Answer the Question – Time Served

I suppose I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is the thought that came to me when it was early and my schedule had changed. My Sunday morning routine was altered by one special cause.
Rather than wake up and journal before heading over to the homeless shelter, I had to make an hour-long stop at a new place to begin a new program.

I took this on as a challenge. I also took this on because I knew the attendees would be harder and tougher to speak with and I also knew that whether I spoke with 100 people or 1,000, the only goal I had was to at least reach one person.
My aim was to make people think and question their choices as well as their assumptions, Meanwhile, the people who would be in attendance would be as hard as the bars that kept them inside of their pod-style living. 

My first trip into the county jail was unsettling to say the least. I was running on anxiety all the way to the parking lot.
As it was, I was just a citizen. I wasn’t sure if I would be heard or listened to. I certainly was not sure if the people in the room would look to challenge me. But either way, I was on my way to start the second program which was created by me. There was no one to supervise or correct me and should this program fail or be terminated, this would mean that what I created was not a good working model.

I remember giving my identification. I recall placing all of my things in a locker and then passing through a metal detector.
I can remember the smell of the place, which is not to say that hallways or the corridors smelled awful by any means. However, as a person who has been in different places, there is a commonality to the smell of institutional life.
There is a sound too, which is unforgettable. What I’m talking about is the sound of barred and automatic doors slamming as they roll shut.
I could hear my own heartbeat as it pounded in my chest. But more, I can remember thinking about the fact that this project was new and that those who were detained and living in N4 were not only being made to attend a new weekly meeting; but the worst part was the inmates of N4 lost a half-hour of sleep time. That’s enough reason to hate anyone.

In all honesty, I would have hated me if I were them. In all truthfulness, if I was one of the inmates in N4, I would have given me a hard time.
I would have debated every word and tried to discredit every message or talking point.
However, instead of declaring our differences and accentuating the obvious, I looked for the commonality of the heart.
I looked to hit them right where it hurts; with the undeniable truths of our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

I told them a quick version of my story. I exposed myself and my scars as well as my hatred and my thirst for revenge and violence.
I exposed my shortsighted little life and rather than look to appeal to anyone’s nature as a tough guy who survived my own demons – instead, I decided to be humble and true. I decided to discuss losses. I talked about the shame-based ideas which did nothing for me but keep me in the ongoing process of a lifestyle that leads to nothing else but more of the same.
I told them a few personal stories and to make my part of this quick and to show that my intention was true, I wanted to show them that I was both true and that my passion was honest. Therefore, I decided to hit them where it appeals the most. I decided to mention the obvious. I mentioned the matters of the heart. 

Safe to say there was a decent number of people in the room.
Safe to say my tempo and energy was different here than my other program called, “Breakfast with Benny.”
Safe to say they had no idea what was coming; namely me crying openly and honestly reporting my life’s choices without the need to promote or glamorize the gangster bullshit or the highlights of an alternative drug culture.

I will never know how I was truly received nor will I know if I was really liked or listened to.
However, in the case of the question at hand: What the hell were you thinking?
I was looking at rows of chairs with people who were sitting there as attendees, all of them with the same question about their own life:
What the hell were you thinking?
There were repeat offenders. For them, there was the obvious question of “didn’t you learn your lesson the last time,” to which the obvious answer was “no.”
Otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting in the room with me inside of a county jail.
Of course, the question applied to them too. What the hell were you thinking?
There were people who were comfortable behind the walls of county jails and state prisons. For them, there was a sea of faces who had the same question.
And the answer?
Maybe some said the common “I don’t know.”
There were some who played the victim role; as if none of this was their fault that they broke the law.

Of course, there were some who took this program to clean up and look pretty for the judge.
They did this so that the courts would take mercy on them and hopefully let them go with a little slap on the wrist. 

My concern:
What were they going to take away from this group?
What could I possibly say to the people in this group (notice how I removed the word inmates) and how could I create a discussion that promotes a challenge to their assumptions?
Or how could I offer a viewpoint that change is possible for anyone?
How could I do this with a group of people who believe that this is just their life?
Lastly, what could I possibly offer to remove or adjust their data which, to them, supports the fact that this is the only way they could live.

People say things like this all the time:
This is just who I am . . .
This is a real statement.

There is the saying that man is as he thinketh.
I’m sure that this is relatable to more than just men. I think this is relatable to all; in which case, people are only as good as they think they are.
People are who they believe they are and until they have enough substance; or until they’ve seen enough proof that supports the actual ability that they can be better; that in fact, they can improve; and until the eureka moments occur or when the information we learn is able to connect to our thoughts in a relatable, retainable and understandable way – the idea of change remains impossible. 

So in answer to the question of “what the hell were you thinking?”
I am sure the answers vary.
However, the premise of the answer was based on a belief system that compiles the data provided
of having a future (or not),
of deserving a future,
understanding self-worth,
and the ability or inability to have a long-term vision.

By the way, if you assume you’re going to die young or if you assume that you’re eventually going to undergo the worst possible outcome; then you’ll prepare for this idea and live on its behalf. 
Therefore, if your mindset is, “Well, I’m never going to be able to make it any other way,” then it will be hard to conceptualize the benefits of success or long term solutions.

So what were they thinking?
Maybe they were thinking this was “them.”
Maybe they thought this was the only way they could get by or the only way they could get ahead.
Maybe in the case of gang life or the drug life or in the romance of gangster cultures – this is it. This is par for the course. 

I remember one person in the group. He was older. He had been in and out of jails and prisons for more than half of his life.
He was a father too. He had a son.
When asked if he wanted this life for his son, he said “Obviously not!”
When asked if his son will make the right choices he said “I hope so.”
When asked “Is he making the right choices,” he answered, “Sometimes.”

“Is the life he’s living the same as the life you want him to have?”
“Not really but there’s not much I can do about it from here.”

I have watched generations from all cultures and backgrounds destroy themselves and push for an early grave.
What were they thinking?
In many cases, they were thinking this is the best that they can be . . . 

Lastly, to break this down:
Our thinking becomes directional.
We create a focus bias for ourselves and, at best, if this is all we believe we can be then our self-fulfilled prophecy is free to come true.

Or we can change our patterns by improving our thinking.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t take the consequences of jail or a prison sentence to learn this lesson. 

By the way, I have been fortunate to stay in contact with some of my friends from N4.
Maybe not all of them did well.
But some . . . they’re out there, saving lives now and teaching people how to apply what they learned.
I am proud to have been part of this

Hey Jason . . .
Man, I couldn’t be more proud of you if you were my own flesh and blood.
Keep doing what you do.

One day at a time.


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