This series features writing from inmates at the El Paso County Jail. The articles stem from weekly programming facilitated by the Colorado College Prison Project. Through contact between the CC community and Colorado Springs, this series aims to simultaneously broaden the CC perception of incarceration issues and provide a platform for incarcerated writers. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office requires approval of written material prior to publication and the removal of authors’ last names.
A wise man once told me, “there are two dates on your tombstone, the day you’re born and the day you die. Neither of these dates matter. All that matters is the dash between those dates and what you do with it.”
As a young man I was obsessed with fate, a prophetic declaration of what must be. I never questioned what must be, as much as why it must be. I have never felt like I truly belonged in the world. I was an introverted, sensitive young man who found more in common with the characters in the books I read and the movies I watched than the people I was surrounded by.
I learned a hard lesson at six years old when my father left. I learned we may come from our parents, but we are not their choices. I did not come into this world with hate. I learned to hate. I hated my father for leaving, I hated my mother for making him leave, and most of all I hated myself for feeling like it was my fault. It felt like he didn’t want me, like I brought shame on him.
So, I grew up in a state of want, I wanted more than my circumstances seemed to provide. With the lack of a male figure in my life, I turned to the faces on TV that looked like me. At the time I could not envision myself creating opportunities like Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Will Smith, and Denzel Washington, and truth be told they didn’t sound like me.
My role models became the rappers in the videos I watched on BET and MTV. I saw the chains, the money, the women and was instantly drawn to their lifestyles. I don’t know a kid in my generation who didn’t shout, “Kobe!” or “Jordan!” when they shot a basketball or did a spin move on the court. My story, like many of the young faces that looked mine, started with no father figure in a demographic with lean opportunities where our only path seemed to be playing sports, becoming a rapper, going to jail, or being consumed by the streets.
I was taught that a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. The society we live in today teaches us to shun anyone or anything that looks or seems different. Stereotypes are given life through lack of understanding of how a person thinks or feels.
We cannot help where we come from, who our parents are, or how we grew up, but what we can help is how we think. It is something beautiful and pure when people stop apologizing for being who they are. Being you is good enough. It took me a long time to not seek the validation I felt I had been deprived of. We all must learn to heal ourselves then heal others, to seek to understand then be understood, to listen, not listen just to respond.
We are not defined by our past but by our choices. My life may be society’s stereotype but it’s still my story.