I sat in stunned silence in my cell. I was still trying to process everything. I went from facing 12 years, to facing 13 years (if the new charge had been just one misdemeanor), to facing nearly 35 years. I was 29 facing 35. Not a good feeling. A shocked numbness took over, and for the next several days it seemed as if I were watching myself go about my day. I slept deeply in my cell, and woke up in dread. Each and every day was met with thoughts of fear and worry. As an inmate worker, our cell lights would turn on at 4:00 am and we would leave the pod at 5:00. From the time the lights turned on, until the time we returned back and the lights finally turned off again, I was in my head. Playing out more than 1,000 different scenarios and conversations: from the court hearings, to the visits I would hopefully have with family over my decades behind razor wire. How would I possibly explain this to my son? Would he even want to let me explain? What kind of man would he become with a father in prison? Would he even remember me?
Lights on, leave pod, mechanically separated chicken, coffee, grind showers, paint, inhale toxic fumes, my son, court, 35 years, paint, dread, fear, worry, paint. Break. Just break. And break I did…..
I laid on my iron bunk one day, staring blankly at the bottom of the bunk above me. I was in the deepest of trances. Shock, fear, brokenness, self pity, regret, remorse, dread, my mother, my son, heroin, my life- all swirling through my mind in some kind of mosaic of self reflection. All of a sudden it all hit me: I knew what I was going to do. There is absolutely no way that I was going to spend the next 17(half of 35) years in the Department of Corrections. I was going to let it win. The monster that brought me to my knees was once and for all going to get it’s man. I was finished. This is how my life was going to end: broken, alone, lost, defeated, consumed by the disease. My life had been a complete waste and failure up to this point, so I might as well just end it. Snuff it. And why the hell not? Just another forgotten worthless junkie off the street and out of the hair of the criminal justice system and society at large anyways. I was already a statistic, might as well end up as one. There were no sobs, no heaves of any kind, no evidence from the outside of what was going on inside of me. In fact, if you had been able to see me at this particular time, you would not have even known what sort of gears were turning in my broken mind and spirit. The only evidence my physical form gave was a few silent tears that exited the outside corners of my eyes and made their ways toward behind my ears. The sounds of each one hitting my mat under me like a bass drum. This was it for me. My brother, who I can never in five lifetimes thank enough for all the love and support during this time- was incredibly faithful in his efforts of support. He kept money on my inmate account so that I could buy hygiene supplies and snacks off the commissary list and make phone calls to keep in touch. This was the money that I was going to take my own life with. I had heard that the dope supply in prison, although expensive, is plentiful. From this moment on, I was going to save every last dollar that was put “on my books” for when I got to prison. As soon as I was able to establish a connection on some Heroin and downers in the joint, I was going to buy as much as I could, go to sleep, and never wake up. This was my plan. And I was going to stick to it. I was finished. My white flag was raised. If this is all that life had to offer me, than I would pass. The few moments of joy and happiness I had experienced on this Vast planet of sin, drugs, lies, betrayal, deception, hatred, capitalism, and greed were not near the absolute woe that I had lived for over a decade. No thanks. If I could have mustered the courage to do it, I would have just taken the plunge off of the top tier of the pod and aimed to land on my skull, and ended things right there in the county jail. With my luck though, I would just land awkwardly and permanently mangle myself, and then go to prison. I would just have to wait till I got to DOC….
It’s a very strange sensation to experience, the knowledge of your own upcoming death. I lived and felt this very thing for about 3 weeks, in the secret places inside of Herb. No one knew, I’m sure, because the strangest thing about it was that it produced a very eerie calm and peace about me. During this three week period, I was more “okay” than I had been during the months prior. I laughed, I joked around, I played poker, I told my brother I was doing better. All the while, my clock was ticking inside me. My time was coming. Soon, I would cease to be a living person…
I’m not exactly sure why, but somewhere along the way during all the monontany and numbness, some of the stuff that my teacher in IOP and the pastors in church were telling us started to kick in. I believe that this is when God started knocking on the door to Herb. I would listen to testimonials of men I could relate to in church, and I would hear them. I was actually hungry to learn in IOP and in NA. I asked questions, I asked for prayer, and I started to pray myself. *Now, I don’t want to offend anyone with my references to God, and my faith, so I will do my best to stay accurate, but also vague- but, this is my story- and I’m going to tell it.* I asked for a Bible in church one day, and actually started to read it. One of the passages that stuck out to me is in the book of Romans: Be not conformed by the patterns of this world, but be tranformed by the renewing of my mind. I continued to pray constantly, first for my time to come- the day when I would have that hand full of dope in prison- so that I could just get this shit over with. But the more time I spent actively participating in class, NA, church, and prayer- the more my prayers started to change. I don’t know how or when this all started to change, but it did. And I had started to find some hope in a hopeless situation. The idea of suicide left me, and the new idea of recovery was grafted into my mind. I didn’t care that I was going to prison, I was going to turn things around some day.
One day, after a grueling day of hard physical labor in the local county jail, me and God had a very long and honest talk…..
I can’t even begin to tell you what all I prayed, or what I was thinking, but there was a lot of emotion. Many tears, gritted teeth, and sincerity. I do know, that I was NOT trying to “pray my way out of jail” though, this was something much different. This was real. I didn’t want to live that life anymore. In, or out of jail. I was ready for some direction in my life. Some purpose. I was ready to experience love. I wanted to become a good man, and help people- whether that was in the DOC or not. Suicide had officially been taken off the table, and something else put into its place. Forgiveness. Grace. Faith. Self acceptance. Hope. I remember this being a very powerful moment in the life of Herb, and I walked with a new walk. I just felt, I don’t know, different. This was not going to be the end for me, no matter how long I was away for. I had found some actual peace, for the first time in my entire life. I was free. In jail. I was free….
4:00 am came each and everyday. Brush teeth, breakfast, grind showers, paint, toxic fumes, mechanically separated chicken, pizza, work, dust, paint, poker, lawyer visits, “you’re fucked, Herb”, prison, phone calls, commissary, poker, church, classes, meetings, work out. Over and over and over again. The days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. Still no sign of closure or time frame in sight. I just chugged along, did my job, read my bible, prayed, worked my ass off, tried my best to stay humble, and stay positive. Before I knew it, it was October, and I still had no idea how long I was facing. I just knew that I had taken almost a year off so far, and just had to stay strong and improving myself every day. “B” and I were on the Sheriff’s side of the facility one friday afternoon, preparing to strip and wax the floors. I stooped down to roll up one of those long runner type rugs, that are used to wipe the mud off the bottom of the boots for the officers as they enter the building. I heard a voice say, ” Hey, Herb, come here.” This was nothing new, all the officers knew me and B. We worked our asses off seven days a week for nearly a year. I stopped what I was doing, and stood up. I turned around and saw that it was the Sheriff of the county himself. I was actually sort of, in shock. This very important man wanted to speak to me about something. “I’m sure he just needs his office cleaned or something.”
“Hey, Herb. I just wanted to thank you for all of your hard work around here. You’ve really been busting your butt for a while now. I’m gonna reach out to your prosecutor, see if we can get you outta here.” And then he shook my hand.
I’m not exactly sure what I said to the man, but I’m sure it sounded like shocked gratitude to him. I was in utter disbelief. Had I finally lost it? Was this some sort of delusion my mind made up? Was this even real? Holy shit. It took me just about a week of playing the conversation over and over in my head to come to this conclusion: That just happened…
My December court date came, with no word on a follow through of any kind. I sat anxiously waiting for my attorney to enter the court room. Shackled and praying.My attorney walks into the courtroom, and straight to me. “Sign this, fast. And then read this copy.”
And there it was. In plain black ink: State of Indiana dismisses habitual offender enhancement, burglary, and auto theft. defendant to plead guilty to fraud, and be sentenced to prior drug court charges. Two years( do one) DOC, eight years probation, and one year at a Recovery house in Valparaiso.
I signed that paper faster than any other human has ever signed anything.
I was released from the county jail to the half way house 45 days later.
A true to life miracle had just happened right in front of my eyes. An actual work of God, I had no doubt. I went from taking my own life, dying alone in prison- to an actual true gift of Grace. Freedom. January 11, 2016 I was transported to the halfway house that I am writing this Blog from, Crying tears of appreciation and gratitude. I could not wait to hug my son. My heart was just so full…..
Grace Changes Everything…