This story was something that I’ve tried to sit down and write many, many times. Every time ends the exact same way. I write a few well worded paragraphs only to realize I had spent the last three paragraphs word vomiting. Each time made no sense in its own ironic way. To be frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever have the capability to tell this story without word vomiting. Only because, even eight/nine years later, it’s still just as hard to talk about. I’d rather accept and process things in my own “normal” way, because that’s what works for me. That is what has gotten me to this place in life. While this story is eight years of “meat”, I believe I can shorten it without hindering the….point? The moral? The story. That’s all we’ll call this. A story. My story. Part of my story. This is one of those things that I just had to decide in a literal blink of an eye that I was going to write. Because no matter how much prep, no matter how many outlines, it’ll never be easy enough to talk about. Forgive me if it doesn’t sound “complete”. It is what it is.
Aside from the introduction, there’s one more subject I want to discuss. I made a post a while ago. A post I intend to remove. I don’t think I owe this to “soul searching” or feeling “apologetic” (to be honest), I believe I owe this one to myself, my childhood, my future. My previous post was titled “Prison Talk: The Forgotten Victims”. In this post I discussed how we, the inmate’s family, are often the forgotten victims. Me then could call myself a victim, but I don’t feel like I can take that from them. Me now says no. I don’t know what I am, and I’m not sure what kind of credit I deserve. I only know my strength. I would be lying to say that I didn’t feel like my childhood wasn’t a victim to this incarceration. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like my life wasn’t a victim because of this incarceration. The judge was right that day, you know, we didn’t deserve this. We don’t deserve this. We will never, in a million years, on a million universes, in a trillion lifetimes ever deserve this. I remember laying on the floor by mom’s bed at night for months just holding her hand, crying myself to sleep every night. Our Christmas money, school clothes, etc. were spent on a lawyer. In what universe did we deserve this? In what lifetime did we deserve this? We didn’t. We don’t. We will never. I titled the previous post that because I channeled a bit of my anger through that title. See, that’s the thing. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try it’s always an open wound. It’s like having a dead relative that didn’t die? Instead of going to a funeral and working through grief, your loved ones are dangled two feet in front of you with a couple of television screen visits and thirty minute phone calls a week. They’re dangled in front of you like it’s some kind of joke life is playing on you. Where you at, Ashton? As if it isn’t hard enough, he’s in a facility that’s eight hours away from me. Like I said, life’s sick joke. I don’t want to disrespect a true victim of any crime, but I just haven’t thought of what I feel like the immediate family is. Whatever it is, it hurts.
For me it all began in August 2009. My world literally crumbled, and everything was changed. Literally everything. From day one, everything was different. No matter how many years have passed, no matter how bad I’ve wanted it back, nothing was the same. Nothing would ever be the same. It was the hardest day of my life, and the experience is the hardest thing I’ve had to face so far. Some days I wonder how I’ve survived this long. In August 2009, my brother was arrested. I’ll spare the details for privacy reasons. The details aren’t the purpose of this post, anyhow. The purpose of this post is my story. How this one event has changed my life forever. The purpose of this post is to discuss the difficult times I’ve faced, and I can only hope someone will find some inspiration from my experience. The first stage, after the arrest, was shock. I was in complete shock that this could even be happening to my family in the first place. I cried. I couldn’t stop sobbing. Once I was in the presence of a close friend, I collapsed. Literally. I collapsed and cried for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I remember asking myself, “Why didn’t I just stay home? Surely it was a decent excuse to miss band rehearsals, wasn’t it? Surely the director would understand, even if I was just a freshman?” Many tears later, I picked myself up and moved on to practice. That day was a blur. How could I seriously focus on anything else. It was a weird line between feeling over dramatic and reacting appropriately. How did I know what I was doing? Did I really care? All I cared about was that it was happening to me, and it was happening right now, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever felt. My entire family crumbled. We all shut down. We processed things on our own. We grieved, and “accepted” the situation on our own. We didn’t have many conversations about it, until I confessed, years later, that I needed a therapist. Today, the most sad thing about that is that I was able to recognize how much I needed a therapist before anyone else. I guess I just knew there was no other option for me. I knew if I wanted a future at all, I needed to see this therapist. My second stage….denial, complete and utter denial. I was almost incapable of working through this experience. I blame this on it taking four years to get a trial. My brother sat in jail for four years. I was incapable of working through this because I knew my brother was innocent, so surely a jury would too. How do you accept something when it isn’t definite? I was a person that believed in miracles. Thanks to a therapist and many sessions, I was able to move on to accepting my situation, and begin truly healing. Once I was able to do this, life became a bit easier. I felt lighter, in a sense. It was like this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt lighter, because here’s the thing, once you’re able to accept your situation or experience for what it is, you’re able to live your life. You’ve accepted your situation for what it is, so you’ve released exactly what was holding you back. Once I accepted my situation, I was able to begin loving myself and begin creating a life I love. I’m still fresh to this last step, but it’s been so sweet that I’m in no rush to pass this stage of my life. In my opinion, we may worry, but we may not let this worry consume us. Because it will, if you let it. I’m afraid I’ve never realized how far I’ve truly come until I’m sitting down proofreading this. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in my life, but I’m more than happy with the place I’ve brought myself to. I’ve always had to process this situation on my own, so growing through it, healing, and beginning to live my life is the most rewarding and humbling thing. It’s extremely humbling to realize I’ve brought myself to this place in life. When I say I’ve brought myself to this place, I don’t mean to give my friends and family less credit than they deserve, I just mean that I’ve made the empowering decisions needed to grow through and heal from this experience. Accepting my situation freed me from the prison I allowed myself to live in for over six years. Accepting my situation allowed me to heal in ways I’ll never have words to describe. Keep reading below for my attempt at describing.
When my brother was arrested, my life transformed into an immediate nightmare. Life was playing this sick game on my family, and surely it had to be over soon. I was in shock. How could this happen? How could this happen to my family? I remember crying for hours that day. I remember getting home from band rehearsals, and it was the strangest feeling when I realized my brother wasn’t home. Mom was locked away in her room, something she did best. Who was I to tell her how to process this? I’ll deal with it in my own way…and I did just that. My dad didn’t say much, but tried to keep things light, as he did best. It was the strangest feeling. This first stage of shock was just that, shock. I don’t have many scenarios to describe it, it’s just a feeling I pray to never feel again. What fucking terror. The second stage, and least important, in my opinion, denial. Absolute denial. This cannot be happening. How is this happening? Why is this happening? Why do such terrible things happen to such good people? We did nothing more than simply live our lives. How could this happen to a family like ours? It was the worst experience I could describe. I felt every possible worst feeling in my body, all at once. Those deep feelings, the ones you can feel at the back of your throat and deep in your stomach.
Once I was able to move on to the final stage of accepting my situation. This is the most important step. This was the last time I felt sorry for myself. This was the last time I let my situation be an excuse for the decisions I made and continued to make in life. This was the last time I let this situation control my mind. This was the last time I felt guilty, like this situation was my fault. (as I’m sure so many of us in the immediate family do) I truly realized this situation was not my fault. There was absolutely nothing I did that caused this experience. Placing blame wouldn’t do any good anyway, believe me, I’ve tried blaming as many people as I could. It will not change a thing. See, as long as we carry the pain with us, we are giving this situation power over us. Giving it power to take over our minds, and eventually, our lives. Our bank accounts, our education, our relationships, our jobs….As long as you enable it, it will continue consuming your very being. We can still love and support our inmates without allowing the situation to overpower us. As important as our inmate is, we must not forget ourselves. The most beautiful thing? We can love our inmate and ourselves at the same time AND equally. SAY WHAT? I would have laughed in your face if you had said this to me four years ago. Self love is something that is so underrated. It’s truly amazing what you can do when you love yourself unconditionally. When I look back to certain times in my life, I see small hints of self-love (that, at the time, i thought were HUGE), but I think the moment I began to truly love myself was when I decided to change to a plant-based lifestyle. I had never made a decision that would benefit me one hundred percent. This was the first decision and first action I made that didn’t have even the slightest benefit for anyone but myself. Becoming plant based last March was something in which I invested myself completely. I invested myself with no shame, and I did not look back. I am almost one year with no animal junk, and it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made. See, the key is not that I’m cutting out animals. The key is not that I’m doing something for the good other beings (not quite yet, at least), and the key is not that I performed one of the most selfless acts that most people cannot perform. You see, they key in this scenario is that for the first time in my life, I was able to make a decision that only had positive outcomes for me. I was able to invest so much of myself into this, I was simply incapable of thinking of anything else. Being Vegan is something I’ve dreamed of doing for about five years. Being healthy is something I’ve dreamed of doing for as long as I can remember. Changing my lifestyle and being healthy seemed like this horribly daunting and impossible task. A task I NEVER thought I could accomplish. It will be one year in March 2018. ONE YEAR! Not only did I complete something I thought impossible, but I made it sustainable and have lived the lifestyle for almost a year. Thankfully, after one year, I have no intentions of turning back. I worked very hard to get here, and it truly makes me believe I can do anything. But that’s exactly the truth, I can do anything. And so can you. Any of us can do anything. Life is one hundred and twenty percent about perception, and it’s a prison until we realize this.