CONNECTING THE DOTS……
Insight, understanding, remorse. All very subjective topics, but all necessary for a lifer to exhibit before the BPH panels are willing to consider him/her sufficiently rehabilitated to reach that threshold of being ‘no longer an unreasonable risk of danger to society.’
Often times it’s a bit like the old saying about art; I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it. Inmates often come to hearings with some understanding that the effects of their past influenced their actions that resulted in a crime, but when asked to put it all together, to connect the dots and talk about ‘the causative factors’ of the crime—they draw a blank. One commissioner reported his growing frustration and concern with prospective parolees who, when asked why the crime happened could only say ‘I hated my father.’
Ok, clearly a problem, but how did issues with your father result in a major crime involving a totally different man, one you’d perhaps never met before? This is the story of one former lifer, now paroled, who was able to find that insight, connect the dots and articulate the causative factors of his crime. It’s not everyone’s story or solution, but it does illustrate how events effect emotions, which affect perceptions and attitudes, which influence decisions, which often result in extreme actions.
These are snapshots from a life, snippets of events that culminated in a personal and societal disaster of huge impact, that was at once predictable and yet unforeseen.
I was born to an alcoholic father and co-dependent mother. My parents moved around a lot and divorced when I was very young, after which I didn’t see my father for many years. My mother married my step-father, who was also an alcoholic. He was away a lot but always drunk when he was around.
He was abusive to me and my mother. I hated him because he used to torment and humiliate me, but at that time I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with my life. When I was in elementary school I caught my mother in a compromising situation with the father of my best friend; it crushed me and took away all my trust of her. My mother always provided all the tangible things I needed; food, clothing, housing, taught me manners, etcetera; but growing up I can’t remember her ever hugging me.
Eventually, we fled my step-father and moved again. I didn’t know anyone and I had a hard time fitting in. I hated school because I felt like I didn’t fit, wound up in a lot of fights and was miserable. My mother didn’t understand me and we fought, awfully, also. I was an angry young man and thought I should be left in charge of my own life.
At the age of 12 my mother introduced me to alcohol and to pot at the age of 13. I was prescribed Ritalin to settle me down; it is an amphetamine. At some point I stole the whole bottle and abused it with a friend and that was the end of prescription Ritalin, but I came to realize that Ritalin had fostered an affinity for amphetamines.
All of my drug use was achieved through a lifestyle of dealing drugs; that was the only way I could afford it. But the drug life morality we lived by wasn’t conducive to building lasting relationships. Quite frankly, I’ve found that drug addiction and stable relationships don’t seem to co-exist very well. Defeated after another in a long line of failed relationships, I threw in the towel and ran headlong back into the only lifestyle I knew, that of an addicted drug dealer trying to fake being a citizen.
In time, I was shot in the shoulder/chest and nearly killed. My lifelong mindset of solving my own problems culminated in deciding that, “since everybody carried a gun nowadays, I needed to start carrying a gun too.” Just 5 ½ weeks after being shot myself, I got into a confrontation. I felt overwhelmed with humiliation and became enraged and as a result I shot someone. One big difference is that the man I shot died; and almost inevitably, I found myself in jail and later convicted of murder, sentenced to 27 years to life.
After many years in prison and much self-help I realized my thinking had degenerated drastically from what is acceptable in order for my life to get to the place where it was okay in my head to kill somebody. I’m convinced that without fail that we operate on what we believe in. When I committed that heinous crime, somehow in my mind I believed it was the right thing for me to do at that time. Even so, the instant it occurred I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life and that it was irreversible.
Thus began my process of self-discovery; I began to practically examine myself. And I was able to see some pretty significant things.
I realized that my father’s absence resulted in me feeling abandoned by him which resulted in low self-esteem. From that grew an unhealthy quest for approval, and actions that would allow me to ‘fit in.’
All the moving around while growing up resulted in many broken friendships. The result was a fear of intimacy, so I quit making any real connections and became a loner.
My relationship with my mother fostered problems with how I viewed women and trust.
As a result of my stepfather’s torment I adopted the mindset that I had to solve all my own problems and figure everything out for myself because there was never going to be anyone I could count on, especially an authority figure.
Being subjected to his humiliation made me feel stupid and inadequate, which fortified my need to prove myself, but it also made me very angry and frustrated. This resulted in serious anger issues and the fact that violence seemed to solve some problems, and at least for a moment relieved stress, fortified a belief in violence.
I was full of fear of every kind and unable to communicate about the fear or the things that caused it. I was only able to bottle it up until it got to the breaking point. Then I would explode in a violent rage.
So I learned that I grew up full of anger, resentment, shame and remorse. I didn’t know it at the time because I had never known anything else. But it was no wonder that drugs and alcohol seemed such a solution for me.
I learned that the anger, resentment, shame and remorse led to self-centered actions trying to prove my worth. If substance abuse and/or violence salved those feelings, even for a moment, then that seemed to be the solution. But those solutions never worked for long and the feelings never stayed away. I was barricaded in my own lack of understanding and denial; I had put so much time and effort into rationalizing my actions as the fault of someone else or what I had to do to be a man, I didn’t realize that time and effort was spent in building the very prison that dictated so much of my out of control behavior.
You can’t begin to understand the “causative factors of your crime” until you go back to what caused your thinking, your feelings, to be outside lines of society. Because the events of your life caused your feelings, which led to your thinking, which developed your belief system, which rationalized your actions as the best course you could take in any given situation. That’s how the dots connect and knowing how that pattern of dots connected to create such an ugly picture will help you re-draw those connections into a picture of someone able to cope with emotions we all feel; stress, anger, fear, without resorting to violence. Someone who is "no longer an unreasonable risk of danger to society."