It's 2018, ladles and jellyspoons, say it with me. Add ’em up and say it out loud, two thousand and eighteen years since — well, that's all speculation. A great many things are alleged to have occurred prior to 1960, the year the Denver Broncos and I debuted, but as far as I'm concerned it's all hearsay and therefore inadmissible. Yes, there are some admittedly credible sources — many directly involved with this very organ — who will claim to have personal experience of fanciful constructions like 1947 or 1953, but as far as I'm concerned they didn't happen, so we'll agree to disagree. And, in keeping with this intensely personal view of time's not-so-eternal progress, the world will end at the precise moment my own processes ceases operation. That's existentialism, one of the many utter wastes of time propounded by those otiose layabouts we generously term philosophers.
There is a very simple calculus designed to arrive at the difference between 2011 and 2018 — either 2011 + x = 2018, or 2018 - 2011 = x. And yet, back in 2011, no matter how I massaged the numbers, the answer came back the same: x = forever. Forever as in eternity, as in not gonna happen, as in in con-frickin'-ceivable, given that those intervening years were to be passed within the extremely inhospitable confines of the CDCR.
For those of you unfamiliar with my by-line and situation, I've been locked up since August of ’11 and refer now to that earlier date in a quote from my very own self and my first-ever submission to the AVA: “Here's what I've learned about doing time: you can't do years. In retrospect you can, easily — that is, after you've done them, they're a snap. Looking back, they don't seem such a huge deal. Two years here, four years there — after they're over, they seem a lark, a blip, a hiccup, a mere trifle weighed against the infinite span of a lifetime. Stand at the front end of eight years, though, and try to come to terms with the boundless expanse of time stretching before you, the effectively infinite span between now and freedom and its attendant despair? That'll grind the teeth right off your sprockets. So, you do days. Days you can do, and they will accumulate and form more meaningful, manageable, mountable blocks of time from which you will one day be able to glimpse the first faint fringes of freedom as the horizon resolves into landfall.”
I wrote that in 2011, in reception at San Quentin, still dazed from the shock of my behavior and the punishment that followed, and I'll be goddamned if somehow, in defiance of all expectation and completely contrary to my own careful calculations, the time passed and 2018 has officially arrived. I may seem to be belaboring the obvious here — if there's anything we can all be sure of, it's Time's unceasing forward march — but as any teenager waiting out the final bell on a spring day or death-row inmate listening for footsteps and jingling chains on the tier can tell you, it doesn't always flow at the same rate.
I think what I really thought was that 2018 would arrive on schedule, but I just wouldn't be waiting on the platform to board it, having already expired is some cruelly ironic fashion in prison as the universe set things aright and punished me for an ill-spent life of profligacy and wickedness. Here's the thing about that, though, that I realized fairly quickly: the universe doesn't give the remotest suggestion of a fuck about me. That kind of vain sophistry is the province of teenagers and the religious. As the great Mark Twain pointed out in his tales of the bad and good little boys, people don't get what they “deserve.” They get, barring the accidents and other unexpected consequences of a random and chaotic existence, what they fashion for themselves. At some point I drew the (admittedly obvious) conclusion that only I was the architect of my destiny and if I ever wanted to have a life again, I'd have to stop allowing things to happen to me and start making things happen, to man the rudder and steer the ship myself.
At first I found this a pretty discouraging proposition, as if there were ever anyone I wouldn't trust to pilot anything, it's me. I just always presumed I was one of nature's mistakes, like the naked mole rat or Donald Trump, a minor glitch that would eventually work itself out through my demise after bouncing randomly around for awhile and being a sort of deliberately entropic particle. But a fairly amazing thing happened. The time passed, and I emerged a better person. My sprockets and gears are meshing nicely, re-toothed and forged of stronger stuff. I am stronger, smarter, wiser, calmer, happier, and more focused than ever before.
This is not meant to be an advertisement for the efficacy of the current correctional model. Far from it. I just happen to have been someone so completely fucked up, so thoroughly steeped in poison and bad ideas that it required a seven-year time out to even begin to knock some sense into me.
I accomplished some things. I wrote 170-odd columns for the AVA. Yo aprendi a hablar Espanol, no perfectamente pero suficiente bien. I became proficient at yoga. I read untold thousands of pages, most of it worthwhile. I took stock of my life and thought yeah, pretty bad job. Not the sort of performance you'd expect from anyone with any sort of innate talent, ability, intelligence, or sense. More what you'd expect from a morally stunted reptile.
But here's the thing about your life: as long as you're thinking about it, you're still in it, and if you're still in it, you can still change it. I am a fair distance from and do not aspire in any way to perfection, but I am confident that I can go forth into the world with enough humility, mindfulness, and vision to be able to treat myself and others with the respect they deserve, to remain unadulterated by intoxicants, and to stop taking things that don't belong to me. Just, to start, a baseline version of a decent human being and a platfom from which to climb higher. If I can't leave people and situations better for having met me, I can at least be sure that they won't be worse off.
Goddarnnit, I can at least do that much.
20 or so years ago I was in a rehab facility in Denver, one of those tough, confrontational therapeutic communities that aim to utterly break down the clients and rebuild them from scratch. They never reckoned on pathologies as massively defended as mine, though, and I proved immune to their hectoring.
A counselor there did tell me something once that gave me hope, at first: that statistically, I was in a good place chronologically as most hardcore addicts either get it around their mid-to-late thirties and get their shit together, or die shortly afterward.
Excellent, I thought. Either way, I'll be getting off this cursed merry-go-round before too long. But what the counselor failed to mention was the much smaller category of cockroach-like survivors who not only don't quit, but up their game, increase the intake, maximize the craziness, and still somehow persevere. The ones who wake up in the morning and say to themselves, goddamn. Still alive. Well, let's see what we can do about that.
But, as the woman said several weeks after an ill-advised bareback hookup with a nameless stranger to her menstrual cycle, better late than never. It's been a long, arduous, terrifying, baffling trip, and if there's one thing I've learned along the way it's if you can possibly avoid it, don't be me. And if you are me, that is, I, then change.
Happy New Year, everyone.