D-4 and counting

Michelle; thank you for your questions in D-5. There were many and all were good. However, two questions/comments really grabbed my attention and I would like to speak to them. The first is about people caring about the issue of women and children in prison and the other is about addictions. Recognize that I am not an expert on either. However, just my experience of having been on the planet close to 7 decades is worth something.

The first issue is in relation to the not caring point. Took a ride of a few miles and sat with the question for a while. What bubbled up inside caught me by surprise. Think in terms of there are some 308 million people in our nation. Match that against 13 million ex-offenders walking the streets our nation. Then think in terms of another 3 million men, women and children under lock and key in the jails and prisons. So, if you think in terms of each felon/ex-offender having two kids, two parents and maybe two siblings. We are now talking of some 90 million Americans having a close family member that is or was in prison.

Most certainly you can dispute the numbers but what you can not do is dispute the magnitude. In essence, we are talking of one third of our country having a near relative that was in prison or is in prison themselves. Now, think in terms of all that guilt, shame, denial, sadness and anger that surrounds those people. The if onlys are infinite and devastating.

There is another reality that is equally scary. There are those whose well being/lively hood is tied to keeping prison beds filled. In Florida alone, there are over 50,000 men and women who work in the jails and prisons of the state. If you figure that by extension each person as one spouse and two children, then you now have 200,000 men, women and children in Florida alone whose financial well being is directly tied to keeping those jail/prison beds full.

Now, we have not even touched on those members of the judiciary, lawyers and police whose jobs it is to capture, harvest, and process the proper number of men, women and children to keep the beds full. Coupled with the Judiciary, lawyers and police as well as correction officers are those businesses that are not only directly tied the Criminal Justice Industrial Complex but also those whose interests are tied to the massive number of men and women who work for the criminal justice industrial complex. This is a powerful and active political lobby whose support is all too often crucial to the success of every elected politician in the state.

What we have ended up with is a massive number of men and women who on some level know that their well being is directly tied the pain and suffering of those relegated to fill the beds in the prisons and jails of the nation. This entire situation reminds me of three books I had to read way back in the day of my youth. One was Animal Farm and the other is Nineteen Eighty Four. On a deeper and more frightening level is The Fall of the House of Usher.

The core mechanisms that fuels this process are two. The first is addictions and the second is the manner in which we treat the women and children that become jammed up in the system. There is a way out of it and that is what my 11,000 mile motorcycle odyssey is about. Is it no wonder that we don’t want to see the problem solved.

The second and maybe more profound point speaks to addictions. What captured my attention in your discussion was ‘Whereas others who tried drugs for the first time would get really messed up and sometimes very ill, I myself would feel like I was coming home. my body seemed to welcome and thrive with the poison in my veins, when others were on the floor. THAT is FACT, undeniable and real.

Gabor Mate, MD makes a similar observation in chapter 22 of his book: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. In CHAPTER 22 (Poor Substitutes for Love), he points to an addicts description of her first hit of heroin being like a warm, soft hug. He goes on to point out ‘“Replacing a negative emotion with a positive one is the core of addictive behavior.’

However, in the same paragraph it is also pointed out that “It takes a lot of discipline and courage to work through a negative thought and negative emotion,” I would argue that there is some mystical combination of discipline, environment and support that may vary with each person but still operates within these three universal parameters.

To properly understand what I am talking about you have to go back into my background and experiential encounters with behavior modification. I have been through marine boot camp, army boot camp, army officer training program, special forces training, commanded a basic training and rifle company, experienced psychiatric and therapeutic intervention, been through the 12 steps and sat on a cushion for 90 days. You could almost find the universal outline in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

There are three parts to the hero’s journey. The going, transformation and return. The going can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary may be turning yourself in for re-hab, joining the service or walking into a 12 step meeting. Involuntary may be being drafted, committed to a crises stabilization unit or given and either or choice. The second step is the key and that is the transformation. Not everyone has the discipline, will power or whatever you may call it to go it alone. Hence, there are a variety of mechanisms available to help. For some reason that I don’t really understand but 90 days appears to have some basis of basic change in the brain. The stronger the isolation, support or whatever is the less self-discipline is required. The more intense the program is the deeper the change.

Take the comparison of marine and army boot camps. Parris Island in 1961 was total immersion 24 hours a day into what was a totally alien culture that altered me to the core. The transformation was total and a new me emerged. However, my army experience was something else. Army basic training and officer’ training school (OCS) had precious little impact on me and to a certain point I was rather contemptuous of the army and its ethos. Then came Special Forces training and my whole world was turned upside down again. In the 12 steps they talk of 90/90. This takes a lot of self-discipline to work. However, a good sponsor can and will make up to a degree the lack of self-discipline.

By the same token there is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program as designed at the University of Massachusetts medical center by Jon Kabat-Zinn where I did an internship in 1995. The morning was going through the program as a client and the afternoons was the professional instruction part. This is an 8 week program with 60 to 90 minutes of homework every day of the 8 weeks. Clients successfully completing this program report maintaining their practice at a 70 or so percent well after 5 years. Realize that this is an expensive program and to afford it, a person has to have some sort of self-discipline. Essentially, it goes to the core of the issue and focuses on replacing negative emotions and feelings with positive ones through meditation and yoga

At the end of everyone of those trans formative experiences comes the return to society or the starting point. Yes, some come back as crusaders but for the most part, the return is marked by what I would call an ability to engage live competently. Going through the process mechanically does not create a transformation. To engage in the process induces a transformation. Sort of like meditating, you can put your time in on the cushion and get no where. However, if you engage in the process of meditation then there is a transformation. The same is true of the 12 steps. You can talk the talk for 20 years and get no where but the transformation comes when you walk the walk.

Each and everyone of the programs mentioned are predicated on action. Than means incorporating them into life as you go through life. Simply put, to intellectualize these programs is to just add more junk to the mind without transformation.

Try to bend the trans-formative experience to what you are predisposed to do simply returns you to your starting point. There is a powerful link that connects the practice of meditation and the 12 steps which comes in the 11th step where it talks of recovery coming through prayer and meditation. Have been teaching MBSR and meditation in prisons for some 15 years now. My experience is that those with a incredible amount of self-discipline are changed through the trans formative experience. However, the distractions in average dorm are thwart the ability of the average person to engage in the practice. Putting the average person with an addiction in a supportive prison environment with like minded peers in what may be called a character dorm creates the atmosphere that promotes a transformation experience.

This is not unlike going to marine boot camp or special forces training where the immersion is total and the transformation of the individual is complete. Unlike prison boot camp where there is nothing substituted for what is taken away. In both cases, those that are not ready for the transformation are simply kick out of the systme.

There is an exception to what may be considered an over simplification of the military experience and that is war. There is no way to train a person to deal with the trauma and drama many experience and it in itself is a trans-formative experience within a trans-formative experience if you will. Having said that, I suggest anyone interested in perusing the analogy go to Judith Hermans book Trauma and Recovery

My hope is that I spoke to two of the questions you asked. If I lacked clarity it is because I tried to be too brief. Know I wish ya well.

This entry was posted in On the Road, The Journey, The Problem, Women and Children. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to D-4 and counting

  1. michelle rollins says:

    I had to read and reread several times, and today while running 4 plus miles I was thinking alot about everything you said. Firstly, you did indeed answer my questions about why the public in general would not be all that interested in the plight of those of us who end up in and out of the system. Moving on from that, what conssitently stands out and “convicts” me so to speak, is the topic of self discipline. In my case, and I would imagine many others as well, having self discipline for a period of time is no problem. and I have at many different times in my life been “on the right track” so to speak. It is of course mainting this self discipline that is the problem. There is a breaking point. In my case each breaking point is predicated by a similar emotional “meltdown” followed by an inability to trust or connect with anyone. Everything seems to loose it’s worth and I begin to feel unwelcome in my own skin and mind. It’s very hard to explain, but I am sure that other addicts who repeatedly suffer relapses can relate to the way I am trying to describe it. Maybe the explanation is as simple as I have not yet found my own “mystical combination” of meditation, prayer, 12 steps and sponsorship. However, I feel as if there is something deeper that is going on. I do believe in the repetitive mind body and soul training as described in “The Hero’s Journey” being able to transform ANYONE if enough time is spent in the work involved. The problem is the freedom that some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy once we are released, gives us also the freedom to turn away when we just aren’t strong enough to go on of our own will. If I were forced somehow through further incarceration or something similar (God forbid!) then maybe I would see success? I don’t know. Opiate addiction for long periods of time (decades in my case), and having been consistently exposed to opiate addiction in the womb and subsequently born addicted, may make it more difficult to feel comfortable in my skin for any sustained period of time, and therefore maybe take longer periods of restricted freedom of choice in order to overcome. Similarly, trusting a sponsor becomes too difficult at times because of life on the street making sustained trust of anyone during an emotional break seem just too risky, nearly impossible. Am I over complicating it all? Or….am I just a bad person unwilling to change and unwilling to admit it to myself or anyone else? I pray everyday that that is not the case.
    For others getting out, I don’t know if or how my experiences will help, but I offer what I can. Right now I am on a medication prescribed for opiate addiction. Unlike methadone, it is an opiate blocker called suboxone, that has some mild opiate qualities, but blocks the euphoric effects of any other opiates as well, while eliminating cravings, drug dreams, withdrawels and so on. I tend to view myself as NOT being clean and sober because I am on the medication. However, being free and on my own, I have no urges to use, no feelings of the “meltdown” or feeling like I don’t belong. I am finding it easier to maintain a life without breaking down and I am not using any other drugs. This is just another thing I have tried after repeated relapses. I don’t know if it is the answer, but so far I am doing better than I have ever done on my own, with no one to answer to.
    Thankyou for your response and thankyou for letting me respond as well. Although I am not really too proud of the fact I am on the meds, I will share anything you or anyone would like to know about it, in the hopes I can just help someone else.
    Godspeed on the road KC…thank you s much for all you have done and all you will do.

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