Updated: Apr 15
“There is something in us that keeps us where we find ourselves. I think this is the most awful thing of all.” ― P.D. Ouspensky
I walked off of a prison bus in full shackles and chains into a prison sally port for the second time in my life.
Squinting up at the sun I remember thinking, "let's get this over with." I had 2 years to do on my fifth DUI and with a blink of my eye I turned back into the hardass I learned to be my first time in prison, in Texas, when I was 17 years old. (Burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony)
At this point in South Dakota, I was still living in my past life as a liar, thief, con-man, dope head, drunk etc.
The polar opposite of everything that I am now, in this life, but that was all about to change.
My entire thought process stemmed from the mentality of a criminal at this time, because that is what I had allowed myself to become, a criminal through and through.
I learned a lot my first time in prison in Texas. My first friend was an old grifter who loved to talk about his grifts and I picked that old guys brain like an instruction manual.
He was smart man, he understood human behavior and exactly how to manipulate it.
I now had skills that could get me what I want without out having to usually resort to violence.
Seemed like a no brainer to me at the time, I became a grifter myself and started studying everything I could learn about human behavior.
My partner in crime and I became very good at getting our point across with minimal violence.
There is a whole list of better ways to pressure and manipulate someone without ever actually touching them.
This is the main thing I learned from that old grifter. "All you have to do is plant the idea or fear in such a way that the mark thinks it was their idea, or problem, their ego will do the rest."
Mostly after my first stretch I focused more on manipulation than coercion and used every skill I had learned to that end.
I learned how to be a chameleon to change my behavior and personality to fit any situation and when I turned on the charm, I could make most people at ease so they would open up to me.
Especially women simply due to them being inherently more emotional and trusting than men are. One of the quickest ways to manipulate a man is by using a woman, like his wife and it is even better when she has no clue, she is doing it.
Who do you think the man is going to blame for the loss, his wife at first because she talked him into it which gives you time to GTFOD and cover your tracks.
My mind was constantly probing people for a weakness that I could exploit to my advantage.
I was a small-time con man though; you won't be seeing me on Americas most wanted or anything.
I am not wanted by anyone, anywhere... anymore, my slate is clean, all debts are settled and not so much as a speeding ticket in 23 years.
I used to go to jail at least once or twice a year, so I call that a win.
Anyway, In South Dakota, the prison system requires every inmate to attend certain classes and drug and alcohol treatment.
I am not going to go through my time in prison, but during the treatment classes I met a man who literally became my nemesis the first day I met him and, he is also in a large part responsible for me walking out of that prison a different man than went in.
I pretty much owe the man my life.
Long story short, this guy (Drug and Alcohol abuse counselor) had my number, he saw through all of my BS.
But most importantly he planted a seed in my mind that grew outward gathering and bringing everything that I was both good and bad onto a collision course with each other.
That seed was a simple phrase, "It all begins and ends with you."
Due to the lack of stimulation my mind grabbed a hold of and tore into that like a starving dog with its first meal.
Narcissistically at first but in the end, I saw this phrase for what it is, an absolute truth.
Here again, long story short, I went through the cold hard look in the mirror, accepted myself for who I am, forgave myself for who I had turned into, and turned all of my focus onto who I was going to be from that point forward.
Now, I know that I am making all of this sound like a walk in the park, but I can assure you that it was anything but.
It got damn ugly at times.
I spent a lot of time in my own head literally fighting a civil war.
I spent so much time jumping between sanity (my future) and madness (my past) in my own mind things got pretty blurry for a while.
Prison was a good place for me to be at that time because due to my mental state I was a dangerous man to be around.
I would spend hours in the weight room working out and thinking.
If not for the outlet of those physical workouts while I was going through this mentally exhausting battle of my own wills, I quite possibly would have gone mad.
Hell, maybe I did.
Some would say it was good and evil battling over my soul, but the way I see it both of them are simply spectators since I had/have to choose which one, I was going to embrace going forward.
"It all begins and ends with you."
9 months later I had surprisingly kept my nose clean enough to make parole.
I had planned on flatting the 2 years (doing every day of it) to avoid any time on paper because I had every intention at the time I got there of picking things up where I left off in the free world.
As a lowlife criminal spending time in lockup comes with the territory so I simply chalked it up as a temporary setback.
But when I saw that parole approval, I was done thinking, I had made up my mind to leave the old me in that prison where he belongs.
I was scared shitless of course because most times I got out of jail I was intoxicated by one chemical or another within the hour, but I was also determined and confident that I was going to do this, for my family, and my few real friends who stuck by me even though I had used and hurt them all in some way or another, but most of all for myself.
Something inside of me sensed that this was my last chance, if I did not change my lifestyle, I was going to kill myself with one of my adrenaline junky stunts like flying down a rockslide on a mountain bike tripping my brains out on liquid LSD, or an overdose, I had already survived 3 and I had already survived two accidents driving drunk, so I was living on borrowed time already in my opinion.
I was far too narcissistic to off myself but everything I did I pushed the envelope as far as I could push it, intoxicated or sober.
I just needed that razors edge, one slip, one wrong move, one cramp of a finger and the story ends, just like that.
I had a death wish, no question about it and the adrenaline junkies I hung out with were just as crazy as I was, so we pushed each other to push the envelope on everything.
I have to admit though, I really do miss those guys, the jumps, the mountains climbed, biking all over hells half acre, all of that was awesome, I loved it, but no one ever knew at the time what was going through my mind every time I risked my life for a thrill...
Christa knew something was going on with me, but I shut her down every time she started probing me.
Of all the things I had to leave behind because of the triggers, those people and losing that awesomeness in my life is my only regret.
I walked out of the South Dakota prison system into Sioux Falls with nothing to my name but the clothes on my back, a Walkman and a pair of Ray-Bans.
I had $289 in prison income in my pocket with my prison ID, a bus ticket back to Rapid City and a $2,600 tax return check I had mailed to a real friend's house instead of to my prison account. (so I wouldn't spend it)
That was the sum of my assets that I had to start my new life.
I did have a job waiting for me with my old boss Sandy, she gave me a second chance that I really did not deserve.
My parole required me to stay at a half-way house for 45 days, so I had a roof over my head and food to eat until paychecks started coming in.
Bought a weeks' worth of clothes at goodwill for 20 bucks and bought myself a $100 mountain bike at Walmart to get around on.
I have started over with a lot less but that is another memory.
Every day the old me was there, whispering in my mind, things like "man I work my ass off for 4 bills a week. I could make that in one day hustling people, or pulling a burglary, maybe put a beating on someone to scare them into paying their debts.
I still knew all of the people who could get me whatever drugs I wanted; booze was just a corner away.
All I had to do was go and find them and slip right back into that character again.
But I didn't. Not because I didn't want to man.
Every fiber of my being longed for that lifestyle again. No real responsibility, I take what I want through hook or crook, don't care about anyone especially myself and I could blame it all on society, nothing was my fault, so the world owed me!
I was everything that I was raised NOT to be.
All laced together with drugs and alcohol to not hide from my problems because I really didn't have any, I was hiding from myself.
I had to choose every minute of every day to not go back to the "easy life".
"It all begins and ends with you."
I was not battling drug addiction because I was never an addict. Or alcohol because I was never an alcoholic.
The reason I know this is because when I decided to quit doing these things I just quit and never looked back.
True addicts cannot do that.
My drug and alcohol excess were a symptom, not the problem so once I addressed the problem, the symptoms took care of themselves.
This was the toughest fight of my life because I had to spend every conscious moment mentally resisting one side of my nature while dragging myself kicking and screaming into the other side of my nature, the "good" side.
There were times I almost failed as well let me tell you.
I spent every moment that I was not working up in the Black Hills hiking or mountain biking.
That is where I found peace and I could think, talk to the old man, figure things out.
And the old man (God) talks to me, in such simple ways.
I was riding a trail around Silver City (an old mining camp ruin) and I was in a dark place in my mind.
Suffice it to say I was becoming demoralized, the old me was really testing my resolve so I loaded up the pack and mountain bike for some time in the wilds.
I will be honest; I was not positive that I was coming back because my route went through some hairy places, one wrong move...
That is where I was in my head, a very dark place. I was not going to commit suicide; I just didn't really care if I screwed up and died on the trail somewhere.
"At least I went doing something I loved" was my attitude but reckless behavior driven by Nihilistic thinking does not create a natural death. I thought I was giving up.
It was hot, so when I saw an old Railroad trestle up ahead, I decided to stop and get some shade, have a smoke and cool off some, otherwise I would have just flown right through it and carried on.
Any way I sat listening to the river for a little bit, had that smoke and a piece of jerky but it was not until I turned around to get back on my bike that I saw it.
Out here, 15 miles from the nearest trail head, under an abandoned railroad trestle was one line emblazoned across the pier in faded red spray paint. No other graffiti at all anywhere else on the trestle.
"Happiness is always an option, you just have to choose it."
So simple and yet I stood there staring at it like an adolescent boy seeing his first breast.
I was fixated for a moment while another phrase I had not thought about in far too long went through my mind.
"It all begins and ends with you."
I realized that I wasn't giving up at all, I had simply forgotten.
Both what my goal was and where my strength to succeed comes from.
I stopped putting in the work, I got lazy and complacent in my success.
In other words, I let my ego (old me) slip back in and it immediately started wreaking havoc on my newly built mental infrastructure, subtle, over time so I did not notice it until it had already got its hooks into me.
Which brings me to that abandoned railroad trestle out in the wilds staring at that simple yet profound message that reminded me of what I was doing and what I had to lose if I stopped doing it.
My spirituality stepped in when my logical mind was failing me and got my thinking back on track.
No bright light epiphanies, no fireworks or ceremony, that is not how the old man talks to me.
Just a faded, random thought someone spray painted years earlier across the pier of an abandoned railroad trestle in the middle of nowhere, that just happens to be exactly what I needed to remind me that I had lost focus, I needed to get off my lazy ass and get back on track, now, before I go any further back down the rabbit hole and get lost again.
So, every day I remind myself, today is the only chance I have to do things right. Yesterday is a memory and tomorrow being never a guarantee.
Every day, no matter where you are, what you are doing, that day begins and ends with you in every way because it is our decisions good and bad that define us for that day, every day of our lives.
It is true that one cannot change their base human nature, but that nature has two sides, and we can damn sure choose which side of that nature we are going to embrace.
People can change though; I am living proof of that.
You can change who you are by changing the way you think. Your mind becomes what you feed it.
Feed it negativity and your life will be negative, feed it positively and your life will be positive.
We tend to find what we go looking for.
Anyone can do this if they are willing to put in the work. The 'evil' path is easy because you do not have to try and be evil, it is already there in every one of us, we choose to follow that path.
That path can always change though but you have to work at it because the path of good is hard, it is a constant struggle and that is why so many give up.
They just do not want it bad enough to suffer for it for a while, it is too easy to just say screw it, and again, that is a choice we all make.
There is no hole too deep to claw your way out of if you really want to get out of that hole.
Our way of thinking is no different, you can change it any time you want to.
But it all begins and ends with you.
The only thing that keeps us where we are is ourselves. ~Ghost