By Len, a Certified Peer Specialist, SCI Greene, Pennsylvania*
BLACK SAND, FOOLS GOLD, All that glitters isn’t gold… Growing up early on my own, I had to learn to be a man at the age of ten: I was the only male in a family with seven other siblings. It wasn’t easy being raised in a dysfunctional household. I suffered many years of mental and physical abuse. My whole child life, I was told, I was ugly, and I’ll never grow up to be anything! Not ever realizing the impact this would have later on in my adult life. I ran the streets and joined a gang just because I felt accepted; It was like a self-belonging, A new family that embraced me not for the good, I would latter find out… but for the crazy sick stuff I did that only stroked my ego to someday end me up in prison for the rest of my life. No matter how hard I tried to escape reality the problems were always there. Either I would find trouble or trouble would find me; it latched on to me like an addiction. I was only destroying myself.
Not ever knowing I had a problem, I hit rock-bottom when I was indicted by the Feds for Rico & Racketeering ( A Corrupt Organization Act) and found myself in segregation while awaiting trial and after when I was found guilty. I made amends to myself and forgave all those who betrayed me and I started to soul search per se and find gifts. . .
I changed my way of stinking thinking and started thinking for the future in spite of me being incarcerated living day to day. Getting to the root of things, I was picking the weeds out of my life that was chocking me to change and starting reaching out to support groups: People who were positive that experienced the same things as I had. I learned that the seeds that were planted in our lives start within our minds, and I found myself encouraging myself by listening to that inner voice inside me telling me that I am somebody and if no one is going to love me, I am going to love me…
Many years of finding what my purpose was I was cell paroled to the State and volunteered to be a peer specialists, people from all walks of life that were just like me. This once hardened man had a heart after all and one of my gifts is compassion. Today, I can talk about problems and work them out by being honest with myself and others. I no longer worry about how people will see me for the many walls I used to put up around me. It’s only 10% the problem and 90% our attitudes. We are our greatest encourager, and I constantly tell myself I am blessed and when I am blessed others around me are blessed too. No matter how far I made it today from were I once was, I’m still in recovery and my strength comes from peering and helping others by me being a living example. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and to ask someone how their day was and is there anything you’d like to talk about. Just letting people know no matter what our predicaments are we’re all in this together and together we can make a change.
This story was submitted to ITE/MH through Supporting Incarcerated Veterans Training, a collaboration among the PA Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association, and Drexel University.