I say that I was reborn as in my own personal resurrection.
Like anyone new to the program, I refused to give in; however, in my case, I was beaten into submission be an extenuating circumstance. I was submitted by the death of my Father.
Previously, I had no thoughts of submission. Before The Old Man’s heart attack, I figured I would slip through the cracks and hold onto my old routines, secretively, and somehow, I could weave my way through treatment, take what I needed and leaving the rest, I wholeheartedly believed that I could clean up, return home, and go back to the life I knew.
When The Old Man passed, I heard things that he never said to me before. He told me. “I’m proud of you, kid.”
“Stay like this.”
“Stay like you are,” he told me, which was clean
“Take care of your Mother,” he instructed.
“I love you, Son.”
Had this not happened, perhaps I might have never surrendered. Had I never surrendered, the months I spent on the farm might have been a waste. Maybe I would have been removed for insubordination.
Maybe I would have been sent back or worse, sent to serve my sentence, in which case, I might have certainly committed suicide in jail because a kid like me, light in the skin and light in the ass, unable to fight or, “too light to fight, too thin to win,” as it was told to me in one of the holding cells; I would have never been able to survive.
I was amazed by all that I had seen on the farm. I was amazed at my changes. I was amazed that I was finally about to leave. This meant I could eat what I wanted and when I wanted. This meant that I was not going to be woken up by an alarm and then hear a young, pubescent kid with crackling voice scream out the count of 20 when the alarm rang. This meant that I could make my own rules.
I was excited to leave and see my next chapter in life. But I was also as frightened as I was the day I was brought to the farm. I was like that dog begging not to go to the pound, but 11 months later, I was that dog afraid to be released.
What if I wasn’t loved by people the same was I was loved here? What if I had to go back to my old way of defending myself? What do I do now that I don’t have my old masks and shields I used to hide behind?
I remember my last day on the farm. There was a man named Bob standing in the doorway of the kitchen in the main house. Bob was a staff member. He spoke out to us in a group and talked to the people that were scheduled to leave.
Bob said, “Some of you are going to go home and go back out.” In this regard, Bob meant drinking or drug use.
“Some of you are going to go out there,” Bob said.
“But that’s okay because it doesn’t mean you have to stay out there. You can always come back.”
I remember this clearly. I remember the position Bob was standing in. I remember the faces that were around him. And when I relapsed and found myself in the worst of place, speeding around in a car with a gun underneath my seat, I remembered Bob’s words. I knew that I had made a mistake. I knew that what I had done was wrong and that I had gone back to my old bad ideas. It didn’t take long. It wasn’t long before I found myself in a hustle. I was back and it was worse than before
I left the farm in late September of 1990. On April 1st 1991, I drove up that same dirt driveway after a weekend binge in the crack lands of Brooklyn. I went up to the door and saw my old friends. If I never knew Bob or if I never knew it was okay to come back; I might not have ever made it back.
But there before the Grace of God went Bob.
And he was a friend to me.
It was because of Bob’s words that I went back to the farm. It was because of the love that Bob showed me and people like Bob as well that I was able to humble myself, come back to the love they showed me.
It wasn’t shame that brought me back
It was love
It was your love
Rest well, Bob
Look for me at my last hour
I could use a friend like you by my side to help me understand that everything is gonna be alright.