I had to laugh the other day. I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and for a moment I was really shocked. For just a minute, I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. I saw a serious man with a square jaw. Someone with dark hair, sort of large green eyes, a pale complexion – yes, it was me alright.
But this person looking back at me looked older and harder than I think of myself. Many times, I feel inside just like the same 17 year old kid I once was. It’s literally shocking to see myself in the mirror and realize with a jolt that the 17 year old is long behind me.
Now, it doesn’t get much more adult than sitting here in prison, paying the penalty for my crime. I am changed in many ways. I think for the better overall. But it makes me think, is it this way for all imprisoned people? Do they wake up in the morning, and for just a minute before reality sets in, do they feel like a kid again? Does the lifer spend a moment feeling hopeful and alive before the 4 gray walls and bars on his door close in around him?
I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Is it better to have that shred of optimism even when there isn’t much reason for it? Does that mean that the convicted killer feels a moment of reprieve from his fate and his guilt every day? For that matter, does his victims’ families wake up in the mornings and spend a moment feeling normal, before the reality of their loss again sets in with a clang just as loud as any cell door?
I am grateful that the crimes I am being punished for have been against myself. The victim, if there is one, is that 17 year old kid I sometimes still feel like. He was the kid who’s teachers would say over and over “you can be anything you want to be!” He is the same kid who had a couple really sweet girls like him, and who had a couple adults think he had potential in one thing or another. He had some good friends, and a family that trusted he was going to turn out just fine, after he got through the teen years and a little “normal” trouble.
The truth is, I no longer can be “anything I want to be”. I can’t be president, or hold any public office, or be a member of the military, or a person who votes, or a person who wants to rent an apartment in a complex somewhere, or even a person who wants to work at most stores, restaurants and businesses, or service positions that involves going into someone’s home, like an electrician or a carpet cleaner, because as a convicted felon, I am not eligible, either by law or by the rules of that company, to be any of those things anymore. My possibilities have narrowed.
That’s OK. I accept that as my condition, I may be down but I am not done. There is a country song that says “I’m not as good as I once was, but I am as good, once, as I ever was.” Silly lyrics, but along those same lines, I feel that for many of us who are here, incarcerated, that same logic applies.
We can still make our mark in a positive way on the world. We can still have a good life with a family and a job and a home. Some of our possibilities are gone right out the window. Sometimes that is going to feel unfair to us, if we are trying to get back on track. But we knew it going in, it’s the rules, whether they are reasonable or not. I know I am going to have to work harder, longer, and take a bit of rejection and “no’s” along the way. But I can find my spot and maybe this experience will cause me to find a path I never would have otherwise. And I can be as good as I ever was. Maybe I will end up being better than I ever was.
Today when I look in the mirror, I hope to see a face looking back at me that has hope. One that looks like they can have a good time but who looks like they care, about themselves and others. And, I hope that the 17 year old in me can stay lit up always, in some small way, and shine through the serious, hard face looking out at me, because I liked that guy.
Peace ~ Magnum