When tomorrow hits, it will mark my completion of a decade many predicted I would not even reach, let alone live through. I am not a big birthday kind of guy, and quit counting a while ago. See me in the flesh, you will probably peg me to be younger than I am. Still, some birthdays have coincided with some pretty monumental life events.
The first day of this soon to be filed in the past ten-year span was one such day. Tuning 30 is not something any 20-year-old ever wants to admit, yet for me it was a literal rebirth. My flesh had completed a 12-month gestation, my womb was the gates of Eglin Air Force Base, which sounds pretty impressive. When I add in the letters FPC, the glamor becomes a little less sexy, since they stand for Federal Prison Camp. The beginning of my fourth decade carried a particular significance, since I was tasting freedom again, wearing my clothes, able to go wherever I chose. No more counts, no more prison “etiquette” to abide by, no more plodding, dictated existence.
Some memories are much more vivid, the ones where exact seconds can be relived, complete with all the senses involved. Stepping out of the BOP (bureau of prisons) minivan, with nothing more than a manilla envelope holding the last few months of what would become Part II in my memoir, and some legal correspondence, an odd sense of claustrophobia smacked me right in the jaw. My mind was telling me one of the longest, loneliest years of my life was complete, but my body was heavy. Stepping out of any vehicle without hand cuffs, waist chain and leg irons felt wrong. Not being ordered to make my next move was surreal.
I had to use my brain again for decisions. The airport was small, and I wondered how any jet could even land there. Irrational ironies began filling up my head as I approached the security check, like the plane running out of runway and crashing in some fiery mess, or the seagulls, so many of them. I got to the guy and showed him the only ID I had, my BOP issued inmate card. I emptied my pocket and saw actual US currency…how sweet it was not having tuna, mackerel, Snickers or smokes double as cash anymore.
Watching the guy look at my ID and match it up to my boarding pass was the first inkling of what it meant to be lugging around a burden whose size I hadn’t even contemplated. That leering look…yes ass hole, I came from the prison camp, I am a Federal felon. No doubt I was in for a strip search, because all inmates hide stuff up their asses. I am one evil mother fucker and you had better take extra care searching me…
I remember the nice 38-year-old lady who sat next to me, and still feel the grip of her hand around my wrist on take-off. She hated flying, and as a result, much of the short hop to Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta was spent making small talk.
“What were you down in the Pensacola area for?”
“It was a business trip.”
“That’s nice, what kind of work do you do?”
I divert narcotics, but was ratted out by an associate. “I am in sales and marketing for a government contracting firm. That’s all I am allowed to say.”
“How exciting. A man of mystery!”
You could say that I guess, given the fact that for much of my third decade of life was spent hiding who and what I really was. She finally calmed down, and I spent the rest of the flight looking through the goofy Skymall catalog. Why yes, my dog does need a parka and booties for the rain, and $199 seems reasonable for the complete set. Still, I was broke, so I had to really weigh the pros and cons between the canine rain gear and something really sweet for myself, a reasonably priced inflatable “drive-in” movie screen for all my huge parties I’d be throwing to celebrate my new-found lease on life. Just hit up whatever torrent site I may or may not have used in 2003, and we could all chill around the pool and watch whatever new ‘hit’ Hollywood was hyping. And ranging from $249.95-999.95? Throw away that freshly bleached king-sized white sheet hung from a tree branch I am really going to be living the high life.
By the end of year 30, I was indeed doing the same thing that led me to jail in the first place, the high life. Thankfully my probation officer sent me to rehab than jail, and birthday 31 was spent at Twin Lakes, near Somerset, PA. Most people couldn’t find it on a map before 9/11, but given its proximity to Shanksville and Flight 93, it had become common knowledge. Tragedies have a way of making people or places relevant, thrust into a spotlight that vastly surpasses Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, or infamy.
I became something of a leader at that particular rehab, because at prior rehabs, I was in the minority as a heroin user. Most people in 1999-2000 where there for either cocaine or alcohol. This time the opiate addicts accounted for more than 80%, and they were all young. With all of my recent screw-ups and the consequences that came packaged with them, I felt a strong sense to do everything in my power to hopefully reach even one addict, to help them turn life around and avoid the inevitable, which are quite simple and concise: become penniless and perhaps homeless, alienate everyone, lie cheat and steal, end up in jail and/or end up dead. Therapists and counselors turned to me to give speeches, teach classes and lead meetings. I loved it, and it planted a seed in my brain that would sadly take another 8 years to germinate, grow and finally mature.
When I turned 32, I was in the hospital, due to a kidney issue. Prior to that, I had once again fallen off the wagon, died in my parent’s house, in the bedroom I grew up in, the one where I would hide under my bed as a child and pretend I was being saved and brought out of a coma with the kiss of my super woman. Talk about prolonged foreshadowing, and it was my father and a shot of Narcan that saved my life. The kidney issue was a perceived Godsend though, being prescribed legal opiates justified in my mind all the heroin I was doing. After I was fixed up finally, I knew I had to get on the straight and narrow, and I discovered the super savior drug, Suboxone (yes, there is a hint of sarcasm there).
To be continued tomorrow………..
“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”- Bruce Fierstein
Thanks for reading, sharing, etc..
Have a peaceful night! – MFJ