Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Cat Man




"My greatest wish is to be the best person I can be – – and not know it."

We call him Bobcat. Every semi-wild cat on the unit knows him by sight and knows his schedule. He's about the only person they let pet them and even hold them. Most all the cats and kittens have known him their entire lives, and he's always been their favorite human being. Because Bobcat feeds and cares for them all with passion.

Prisoners who get no financial support from friends or family have to hustle to earn money in the form of commissary items – – soups, coffee, stamps, snacks – – or go without. They draw greeting cards, wash laundry, sell their psych drugs, steal food from the kitchen or bleach from the laundry, right legal writs, sell tobacco or weed or dip for the shock- collars, or do anything else they can to generate a little cash. Bobcat's hustle is doing laundry (mostly sheets which, like underwear, you're better off washing yourself in here), and the only currency he'll accept are one dollar pouches of tuna and mackerel, which of course, all go to the cats. He never hustles for himself.

He does his best to make sure he has at least one serving a day for them, and he often has two. To help fill their bellies and make the most of each tuna pouch, he crumbles biscuits or cornbread snuck from the chow hall and mixes it in with the fish, adding just enough water to make it the perfect consistency. Sometimes he'll add cooked vegetables that he has carefully chopped up into many cat sized bites. And he makes sure there are always plenty of water dishes set around the unit. He has a lot of mouths to feed; he works hard for his kitties.

It's a pretty amazing sight to see all these cats, who let no one else near them, come running when Bobcat calls. They climb all over him as he sits on the ground, letting him scratch behind their ears and along their spines while he checks them over for any injuries, which he dutifully does his best to treat. It's funny to see cats running around with bandaged legs and ears and know that it's Bobcat's work.

And during the winter months or during any bad weather, Bobcat does his best to make sure the cats are warm and safe. He brings food to all their various dens throughout the unit and creates winter beds for them from borrowed blankets. In the spring he takes the blankets up again and freshens up the dens before birthing time. Though he's never been able to be present for the birth of a litter of kittens, you can be sure he's there to fuss over them as soon as possible. I imagine most every cat here has known Bobcat since they were just kittens. And because he has a life sentence without parole, he's bound to be here for their deaths as well. He told me that he's had a few cats come to him over the years and die in his arms.

Bobcat doesn't really talk much. He's not a people person. He did sit down with me for a "interview" for this blog. Like most of us in prison, he was an alcoholic and drug addict, and he committed his crime – – a senseless murder – – while completely out of his mind on drugs. Like most of us, he is deeply remorseful for it. Not a day goes by, he says, when he doesn't regret his former life of drugs and alcohol and immorality. I can relate when he claims to have been possessed by an evil spirit when he killed his friend. Despite the severity of his crime, Bobcat is really good at heart, and I, for one, am certain that he's no longer a threat to society. He's been clean and sober for too many years now to ever go back to his old ways. Given another chance at life, he'd like to work for the Humane Society or an animal rescue center.

Bobcat is a very spiritual person. Though he doesn't read much, he's read his Bible many times over the years. He carries the pocket-sized "At the Feet of the Master" from the Theosophical Society with him everywhere. Though he doesn't meditate per se, he prays and gives thanks to God throughout the day. Like most prisoners, he spends a lot of time reflecting on the person he once was and would like to be. Although he keeps to himself and doesn't care for many people in here and he doesn't enjoy smalltalk, he is a kind and caring person. Taking care of the unit's cats is his way of showing love and compassion and making a contribution.

Many other inmates are also animal lovers and make donations to Bobcat's "ministry". Everyone makes sure that he's able to scrounge up enough for the daily fish and bread offering, either by giving him plenty of laundry to do or by anonymously leaving pouches of tuna and mackerel on his bunk. Some help him obtain blankets, bandages, and ointments and such. And some even make little cat toys for him to bring and play with the kittens. So it's really a collective effort to make sure the cats here are well taken care of.


"Love and do what you will." – – St. Augustine

Some of the nicest people you could hope to meet are here in prison. Granted, there are some pretty horrible characters here but the vast majority are just average people who simply made a mistake or lost their way in life, usually the of drug and alcohol abuse. For some, their only crime was being an addict. Regardless of the crime, persons time in prison is an unparalleled opportunity to get their head on straight and their life back on track. It's a time to regain their sobriety and sanity. It's a time for m soul-searching and self-examination. It's a time to relive every mistake you every made, no matter how small, and feel remorse for each one. In short, prison can change a person forever and for better.

As I've mentioned before, prison is a lot like a monastery, and many of us prison monks live lives of quiet contemplation, study, and prayer. To spend years like this, patiently living one day at a time, with humility and remorse, amdist hardships and trials, deeply affects a person forever. Though we may have once been extremely screwed up people, enough to get us locked up behind bars, we've changed. Redemption is real. The evidence for this is everywhere in here. Unfortunately, the discrepancy between this reality in the public's perception is huge, and not enough people from the outside world know enough or care enough to help free prisoners who no longer deserve or need to be punished. Instead, the genuinely good among us get lumped together with the bad. To people in the free world, anyone in prison must be a dangerous character.

Contrary to how things are portrayed in TV and film, most everyone in here is pretty polite to one another. Though at first it may be only to avoid a fight or something, for those of us who have been here a for a while , it has become a demonstration of mutual respect and consideration. For the most part, fights are limited to inner – and inter – gang – related problems or are instigated by belligerent guards. As a general rule, prisoners don't want to cause any problems with anybody – – they just want to do their time and go home, if ever. It's the "lifers" – – the supposedly most dangerous and feared with nothing to lose – –who are usually the wisest and most easy-going among us all, resigned to their fate and doing what they can be the best people they can be under the circumstances.

It's the younger inmates with too much energy to burn and not enough wisdom who act out and get into wrecks. I think everyone over 40 should get special consideration for parole, just because studies confirm that the older and wiser and more settled a person becomes, the less likely they are to commit crime. Unfortunately,I see too many guys in their 70s and older, who are obviously no longer a threat to anyone , walking/ shuffling around the unit. Most of these older inmates have been more than punished for their crimes and have earned a chance to spend their final days in freedom.

But to release anyone early is politically unsound. What would the voters think? After all, it's important to be "tough on crime." "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." And let's not forget, "Don't mess with Texas.". Our politicians and bureaucrats are afraid to release prisoners for fear of upsetting the public. However,I don't think they are giving people enough credit: they themselves may not have any idea what true empathy and compassion are, but the common man does; they themselves may only think in terms of popularity and electability, but the average citizen takes into consideration fairness and morality and common sense. It's a shame that not enough people can visit prisons and go behind the scenes of our justice system. If they did, they would come to learn that too many people are being imprisoned for far too long. They wouldn't be upset at all to see prisoners being granted early parole if they merited it. They may even begin actively campaigning for new sentencing and parole laws.

Unfortunately, our politicians are not leaders,only followers. And , unfortunately too, the news and other media do their best to entertain/scare the hell out of people and shape public perception negatively regarding prison. Stories of good people being punished unjustly or who have redeemed themselves while in prison don't make the headlines. Maybe this blog will help shed some light on the subject. I hope to change the stereotypes of people in prison and remove the public fear of parolees . I also hope to raise both awareness of and empathy for people being punished excessively. There's really nothing worse than losing one's freedom. Like Bobcat, there are many thousands of us across the country who truly do deserve another chance at life and who want so badly to make a contribution to society rather than just rot away behind these walls and razor wire. And to maybe fall in love again before we die. We may not be the smartest bunch around, but our hearts and minds have been forever changed for the better. And we're counting on people like you to take notice.

Thanks as always for listening and caring.

– – Eric


Hey Mizz. Givens

This is a response to a comment to my last blog

I can understand how you find it hard to believe that someone could get 50 years for their first offense where no one was hurt. All I can say is, "welcome to Texas." Please read "How I Got Here" for all the details. I'm glad you're amazed at my sentence, though – – it's one of the things I'm trying to bring attention to. Please join my letter writing campaign and spread the word. It sounds like you've had some negative experience with prisoners in the past. Understand that I'm not interested in money or visits, etc. I get plenty of love and support from my mom and a few friends. My family post the blogs and a good friend helped me put my website together: Mystic Ministries.org. Have you had a chance to visit the site? I'd love to get your feedback. Please fill free to e-mail me. My family forwards to me. You can also write me directly, if you wish, at my prison address.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's Time for Change

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

– – Thomas Jefferson

Why should you or anyone else care about us in prison? Maybe you shouldn't; after all, you have your own problems to worry about. I know I sure didn't give a damn when I was out in the free world. It's not that I had any ill will towards people in prison, I just didn't think about them; it was a whole other world and far removed from me. Like you, perhaps, I didn't care because it didn't affect me then. But I was wrong: prison and the criminal "justice" system affect everyone.


In Texas, for instance, one in every seven people are either in jail or prison or on probation or parole. So, almost everyone here knows someone who's had a run-in with the law. I'm sure it's the same in many other states. And then there are the countless people nationwide who work within "the System" and rely upon other people being arrested on a regular basis for their paychecks each month. One could think that being "tough on crime" was really more like job security.

In his Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about Russia's invisible chain of islands; prisons that resided on a different dimension, out of sight, out of mind. Comrades would just disappear in the night or be plucked out of a crowd never to be seen again are only to resurface later as mere shadows of their former selves. Society did their best to ignore this phenomenon, each person in fear that they could be next. Are we different? The reason such a huge number of people in the United States are being incarcerated today (by far the largest percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world) is because we allow it to happen. We turned a blind eye to the gross injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Americans because our more concerned for our own skins, and, when it comes right down to it, were afraid of our government, the very people we supposedly elect to office. But rather than admit this fear and impotency to change anything, we pretend to condone our government's behavior and even convince ourselves that they're actually doing us a service, protecting us from drugs, terrorism, and the crimes of violence that we gorge ourselves on each day on television.

Our society as a whole is sick and weak with little integrity. We preach peace, justice, and moral superiority, but we're fascinated with crime, violence and pornography and obsessed with money and property. As a general rule – individually and collectively – we do nothing unless it's in our best interest. We anesthetize our consciences with Big Pharma drugs and assuage our guilt with donations to charity. But what do we ever do ourselves personally to change the status quo? Apparently, we think our votes election time or enough: let someone else take care of it – although we know we are only perpetuating the system.

So, who's really at fault? The pothead for growing marijuana (like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and practically every one of our founding fathers) and then taking up a prison cell for the next 20 years? The police who are focusing on him rather than serious crime? The elected representatives for criminalizing marijuana in the first place? The media who portray it as an evil weed? The DEA who confiscate his land, house and everything he owned then sell it at auction for profit? Big industry for preventing hemp fiber from competing with their products in the marketplace? Or the average citizen who knows that pot is much less detrimental to society than alcohol but refuse to speak out when their friends and neighbors get put away? Take a guess. What's the difference between " apathetic" and "pathetic" not much. Who ultimately is to blame for many unjust laws on the books and the overwhelming number of Americans in prison today? We are.

"Be noble, and the nobleness that lies in other men, sleeping but not dead,

will rise to meet thine own."

– James Russell Lowell

But, again, why should you or anyone else care about us in prison? Because being locked up in a cement and steel cage for years on end, is a horrible way to live. And, because the courts and prison systems are so overwhelmed and underfunded, the vast majority of prisoners and their cases don't receive the proper attention; they're forgotten and ignored; and their only chance at fair treatment is if enough people in the free world change the system and its laws. Despite what many lawbooks might say, prisoners have virtually no rights – were really nothing more than slaves or property of the state – and we certainly have no say in matters, so we must rely on all of you out there to be our advocates.

One group who is doing a lot of good for us is the Texas Inmate Families Association (tifa.org). No doubt each state has its own similar organization run by and for the family members of prisoners. They petition the government for changes in sentencing laws and pressure the prison system and the parole board for changes in their policies and practices. Anyone anywhere can participate and your help would be greatly appreciated.

Currently, an effort is being made to change Texas sentencing guidelines of "Five to Life" for any first-degree felony, even if it's for first offense or if no one was hurt. Also in Texas during the sentencing phase of the trial, a defendant can be accused of any additional extraneous offenses – without the need for any evidence. This practice must be stopped as it denies people their constitutional right to due process of law. Texas' current sentencing practices are unjust and do more harm than good. Too many people are being sentenced to way too much time in prison.

In addition, anyone in Texas convicted of an aggravated crime i.e. one involving a weapon even if not used) is not entitled to good conduct time while in prison. This would be time ordinarily credited to their parole eligibility. So these inmates don't have the same incentive as other prisoners to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated; they feel their efforts aren't acknowledged and that they'll never qualify for parole anyway, so why even try? The same aggravated offenders must serve at least half their sentence before ever being considered for parole, and their sentences are already usually pretty lengthy and often excessive. Granting "good time" to all prisoners makes sense, it's only right, and is a necessary first step in solving the overcrowding and budget issues.

The Parole Board in Texas is also overwhelmed and in need of reform. According to a recent report, they currently spend an average of only 4 min. reviewing a prisoner's file to decide if the person is eligible for parole. And files often contain erroneous information – even other inmates records. There simply aren't enough people working within the Parole Board to do a proper job, and too many good people are suffering needlessly behind bars because of it. Too many prisoners with excellent disciplinary records and who more than qualify for parole are being denied over and over again. Judges and juries sentence prisoners with the consideration of parole; however, great many inmates are serving their entire sentences, which are often lengthy or excessive to begin with. So, in effect, the parole board is increasing their punishment beyond the court's decision. A little known fact is that many of the more troublesome inmates with the worst disciplinary histories are the ones being released on parole because they're just too much trouble to deal with, while the more well behaved, docile prisoners are incarcerated longer. Eventually making parole is what every person in prison looks forward to: a chance to prove themselves in a free world and another chance at life. To deny the most deserving because of a personnel shortage or screwed up paperwork is inexcusable. However, the general view is that parole board members simply don't care about people and feel they have a right to extend someone's suffering in prison indefinitely, regardless. They literally hold the keys to our freedom and essentially wield the power of life and death. Second to passing "good time" legislation, reforms and parole board practices are essential.

We need your help. The only way things will change for the better is if concerned citizens like yourself pressure the powers that be to fix the system. It must be acknowledged that the that way too many people are being incarcerated in this country and for way too long. Please contact your local, state and national representatives on our behalf. Thank you!

Thanks, as always for listening and caring. Bye for now – Eric

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why We Suffer

"The most beautiful stones have been tossed by the wind,

washed by the water and polished to brilliance by life's strongest storms."

I'm apparently the "advice guy" on my wing. For some reason, I'm a magnet for other inmates who have problems they want solved and questions they want answered. It's probably because I look so stereotypically smart: I got the glasses and my nose is always in a book. Plus, I don't talk too much, which I'm sure makes me seem wise or something: who knows. I'm really not that smart. I'm in prison after all. However, I read a lot, and that makes me the proverbial one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. But I also like to think that my advice is actually pretty good; and word gets around. For the most part, once we address their specific issue, this is what I tell them all – this is what I've learned for myself to be true.


Believe it or not, we are not here on earth to be happy. Happiness isn't some God-given right or entitlement. Instead, our mission – individually and collectively – is to learn and grow through experience. We tend to learn the most by making mistakes, and we tend to grow the most by suffering or struggling in some way. Everyone makes mistakes, and as long as we learn from each other and try not to repeat them, we needn't feel guilty or ashamed or beat ourselves up about it. And every life includes suffering; it's how we let it affect us, how we react to it and eventually overcome it that makes the difference. The mark of the distinctive life is the ability to keep picking yourself up after setbacks and finishing your life strong.

Whatever problems you may have (and this is going to sound crazy), be grateful for them, because they're forcing you to learn and grow and become better than you were before. As much as your life might suck at the moment, take a look at your situation objectively – like as an outside observer – and try to find the challenges it holds for you: not the obvious ones, like "pay the rent" when you're broke or "find a mate" when you're alone, but the deeper more personal challenges dealing with your character, like having the courage to persevere in the face of hardship, or acting with integrity when it is easier not to, or admitting that you have a problem and need help, or having the strength of will to change. How are your current problems forcing you to become a better person? How can you use them to improve your character? What lessons are they teaching you? After analyzing the situation as an outside observer, what advice would you give yourself?

Remember this: to suffer is to experience. If you've never experienced pain or loss, if you've never had any problems or made any mistakes of your own, you can't relate to anyone who has. In order to help someone who is suffering you must be able to empathize with them and understand where they're coming from. Also, if you never have any obstacles to overcome, you can't grow spiritually. No one has ever attained enlightenment during the course of an easy, comfortable life. To suffer is to experience life, and the more we experience in life the better as far as our souls are concerned. Our souls, or "higher Selves" – don't care so much about being happy as growing spiritually; and they have no problem with earthly suffering, because they know it's only temporary and for good reason and part of the role they chose to play this time around. Our suffering on Earth has real purpose and meaning for our troubled souls. It may be hard to figure out sometimes, but by just accepting the challenge to suffer bravely your life has meaning up to the last moment.

However were not intended to suffer just for suffering sake: we learn and grow the most by overcoming our suffering, by making the most of it and not letting it affect us negatively. It's not only possible to accept hardships. We need to actually embrace them, and transform them into something positive. One of example of this might be overcoming alcoholism/addiction and then using that experience to help others do the same; another could be surviving a childhood of malnutrition and starvation and then working to end hunger as an adult; or maybe you have been unjustly sentenced to life in prison, but instead of just giving up you decide to go on living and somehow be a source of inspiration and encouragement to your fellow prisoners; the various examples are and less. Once were able to move beyond our current struggles, we are ready for the next set of challenges. Of course, this is not easy and it's not supposed to be. The process is different for everyone; no one can tell another how to overcome their own unique suffering nor what its ultimate purpose may be; each person must find out for themselves and accept the responsibility that comes with it.

Then again, some people do seem to lead charmed lives where all is well and nothing ever seems to go wrong: there happy and fulfilled. This is true for many people around the world. In some cases they've earned these carefree lives by enduring many others of suffering and by progressing spiritually, and we can't begrudge them this. Karma, or the universal law of cause and effect, is real, and we really do " reap what we sow" in this and all of our lives on Earth. But in most cases, however, appearances are deceiving, and the seemingly blessed lives other people lead aren't all they're cracked up to be. Everyone has problems, and even the most fortunate of us will experience troubles or tragedy at some point in our lives. Realize some of the most miserable people are the ones who seem to have it all, because they don't have what matters most: Love.

"May you have the courage to transform adversity and spiritual practice.

May adversity empower the cultivation of compassion."

Love conquers all, as they say. If your heart is filled with enough love and forgiveness, there's no amount of suffering that can bring you down; though it can be extremely difficult to feel any kind of love (especially for yourself) when you're suffering or experiencing the results of mistakes you've made (like the insanity of addiction). But there's a tried-and-true way to get some love in your life no matter what: it's important to understand – or just seriously consider – that who you really are is a divine, spiritual being having a special learning experience in this physical plane, using your physical body and mind as a vehicle. This is not mere theory or belief but a demonstrable fact that you can verify for yourself. (Check out my book list at mysticministries.org". As a " divine adventurer" you are expected to screw up once in a while. While you are here in order to learn and grow from it from experience and because you're innocent and pure as an ultimately spiritual being, there should be no place for guilt or shame or self-hatred in your life – regret and remorse, yes, definitely but nothing more. Realizing this and taking it to heart allows you to forgive yourself and to love yourself. An understanding that we are all really spiritual beings underneath it all – that the ass hole who just cut you off in traffic is also "child of God" – makes it that much easier to forgive them and others as well. To understand why you are here on earth is to better understand your suffering – to forgive it – to love your life regardless of how difficult it may be.

Another way to overcome suffering is to put the focus on other people rather than yourself. Caring for others gives you purpose and meaning it helps you feel better about your life. There may be many people who are experiencing the same struggles as yourself and would appreciate your understanding and insight. And no matter how bad we think we may have it, someone else has got worse – often much more so. For example, if your set upset about having no shoes, think of the person who has no feet. I may be in prison with a ridiculously excessive sentence, but I have the support of family and friends out there, whereas many other prisoners have no one; they feel totally rejected, forgotten and unloved. Also, although I'm locked in a cage, I'm still relatively well fed and have the luxury of meditating and studying every day, while many people in the free world are out of work and struggling each day to put food on the table.

Still another way to ease your suffering is to think about all the good things in your life. You may be broke but you have got your health; you may not have your health but you have the love of a good woman; you may not have a girlfriend, but you've got the best dog in the whole world – you get the idea. But it doesn't really help unless you feel genuine gratitude for those things. Being able to stay positive despite the problems will be one of the most difficult things you can do and the most gratifying; it's a huge lesson for each of us. It helps to understand that quote "like attracts like quote" and that a positive, optimistic attitude really does help to bring better things your way, especially the right people.

Speaking of which a great way to put an end to your troubles is to get help from someone else. If you only knew just how many people there are out there – everywhere, in every place no matter how small – who want to help you and are only waiting for you to reach out, you wouldn't hesitate for a moment. These people are so goodhearted and compassionate and sincerely nonjudgmental that it would just blow your mind. They live to be of service, and you'd be doing them a huge favor by letting them help you: it gives them purpose and meaning in their lives, is extremely rewarding, and it allows them to express their love – forgot, for mankind, for life – in a productive way. For instance, any of you who happen to take my advice in order to beat addiction and depression would be making me super happy because I know that my efforts have done some good in that I'm able to make a difference from this prison cell. I think we should all aspire to be someone who really enjoys and makes an effort to help others. But it's important sometimes to first get the help we need to be better able to do that. And we can't be afraid or too proud to ask for it. I encourage anyone who lets their pride get in the way, as I once did, to humble themselves, admit their problems and weaknesses to a loved one or caring stranger, because, in the end, it's only going to make you a much stronger and better person.

Finally, we should not be afraid to ask for spiritual help as well. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean that Angels and other beneficial spirits aren't real. There has real as you are I, only not limited by this physical plane. Like so many caring souls on earth, they too want to help and be of service. But we have to sincerely ask for Their assistance because a great deal of importance is placed on "free will" and making an effort to solve our problems ourselves. Results may not be obvious right away, but "ask and ye shall receive". Guaranteed. Of course, a new-car or chest of gold will not just magically appear, but you will be aided in numerous ways you may never have even considered before if you have faith in the outcome and in "them". Ask God, the Angels and the Forces of Light and Love, whom ever "up there" you'd like – but definitely ask. And for all you skeptics out there: I used to think the same as you and needed scientific proof of such things. Well, I got it, and you can to. Again, I highly suggest devouring my "required" reading list at mysticministries.org. Regardless, it certainly doesn't hurt to try, right?

Anyway, so these are my words of wisdom for all those with the "the ears to hear and the eyes to see". From one fellow student in Earth school to another. I merely point the way that I myself am going. I'm dealing with my own suffering as well as I know how, and I wish you the best with yours. Be strong.

Thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.

– Eric

Sunday, September 26, 2010

REDEMPTION

"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully." – Samuel Johnson


Why do so many convicts have their "come to Jesus" moment while in prison? Why not before? How can we judge their sincerity? Does such a spiritual change of heart make that great a difference? Does it endure past their release? Should spiritual teaching be a standard part of the rehabilitation process if it's present proven so effective, or is that too much of a mixture of church and state? With so many people incarcerated today, these are all important questions to consider.

There are many factors involved in prison inmates becoming more spiritual. First, they're removed from the "rat race": they no longer have to put their time and energy into earning a living and paying bills, or amassing wealth and collecting material possessions, or playing their part in the never ending drama of the free world. They have – for maybe the first time in their lives – the opportunity to take a "timeout", to think and reflect, to contemplate their existence and the meaning of life. They can spend hours in meditation and prayer if they choose. And they usually have plenty of time to look back on every mistake they ever made, no matter how small, and feel remorse for each one.

Second, they no longer are directly influenced by their usual environment. Their out of the "hood" or barrio or small town or wherever for, again, maybe the first time in their lives. They're no longer surrounded by the same people and influences, the same peer pressure. (Actually, this isn't always true and is the biggest challenge to growth and change in prison. Too often, new inmates simply exchange their free world gang for new one inside.) In prison, religion/spirituality is a big topic of conversation and study, and new inmates, regardless of their age, almost always encounter new ideas on the subject, and many are introduced to the concept of taking spirituality seriously for the first time in their lives.

Third, people in prison are away from drugs and alcohol and their damaging effects on body, mind, and spirit. Sure, on many units, drugs are easily obtainable (thanks to guards bringing them in), and wine is pretty easily made anywhere, but they're more expensive than on the outside and the punishment for being caught with them is prohibitive. Regardless, the access and amounts aren't nearly what they are in the free world and most all prisoners stay totally sober, especially if they're on the spiritual path. And although some say how they can't wait to have a drink or get high when they get out, I think everyone in here enjoys their sobriety and health and clarity that go along with it. A huge percentage, like myself, were alcoholics/addicts and would probably never have quit and regained their sanity if they hadn't been locked up for a while. It's impossible for anyone to grow spiritually when there f&%$ed up all the time.

Then there is, perhaps the greatest reason of all: when a person is in enough trouble – when they have fallen as low it's as it's possible for them to go – they may finally asked for help. And when there's no one to help them, or no one able to help, they may finally turn to God, even if they don't actually believe in Him. For so many of us in prison, God is our only hope.

Essentially, the penitentiary, by definition at least, is a place for penitence and spiritual reflection. To spend any amount of time in here and not come away changed for the better means you really didn't want to. Every unit has a chapel and both Christian and Muslim services, although the latter are usually organized by the inmates themselves who are almost exclusively black. There also prison ministries out there who visit occasionally and send reading/study materials upon request. It's true (in Texas at least) that if you're interested in any other religions – especially exotic ones like Buddhism, Taoism or Kriya Yoga (my favorites) – you will find zero support from the System, but there are plenty of outside resources available to write for information and that cater to prisoners. Unfortunately, these alternative paths focus more in individual practice than formal, group worship. Whichever way you lean, in prison you'll have countless opportunities each day to apply what all the world's religions preach: love, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, generosity, gratitude, faith, patience, and hope – always hope, of course, for another chance at life, or at least for the one beyond.

Unfortunately, some prisoners only seem to embrace spirituality but don't really believe in what they're learning, or they haven't had the time to internalize what they've learned. Some use their Bibles and prayer groups for protection, thinking that the gangs will leave them alone if they appear to be pious, God loving/fearing Christians or Muslims. The black Muslims are like a gang unto themselves, though, and membership does have its privileges. The Aryan Brotherhood are all into the Norse God and his fabled Hammer. And there are plenty of proud pagans and Wiccans and what have you running around. One of the concessions allowed to inmates by the System is the right to wear medallions of whatever religion they profess; so you see a few pentacles along with the crosses and prayer beads. The truly spiritual, however, show themselves by their actions; and it's obvious after speaking with them that their devotion is genuine and lasting. To determine the level of sincerity of an inmate's claim to faith, just get another spiritual person to spend 15 to 20 min. with them; it takes one to know one.

No doubt many in prison turned to religion to "get right with God" as if they have something to fear from His judgment and retribution and are trying to avoid hell, but most, I believe, simply want to be better people and realize that they lost their way there for a while and need to get back on track, and that it's important to at least consider the reality of the divine realm and ourselves as spiritual beings with a reason for being here on earth. What's most important, though is how well the spiritual lessons are learned and taken to heart and put into practice – not only today but from now on.

However, I am afraid for too many, upon release, the pushes and pulls of the material world may eventually undo whatever spiritual progress was made while in prison. It's imperative that newly freed prisoners keep their priorities straight and stay true to themselves and their ideals. Having a support group of some kind, like a church or other religious association, is essential. If you know someone just out of prison, reach out to them and show them love; help them hook up with this compatible spiritual community, even if it is different from your own. Of course, this could apply to anyone else whom you might meet who could also use your help.

"We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them." – Charles C West
An important step along the spiritual Path is the relinquishing of one's own will for God's will, putting one's complete faith in the Divine Order of the Universe. It's the understanding that there truly is a reason for everything both good and bad, as we may judge them. For the prison inmate, it's a coming to terms with one's incarceration, no matter how unjust it may seem, and focus on the positive aspects of the experience – on what has been gained rather than what has been lost. Prison can be an unparalleled opportunity to change yourself and become the person you know you're capable of being. As horrible as it can be at times, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had this experience, solely because it's done so much to further my spiritual evolution. If this is God's will, then so be it. Perhaps this was His intention all along – His way of getting me to finally pay attention. Please understand that someone who makes an honest effort to lead a spiritual life does not commit crime. He lives primarily to love and serve others. No matter how rotten the person he may have been in the past, he is no longer capable of behaving again in such a way. People can change. Redemption is real. However, it's understandable that although he has forgiven himself and is forgiven in God's eyes, he is not yet been forgiven by society. He may never be. After all, how can we really know how someone has progressed in prison? Still, if this person can prove to be a benefit to society rather than the burden he is now, shouldn't he be given the chance? I guess it's a matter of weighing the risks versus rewards. If we can believe that he really has changed for the better, then maybe a condition of his release/parole should be to do community service work of some kind such as counseling troubled youth in danger of going to prison themselves someday. Also, in coming to a decision, perhaps we should look at our own, spiritual development and capacity to forgive and show mercy.

Obviously, I was referring to myself in that last paragraph. I hope to somehow be granted a commutation (reduction) of sentence someday with your help. I feel that my punishment is excessive and that I've suffered enough for my crime. I've certainly learned my lesson. I can do more to help people from outside these walls and razor wire them from within. But I also want you to give thought to the thousands of other prisoners across the country and around the world in my position who have atoned for their sins and are worthy of a second chance at life. Our prisons are overcrowded and underfunded, and too many people are serving way to much time needlessly. Please contact the powers that be in your state/area to release/parole deserving inmates and to amend any unjust sentencing "guidelines" (in Texas, we have "five to life"). Also, of course, I would greatly appreciate your help with letters. See my website at Mystic Ministry's.org.

I hope I've made it a little easier to understand how prison can be conducive to spiritual growth and change. Many of us have discovered the path and are walking it daily. We're not all bad, scary people in here.

Anyway, thanks as always for listening and caring. Bye for now.
– Eric

Friday, August 27, 2010

REPENTANCE

"To be really sorry for one's errors is like opening the door to heaven." --


Hazrat Inyat Khan


As horrible as it is, prison can be a positive experience overall and an invaluable opportunity to change the course of one's life. It is an excellent time to think back on everything you have ever said and done, both good and bad, and judge your conduct. Are you essentially a good person? Why did you behave the way you did? What would you do differently? What advice would you give your old self? How can you be a better person today? It's a difficult process, for sure; we all have a lot to remember and review no matter what our age, and some of us have more regrets than we would care to face. But it's important for us all, regardless of whether we're in prison or not, to take a good hard look at ourselves in the mirror and to be honest about what we see. That's the first step.

And the sooner we all do this, the better it'll be for everyone. Many of us don't realize what dopes or jerks we are (hello alcoholics) and just blindly keep on keepin' on, as we've always done. Plus, many of us don't take personal responsibility for ourselves, instead of blaming other people or situations for our behavior. Each of us alone is responsible for our thoughts, words, and deeds and how we allow the thoughts, words, and deeds of others to affect us. And every one of us needs to be aware of just how much we affect the world around us.

The character of our thoughts is paramount. Without oversimplifying it too much, I believe that each thought can be rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with those coming entirely from Love a "10" and those entirely from Selfishness a "1" or even a "zero". Check in with yourself from time to time and rate your thoughts this way, it's enlightening. Of course, no one is perfect, but we should all strive for the balance each day to be tilted in the Love direction. Besides Selfishness, where do thoughts of Judgment fit in? Where are they on the scale? Good question. Perhaps any Judgment thoughts should just immediately be rejected and replaced with ones of Understanding. I found that the majority of our thoughts, especially judging ones, are simply habits or habitual reactions to things. When we pay more and more attention to our thoughts, we can catch ourselves thinking/reacting without really understanding something or taking the time to understand. We're usually too quick to judge. So, I guess we should always have two "thought meters" running in our heads: one for Selfishness and one for Judgment.

But, unfortunately, there are many people who simply don't care whether their thoughts are selfish or judgmental or whatever. They're just taking care of business, looking out after number one, and there's nothing wrong with that, is there? It's not like it's against the law or anything; and being selfish or judgmental doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad person, does it? But every crime starts with a selfish thought, every hatred with a judgmental one, and who's to tell where such thoughts will eventually lead over time? It's best to get out of the habit sooner than later. So start now! Not to care about the quality of your thoughts is not to care about the quality of the life you lead. No matter what you might say to the contrary, no matter how tough you are, we all want the best possible life.

"Live as if everything you do will eventually be known."

Just so you know -- believe it or not -- when we die, one of the very first things each of us does as an eternal soul is review the life we just lead. (The whole point of living is to learn and grow from experience, both good and bad, and this initial review is essential to get an overall picture of our progress. Further review compares this life with all her previous ones and helps us decide on the next.) But not only do we see our past life's events, we feel them emotionally. And not only do we again experience what happened to ourselves but also what we did to others; we feel how our thoughts, words, and deeds affected them. You'll feel every hug you ever gave, every good deed you ever did from their perspective, as well is every kick and hurtful word... something to keep in mind,huh?

So, having such an opportunity in prison to review one's life so extensively beforehand is a real blessing. It's kind of like getting a head start so that not much will come as a surprise in the end. However, it's too easy, especially at first, to focus on the negative stuff, all the mistakes, rather than the good as well. Remorse can be overwhelming at times. It's just as important, to remember how good we really are, or at least try to be. As souls when we die, only we judge ourselves. (God/the Source/All That Is ) does not judge but only loves), but we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. And I believe the same can be true in life once we accept full responsibility for every thought and action, as only we are to blame for them. However, the mistake we all usually make is that we punish ourselves for our perceived crimes rather than forgive ourselves. Instead of learning from our mistakes, becoming better for them, and moving on, we engage in self-destructive behavior, like drug and alcohol abuse, over eating, "acting out", sabotaging good jobs or relationships, or committing senseless crimes. We may not be consciously aware of it, but were punishing ourselves for something we feel guilty of. But to really know yourself is to understand that, ultimately, you are a spiritual being having a physical experience on earth, and that you are here to make mistakes in order to learn from them and grow spiritually. Guilt should have no place in your life. Recognize your errors and do your best not to repeat them, that is all. Forgive yourself as you forgive others. This is the final step.

"Don't bother to be better than your contemporaries, or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself." -- Faulkner.

You know, the Hawaiians really got it goin' on. Their's is a religion relatively untouched/unedited since the beginning of mankind. Today it's known for the most part as "Huna". It recognizes each person as having three selves: the waking consciousness, which senses the world around us; the subconscious, which primarily deals with memory; and the superconsciousness, which is our connection to the divine, our permanent, higher self. (Two great books are: "Mastering Your Hidden Self" by King, and "Fundamentals of Hawaiian Mysticism" by Bernie. See my book list at Mysticministries.org)

An aspect of Huna that I practice religiously every day these days is "Ho'oponopono", which essentially means "to make right", or "to rectify an error". The practice has three parts to it: repentance, forgiveness, and transportation. The "repentance" is taking 100% responsibility for everything in my life -- every little thing, both good and bad, that I'm aware of, even the problems of others, as collectively we are all One in Spirit and co-creating our physical reality together unconsciously, and realizing that any problems/negativity I experience are the result of my acting upon memories (subconscious) rather than inspiration (super consciousness, the Divine). It's an acknowledgment that I don't have a clue what's really going on and that I really don't have control over everything. My intention is no match for inspiration. The "forgiveness" part is "letting go and letting God." It's about not getting hung up on guilt and blame but instead releasing issues as they arise, cleaning them from my subconscious and/or collective consciousness from where they ultimately came. And the "transmutation" is the divine neutralizing any negative perceived issues with love, replacing the dark with light. Essentially, as things, come up or as thoughts arise, I just repeat to myself, "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you." That's it. Sometimes I'll say it fast, or sometimes I'll really reflect on each part of it as I repeat it over and over. Regardless of whether it "works" or not, it sure makes me feel better; it sure eases my mind and helps me cope with an otherwise unbearable environment/situation. As I repeat this mantra, I envision myself as a walking, talking lightbulb of Love. (While still being the "tough convict" on the outside, of course). My intention these days is to honor the intention of the Divine.

If you decide to try this method for yourself, please let me know how it goes. I know it may seem a little wacky, especially at first, but the simple act of repeating these four simple statements to yourself seems to work miracles. Notice how people react to you differently, like, "Wow, that guy is nuts." (just kidding!). It's very similar to Jesus' teachings of living in love, forgiveness and gratitude and that the Divine is within each of us, as well is the Buddhist teachings of releasing our attachments to the physical world and forgetting everything as it's all really a collective illusion of our own creation. Two righteous dudes for sure. Ditto for Krishna and Zarathustra,Taliesin,Lao Tzu,Yogananda,Sai Baba,and the Ba'hai guy and countless other teachers of spirituality throughout the ages. Those simple words -- "I love. I'm sorry. I forgive (I'm forgiven). Thank you." -- encompass the not so simple reason for our physical existence as spiritual beings.

Anyway, one last thing before I go. Growing up, God to me was like Santa Claus: I couldn't believe in either without proof of some kind. Sunday school just didn't cut it. No one could answer my questions. The Bible -- don't even get me started. I always figured that there must be a Creative Force or something out there, but that we could never really know for certain. Well, let me tell you -- from one science - minded, hard - to -convince skeptic to another, -- a Divine realm does in fact exist, and it's possible to know and experience it for yourself without dying first. There is proof. It's a bit much to get into here, but if you're an atheist or an agnostic, as I once was, please do your research before coming to a conclusion. There are some amazing books out there that will blow your mind and possibly change your life forever . Be sure to read at least the first three on my book list at Mysticministries.org. Even if you already consider yourself a religious person, these books are very enlightening. I've been blessed with countless books sent from home over the years and these are the very best of the best without a doubt. Enjoy!

Thanks again, as always, for listening and caring. Bye for now.


-- Eric

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

HOW I GOT HERE

"I was once a fortunate man, but I lost it, I know not how."

-- Marcus Aurelius.

I'm often asked how I came to be in prison, and the simple answer is, obviously, "I got caught." The full story, though is a pretty good one, even if it does take a while to tell. Please bear with me:I was raised by a pack of wild dogs on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. I ran wild for the 7+ years we were there, but also got an excellent education thanks to my mom. She taught me to read before kindergarten, made sure I played musical instruments, got me arts and crafts supplies, chemistry sets and construction sets, microscopes and telescopes, and provided me with countless books, including a cherished set of encyclopedias. She encouraged me to use my imagination and write my own stories. And, most importantly, she encouraged me to learn on my own and praised me often for my efforts. Plus, she let me run with the dogs.

My mom is smart with a heart of gold. She put herself through college , graduating Phi Beta Kappa As a single mother with me in tow. Then law school at UC Berkeley. How she managed I have no idea. In the early 70s, she made her way to the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, South Dakota -- one of the poorest places in the United States. -- to work as a legal services attorney. She eventually became the director there and a well respected advocate for Indian people.She married a fellow lawyer and had two more children when I was 10 and 11, respectively.

We later moved to Boulder Colorado, where mom worked for a national Indian rights organization. She decided to return to school -- premed this time. After a few years, we've moved to Chicago where mom attended medical school and I, high school. Her husband didn't come along, just us boys. And, once again, she graduated with honors, one of the oldest students in her class. Since then, she's practiced medicine all over and has established several free clinics, along the way

After high school, I entered the physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I had student loans for the most part, painted houses in the summer and cooked in a variety of restaurants during the school year. Unfortunately, however, I had discovered drinking in high school and my studies suffered as a result.

In addition, I became a bit disenchanted with traditional physical therapy, discovering "holistic" modalities like yoga, clinical massage, acupuncture, that appealed to me more.

Then, in 1989, a year before graduation, adventure called: North to Alaska! The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred and workers were needed everywhere. The perfect summer job, right? So, I ended up working on a fishing boat, in a cannery, some restaurants and a logging camp -- well past the time I should have returned to school. And in the end I discovered commercial diving, working underwater, mostly on fishing boats at dock, repairing piers and such, doing salvage and recovery work and doing video inspections. Fun stuff!

But the ocean in Alaska's cold! So it was off to the warm Gulf of Mexico in Texas, and along the east coast for a while, then back to the Gulf and finally to Seattle, where I settled down, sorta. I started my own diving business, got married to a beautiful woman, sold sailboats on the side and eventually went back to school to become a clinical massage therapist and yoga instructor -- doing work I loved. I had a successful and busy practice in a medical clinic, doing mostly insurance work for work- related and auto accident injuries along with a number of people with chronic pain. My specialty was deep tissue myofascial release or Rolfing, which is often painful, but it has excellent results, the main goal being optimum posture and biomechanics. I also focused on neuromuscular reeducation, teaching a movement akin to yoga.Business was booming and life was grand.

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make prideful." -- Euripides

But it wasn't to last. My wife and I split up and I started dating a few of my clients -- a big mistake it would turn out. One day,a young woman who owed a considerable amount of money from her insurance settlement accused me of sexual misconduct as a way to avoid her debt. And it worked, of course: all it takes is a single unfounded accusation like that for a man to be considered guilty these days, and she knew it. I was able to prove that her claim was physically impossible, but the damage was done. A former client I had briefly dated outside the office -- a "woman scorned" -- heard the accusation and jumped on the bandwagon, making one of her own to hurt me. Everything done in my office was always strictly professional, but 2 such claims back to back was too much for the medical clinic to handle, and I had to leave. However, I soon found an even nicer office and a new group of physicians to work with. Needless to say, I stopped dating clients. Anyway, my new practice thrived, and I was still able to help people each day.

Until "The Boat" -- The Boat changed everything. Answering a tiny ad in an obscure sailing newsletter, I took a ferry out to the San Juan Islands, near Seattle to look at a boat for sale: a 41' x 24' ocean cruising catamaran that still needed a lot of work. In fact, it was still in the woods off the beach and yet to be launched. It needed everything: keels, rudders, engine, steering system, mast, rigging i.e. the works. It was essentially just a fiberglass shell ready to customize as I saw fit. A major opportunity and challenge that I couldn't pass up. Plus the price was right. One condition of the sale was that it had to be out of there within six months so a house could be built on the property. So, I dropped everything else to work on The Boat.

A huge mistake, as I was in way over my head. I didn't even know what a hole saw was. But I was in love and just try talking sense to a boat nut. I spent every waking moment putting that boat together, staying up days at a time and drinking way too much whiskey and smoking way too much weed as a new bachelor. But I got launched in time. Once in the water, I fully intended to go back to work but instead just kept drinking and working on The Boat. I eventually closed my practice grew a beard. I became the marina's handyman and diver. Life was good, but I become a regular drunk -- a boat bum. I drank so much that I would often blackout, remembering nothing of the day or night before. I became delusional and depressed. Then, finally after years of self-destructive drinking, I had what can only be called a nervous breakdown. I walked away from the boat, from my truck and tools, everything I own, and caught a flight to the Caribbean.

I guess I had some kind of vague, misguided notion that I could just run away from myself, that I could quit drinking and get clean and sober in the Virgin Isles, eating fruit and doing yoga on the beach or something. Instead, of course, it was Margaritaville. Bottles of rum were cheaper than bottled water. I got hooked on the drink called the Bushwhacker: tequila, vodka, rum, gin, vermouth, Bailey's Irish cream, and KahlĂșa blended with ice, half a banana, and chocolate syrup to taste. Delicious! Couldn't get enough of them. From boat bum to beach bum. I first worked on a boat taking people scuba diving, then as a cook, bartender, and waiter in most every restaurant on St. John. Cocaine and crack are cheap and plentiful in the Caribbean and most of my co-workers were addicts. This scared me and I realized that I had to get the hell out of there, quick.

So I caught a plane to Santa Barbara, a real paradise, where I again hoped to get sober and straightened out. I rented a room and waited tables at fancy restaurants, sold women's shoes at Nordstrom's, sold thousand dollar health club memberships, and did stone and tile remodeling work that I really enjoyed. I dated a super model look-alike with a millionaire father. But I was still drinking: drowning my sorrows for ruining a wonderful marriage, abandoning a perfect career and losing The Boat. Then after only nine months, for no good reason at all, I found myself running away again.

This time it was Kansas City, Missouri. Someone had once told me it was a good place to find a good woman and settle down. I immediately found a great little apartment, and a great job in outside sales. And I made enough money in one month to take the next two off: to drink myself to death. I got a hold of some stained glass materials and tools and made beautiful pieces of art while I was at it. Then the next sales job went the same way: one month on, two off. I just drank whiskey and did stained glass. At the end of my short stay in KC, I waited tables at a five-star steakhouse and quickly made enough to hit the road again.

Why I came to Texas. I'll never understand; but I'd always heard Austin was a pretty cool place. As usual, I found a nice apartment and a good job in sales right away. And as usual, I began the same sorry pattern of some months on and many off, to wallow in booze and regrets. This time, my hobby besides drinking and stained glass was writing movie screenplays -- "perfect crime" thrillers. Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that this was my calling, and I would stay up for days and nights in a row, creating scenes enacting them out, assuming the various characters identities for timing and dialogue. I began living in a fantasy world. I drank more than ever before, if that's even possible, and I now suffered from DTs. I would shake like a leaf and be sick if my alcohol level went too low. I needed at least 6 ounces of whiskey for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention the cases of beer in between. I contemplated suicide on a daily basis, then finally went out and bought a handgun -- something like James Bond would use, of course -- and would sit with it against my head for many nights afterwards. But now that I had a gun, I thought, "why not be a real, live private detective, like in my screenplays." So that became the plan. After all, weren't a lot of the classic movie gumshoes alcoholics themselves, with their feet up on the desk and a bottle of booze in the desk drawer? Fortunately, I was arrested at this point.

"Semel insanivimus omnis. (We have all been mad once.)"

Near the end of 2000, shortly before my latest fall from grace, I worked selling a service where people could buy used cars at auction. The company placed classified ads for cars for sale to lure potential customers. After a few sales, as usual, I quit, having enough money to drink on through the holidays. The job had given me an idea for a screenplay about an international car smuggling ring, and I got to work on that also. However, I ended up blacking out for the entire month of December and January of the new year; I couldn't remember things; I doubt I left the apartment, but who knows? Very scary. Instead of whiskey, I'd recently switched to gallons of vodka, so maybe that had something to do with it. My best guess is that I made a serious effort to finally drink myself to death but failed somehow.

So, now it's February, 2001 and halfway through, my younger brother, who I once helped raise, and who once looked up to me shows up on my doorstep, asking me for the $5000 I'd borrowed the year before. "Sure, bro," I say, "and don't worry about the money, I gotcha." (Yikes!).

In the seriously screwed up state of mind I was in at the time, I came real close to taking the easy way out with a gun in my mouth. But then I figured that the only right thing to do was first get the money somehow to pay my brother before killing myself. I could act out an idea from my latest screenplay. So, that's what I did: on a Monday, I placed an ad to sell a car that didn't exist -- Best/First Cash Offer. That same day, I also called a psychiatrist to be seen as soon as possible. Wednesday, I returned calls about the car and made an appointment to sell it on Friday. Thursday I saw the psychiatrist, who agreed that I was completely nuts and prescribed some medication. On Friday after a sleepless night and as drunk and stoned as possible, I went ahead to meet the buyer. After all, it probably wasn't going to work anyway, and I could always call it off at any time, right? Let's just see what happens...

I was such an idiot that I was surprised when more than one person came to collect the car: a man and his wife. I explained that the car was being detailed and was on its way, and could I please count the money? " No problem," the fellow says. He opens his minivan's sliding door, moves some groceries to the backseat, and gets in, motioning for me to join them. (Apparently, there were two small children in the very back seat thatI never noticed.) I'm handed an envelope with $8000, and as I pretend to count the money, I'm saying to myself, "what in the hell are you doing?! This is insane! Just hand the money back and leave!" But then: "you're doing this for your brother." So I say to the guy, "I'm sorry, but I really need this." And at the same time flash my gun needlessly and hit the ground running. He chases me quite a ways to my car, and as soon as I get in. He's pounding on the window; but I soon lost, dodging a good Samaritan in a monster truck who tries to block me and gives chase before I eventually get away. I must've been a pretty pitiful robber

Of course, my first stop was the liquor store. I paid my brother, what I owed him and refused to tell them where the money came from. About 10 days later the psych meds kicked in: it was like a switch had been thrown in my brain, and I was a new man; I was thinking positively for the first time in years, and gone were the persistent thoughts of suicide. I soon landed a decent job in sales for a remodeling company. I was drinking less and even dating again. Then one evening over drinks with a neighbor, while discussing our respective psychiatric issues, I said, "you want to hear crazy? Let me tell you about crazy..." and I told her the whole story, embellishing, I'm sure, like some kind of Sopranos character.

"Rule number one: keep your -- -- mouth shut." -- Fat Tony.

So began my descent into hell -- from one kind of suicidal depression to another. I was arrested just days later and went through months of the most horrific alcohol withdrawal imaginable in the county jail. For one week early on, I was left alone in a bare "psych tank" with no clothes and only a hole in the floor to relieve myself in. I had to beg for toilet paper and water. I couldn't hold down any food. I slept on the concrete floor with no blanket, and I tried to sleep as much as possible. Cruel and unusual punishment? Nope, just standard operating procedure for addicts and the insane.

And so began my introduction to the criminal justice system in America. After a few months, a court-appointed attorney finally met with me for 20 minutes or so. That was the last I heard from them until a brief appearance at my arraignment and then again two days before my sentencing trial. I had pled guilty. And in the end, he handed my head to the prosecution on a silver platter.

Apparently, my case was cherry picked by the newly appointed district attorney in order to make headlines in the news: "Bradley Tough on Crime!" I was never offered a plea agreement. I was never allowed an evidentiary hearing. And if you didn't have a violent career criminal to prosecute, he would create his own, accusing me at my sentencing trial of murder, kidnapping, rape, blackmail, bomb making, and more based upon nothing but speculation and his own cruel imagination. There was zero evidence of any other crimes other than once forging a roommates check for pizza. (He left me with a huge long-distance phone bill. Which doesn't make it right) I have never hurt anyone in my life, nor ever before been in trouble with the law. But listen to this:

Bradley: you plan crimes so you weren't caught, didn't you?

Me: not at all.

Bradley: Of course, if we didn't catch you with the others,we don't know, do we?

Me: that's totally false. I have -- that's ridiculous. That's a ridiculous notion. I've never committed any crime other than --

Bradley: And someone who wanted to use those kinds of thoughts, if they had that person and they tortured them and they raped them, and nobody knew where they were, and then they wanted to finish them off, and they believe that, they'd have to kill them and bury them, wouldn't they?

Me: I don't understand the question.

Bradley: Yeah. And if you're wrong, somebody is dead, right?

Me: that's a very -- I think you're very mean person. I think you know that I'm not this criminal.

That's just one example of how things went. There was constant mention of murder, kidnapping, rape, and other horrible, total imaginary crimes. It was a travesty of justice, which is apparently the norm in Texas. Here are just a few more examples from way too many to include here:

Bradley:(regarding probation). That's a very compassionate approach. But in a case like this, with a man like that, that kind of thinking will get someone else killed...

... But maybe the most frightening one is the little, what I like to call a rape kit. The detail ought to scare you to death. (This was zip ties, tape, and strain found in the boat/tool bag along with a " bomb! that he knew prior to trial was not in fact a bomb at all.)...

Bradley:... He doesn't leave a trail. I'm not here to say, I can prove everything up. I really don't care how many of you believe or don't believe.

Then we have the coup de grace:

Bradley:... what punishment could you possibly have come up with to make sure that person did not kill, hurt, maim, rape, whatever anyone? And there is only one answer. And I ask you to start in this case with a life sentence. If you cannot unanimously agree on that, then moved to 99 and work your way down. But I guarantee you will sleep a lot better, and the world will be a safer place, if Eric Remerowski received a life sentence. Thank you.

Unbelievable. In my mind, this was prosecutorial misconduct. But the jury was terrified as intended, and after six hours, returned with a sentence of 50 years. This is clearly excessive, even by Texas standards; and there can be no doubt that I was sentenced for more than just robbery. In nine years of prison, I have yet to meet anyone serving more than 10 to 15 years for robbery as a first offense; some are even sentenced to probation. Only the worst of the worst and habitual offenders are doing the kind of time I received. I know many killers doing much less.

Unfortunately, I've exhausted all appeals. My only hope now is a commutation (reduction) of sentence. For that to happen, the judge, Dist. Atty. (Bradley), and Sheriff must recommend it to the parole board, who then recommended to the governor.**.

"If there is a witness to my soul, he knows the truth, and I am calm in that judgment."

So, anyway, that's my story, as they say, and I'm sticking to it. As I've mentioned before, I feel that my incarceration has been a real blessing overall, for it's allowed me to regain my sobriety, my sanity, and my soul. I've had the opportunity to grow spiritually that I may never have had otherwise. It took about three years to finally get my head on straight, and five to be truly convinced that I'm ready to rejoin society. Now it's just a matter of enduring and hoping and praying for sentence reduction and/or laws to change.

Currently, I'm not entitled to receive "good - conduct time" applied to my sentence, because my crime is considered "aggravated" due to the gun involved. Aggravated felons in Texas aren't entitled to good time credit and must do at least half their sentence before being considered for parole; and even then, one is likely to be denied and not considered again for another 3 to 5 years. Good conduct time has always existed as an incentive for inmates to behave themselves while in prison, making it easier and everyone involved, especially the staff. To deny it to the supposedly most dangerous and potentially most troublesome prisoners doesn't make sense. Many think, "why behave if it doesn't help me see parole any sooner?" The laws need to change to allow all inmates their good conduct time. Texas Rep. Jim McReynolds, Texas House Corrections Committee, is someone responsible for this issue. A new resolution would help reduce prison overcrowding, reduce costs to the taxpayer, and allow many deserving people the chance to parole and to be reunited with their families.

I'm always thinking about parole -- about a second chance at life -- and what I'll do once I'm free again, if ever. Besides the basics, like a place to live and a job to get me started, I intend to join a church of some kind and surround myself with good, spiritual people. Finding a good woman, of course, is a must. I'm looking forward to arts and crafts fairs, music concerts, hiking and camping, canoeing, swimming, restaurants and home-cooked meals, and catching up on all the many years of movies I've missed. Once I'm settled, I would also like to volunteer with therapy dogs, taking them to hospitals and nursing homes to cheer people up and boost their recovery, as a dog's unconditional love is so healing and contagious. And eventually I would like to work in transpersonal hypnotherapy and spiritual counseling, mostly for those suffering from addiction and depression.

You know, I have to admit that sometimes the weight of such a lengthy prison sentence seams like too much to bear, and I think about checking out -- early. Better luck next time, right? After all, were really eternal, spiritual beings who never actually die (a fact, not a belief). But I know that I would ultimately regret it and just be avoiding important lessons that I'd have to make up for in another way. And as difficult as things may be -- as much as we may suffer -- it's all about learning and growing from the experience. So, when I feel low, which is pretty damn often, especially with so much time left to endure, I try to remember that my soul's spiritual evolution is more important than my being free or happy right now. I try to be thankful for the simplest things like my health, clean air, water, food, and the relative luxury of prison life in the United States compared to some other countries or the daily life in the slums of cities around the world. It could be worse, as they say. But, honestly, I'd take freedom in the most impoverished environment over imprisonment in the wealthiest one. I really don't believe there's anything worse than prison -- to be locked away and forgotten.

Thankfully, I have this blog, and Mystic Ministries.org, and all of you out there to give me purpose and meaning in life and a reason to make the most of each day, regardless of my situation. I'd like to instill this same sense of purpose in others. If anything I share can make a difference in someone else's life, then I'm blessed..

Thanks again for listening and caring. I so appreciate your letters and e-mails. Keep them coming! Bye for now.

-- Eric

**If you agree that my sentence is excessive, please let them know. Your letters and e-mails could make all the difference. Feel free to use the prewritten letters, I made about my commutation and good time. The letters are listed on my website MysticMinistries.org

The chairman of the house corrections committee is Jim McReynolds and Senator John Whitmire is the chair of the criminal justice committee.

Snail mail goes to: John Bradley and Judge Carnes, Williamson County Courthouse, 405 S. MLK, Georgetown, TX 78626; as well as: Sheriff James Wilson, 508 S. Rock St., Georgetown, TX 78626; and: Parole Board, Box 13401, Austin, TX 78711; and: Gov. Rick Perry, 1100 San Jacinto, Austin, TX 78701. Thank you!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What I Can Do

"The best service we can provide others is to share what we have learned from our experience."

-- Edgar Cayce

I wish there were something I could say or do to keep someone else from ever coming to prison. It seems too simple a solution to just say, "stay in school; don't drink; don't do drugs." If I was a role model or a person with any kind of influence, then my words might have some impact, but all I have to offer is the fact that I've "been there, done that".

I've partied hard with Hells Angels and rock stars, with high society speed freaks and ghetto trash crackheads. I've got down with the best of them and worst, from the country clubs to the truck stops all over the country. I could drink anyone under the table, and still hold UW -- Madison's all-time record for the biggest 4'-- bong hit. I've done more than my share of coke and acid and sampled every other drug on the street more than once (except meth -- I'm not a complete idiot). I'm a virtual connoisseur of everything homegrown and homebrewed. So I know what it's like to have fun and to be high, to be in the fast lane as well as the gutter.

I've been one of the most popular kids, if not the coolest dude on the block, as well as a misfit, the loner, the nerd, the total reject; the smartest person in the class and the biggest dumb ass you'd ever care to meet. I've been a swinging single, happily married and painfully divorced. So I may be able to understand your point of view.

I've been rich with a fat brokerage account, a yacht, and lines of credit and so poor that I'm scrounging for "Free Coffee" game stickers in the 7-Eleven parking lot every morning and eating out at the Pizza Hut dumpster at night. So unless you're Bill Gates, I can probably relate to your current financial situation.

I've experienced great happiness as well as suicidal depression. I know what it's like to feel like life has no meaning, that there's no point to it all anymore; that the world would be better off without me, that life is just too difficult, too cruel, too hopeless...I felt the crippling ocean of despair that feels like a constant crushing weight that won't leave you, that only lets you up long enough to feel the next wave much more strongly, that keeps you in bed or indoors for weeks and months at a time. I know what it's like to be so full of guilt and remorse and self-loathing for so long that it becomes unbearable and you finally get that pistol, sit with it in your mouth, pull back the hammer, put your finger to the trigger, night after night after night. So, if you're in that place, I can relate and I can feel your pain.

But most importantly, I think, I've experienced both addiction and recovery. I know what it's like to lose control of my drug and alcohol use and feel powerless to do anything about it, to make so many heartfelt promises and failed attempts to quit that it eventually seems pointless to even try anymore. I know what it's like to get physically sick when the stuff runs out and just how horribly bad it feels. I know how it is to make your addiction more important than your bills, your rent, food, family, friends. I know, I know... I've experienced all the highs and all the lows and every place in between. And, believe it or not, up to the very end, as extremely f$%*ed up as I really knew I was, after repeatedly ruining every aspect of my life, I could not admit that I had a problem and that I was indeed an alcoholic/addict. My ego just wouldn't allow that conclusion, saying, "I'm in control; everything is okay; just a bump in the road; no worries." Even later, in jail, I still refused to face the truth. I eventually had to be dragged kicking and screaming, so to speak, to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there. And it's a good thing.

"Fortune may yet have a better success in reserve for you. Those who lose today may win tomorrow."
-- Cervantes


First, those AA meetings showed me that lots of other people had it too. The same problem; there were lots of people I could talk with about it without feeling weak or stupid. For the most part, they were all going through the same things physically and mentally without their drugs of choice. But there were some who had gone months and even years without and who seemed to have kicked the habit for good, and those people were true inspirations. If they could do it, so could I. And AA's "blue book" had even more great stories of people overcoming their addictions. I could relate to those people, and because they had all gone through the same sort of hell, I could respect their advice. Here's basically what they told me:

(1) Realize that although you have a serious problem to deal with, you can and will overcome it as many others have.

(2) Don't let your pride get in the way of your success.This was a big problem for me. Accept help from whoever and wherever it comes. There a lot of people who really want to help you and who you'll make very happy by allowing them to do so -- it's their purpose and joy, don't deny them this. Besides, you really do need it. Just ask, and get ready for "Thank you!" to be your most used phrase from now on.

(3) A support group of some kind, like new friends from AA, is important, especially at first. Call them whenever you need/want to talk, and encourage them to do the same. Put them on speed dial. Listen, and actually take whatever device they may give. Then, as soon as you feel you're able, be a mentor to someone who is going through what you just did. Always remember that other people are looking up to you and relying on your strength and conviction also. As a fellow alcoholic/addict, I can say that your support group is really worldwide and that we're all in this together.

(4) Get some spirituality in your life. Just consider the idea that there may be a Higher Power in existence that you're just not yet aware of and that this Force can maybe help you overcome the addiction. This was relatively new for me, because I already had discarded the notion of a God or anything heavenly like that years ago. But someone suggested that I consider it as a higher "Self" or something within me that was greater than my ego and physical body -- some as yet untapped portion of my being that I could put in control of my life instead.

(Just try this , okay? Close your eyes and picture a bright, shining, silver and gold light, like a small sun, inside yourself. Focus on this light, which, let's say, is your true spiritual Self and intimately connected with the Divine, and imagine it radiating light and love throughout your being; filling every cell in your body and extending out 3 feet in every direction, so that you are shining like a star. Feel the love and power that is your Higher Self. Let this divine light cleanse you and heal you entirely. Relax in the healing light for as long as you like. This is the "White Light" meditation I practice often. It really works because it's real: your Higher Self is fact ,not fantasy.

(5) And here's some advice of my own that I don't think is mentioned often enough,: get some serious medical attention as soon as possible. (If I had done so, just two weeks earlier, I wouldn't be in prison today.) As much as I don't care for pharmaceutical drugs in general, which can be just as habit-forming and detrimental as the street variety, as an alcoholic or drug addict, your body and brain are extremely screwed up right now, whether you realize it or not, and there are good medications available that can help you overcome your addiction without the usual problems, setbacks, or suffering experienced. I recommend getting medical help for the physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings in order to better deal with the mental side of things, which are considerable enough in their own right. Speaking of which, some of these medications treat the psychological aspects of addiction as well. Definitely look into it. Even if you don't need much help, maybe a friend or a family member does.

Ideally, I think that it's best to be put into a purposefully -- induced coma for a couple of months or so until the worst of the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms run their course. A bit extreme for some people no doubt, but it's my understanding that an approach similar to this is being done somewhere for heroin addicts, using special medications to quickly cleanse the person's body as they sleep for about a week. The addict awakens with no real physical issues to deal with them can better get on with their recovery. I like it. All our hospitals and treatment centers need to adopt this method; we need to do what works, what gets proven results.

Still, the problem isn't with the medical rehabilitation fields or with society or with anyone but the addict. Each of us is responsible for own recovery. Fortunately, all the information and resources we need can be found on the Internet these days (try Hazelden.org as a start). All it takes is this decision and commitment -- the courage -- to do what you know in your heart is the right thing to do.

He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "It's too far." He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "It's too high." He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "We might fall." He said, "Come to the edge." They came... He pushed them. And they flew.

The best advice I can offer anyone is to find some purpose and meaning in their life. How can you help? Are there any good causes you believe strongly in? Any organizations you'd like to volunteer your time and efforts to? The important thing for all of us is to put the focus on others rather than ourselves. We all need to overcome selfishness and self-centeredness more than anything else in life. For anyone suffering from addiction or depression, which go hand in hand, I see take a look around and notice all those people suffering even more than yourself in countless ways. No matter how bad off, you may be, there's always someone doing worse. How can you help? Often all it takes is making the effort to talk, to listen, and to show you care.

Do you care? Yes, of course you do. Perhaps you care too much, you think, and that is why you're so depressed in the first place: because the world's problems are just too big and too many; because there doesn't seem to be any solutions; because it's also hopeless; because one small person like yourself can't make a difference. Or perhaps you're so full of self-hatred and discussed that you think anything you did to help would only make matters worse. Maybe you feel that, ultimately, none of it really matters anyway. I can relate; I once felt the same way. I felt overwhelmed by the world, and the hopelessness and meaningless of it all seemed like too much to bear. My depression was so great that it took every effort just to leave the apartment most days, let alone go out and volunteer somewhere. Besides, I was always drunk or stoned and couldn't very well help anybody in that state.

But I was wrong. I wasn't thinking correctly; I was just making excuses. I used the problems of the world and my regrets as an excuse for my depression and alcoholism. I used my depression and addiction as an excuse for my laziness and self-centeredness. All I really cared about was me, me, me. I was too egotistical to admit that I was an addict and too proud to seek help-- until it was too late.

Please learn from my mistakes: stay in school; don't drink; don't do drugs. But if it's too late for any of that and you think you may have a problem, then do something about it right now. I can promise you that your life does have a huge purpose and meaning. And that to recognize that purpose you need to be clean and sober. I can promise you that being clean and sober is 1 billion times better than being f$%*ed up all the time. And, as impossible as it may seem right now, I can promise that you can get there in three months. If you really want to. Just follow the advice here and read at least the first three books on my required reading list. Go to MysticMinistries.org Okay? Also, know that you've got a friend in me and that you can write/e-mail me anytime. I look forward to celebrating your success with you!

Thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.

-- Eric

Reality

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known."
_Montaigne

The first step is to admit you have a problem. Put the remote down and step away from the television. Each night's marathon of crime shows -- all the countless variations of "CSI" and "Law and Order" -- are destroying our society sense of reality. They're pure fantasy, and so far from the truth that it would be laughable if people weren't taking their "as seen on TV" concepts of the criminal justice system into the jury box with them. In TV land, besides being so damn good-looking, the police spend plenty of time and effort on each case, using high-tech methods and equipment hardly dreamed of by the CIA. They actually seem to care about putting the right person behind bars rather than just obtaining a conviction. In Hollywood, judges are wise and just and neutral to both sides, prosecutors are always the good guys who don't lie and cheat to "win"; public defenders really go to the mat for their clients and are never, in fact, in the DA's pocket, and suspects are always guilty and punished fairly.
The reality is so much different. Police departments don't have the manpower and resources to dedicate exclusively to anyone case, yet alone manage their enormous daily workloads. Trials are so heavily skewed in the prosecution's favor as to render them fundamentally unfair."Innocent until proven guilty" is a myth. Politics, not justice, rules, the court room these days. Being "tough on crime" is all that matters anymore.

But it's our own fault; we've traded truth and justice for shock and awe, for entertainment value. Society has become enamored with crime and violence, fascinated by it, and at the same time more afraid of it than ever. The actual crime rate has fallen or remained the same for the past 30 years or so, crime reporting in the news has increased 100 fold, and people have been gleefully convinced that crime is burgeoning, that sexual predators roam their streets, and that their neighbor is a sociopath. Everyone is suspect.

But I believe that people usually accuse others of what they themselves harbor in the darkest recesses of their minds; and there can be no doubt that people's minds today have been seriously twisted by the huge amounts of violence and crime we're being fed: from the countless crime novels and "true crime" books published each month, to the myriad of television crime dramas and violent movies produced every week, to the graphically violent video/computer games being cranked out by the millions, to the days news' crime reporting each day- were being inundated with negative images. As a result, we've become more and more immune to the lesser forums' ability to affect us and entertain us, so it takes harsher, more graphic and disturbing material to do the trick. And, of course, big business delivers. After all, it's what we want, right? Crime and violence is obviously a favorite subject; the sales figures don't lie.

As an exercise, count how many guns you see on television in one evening. At the bookstore, count how many are about serial killers of some kind. And how many video/computer games have the objective to blow someone's/something's head off? Is it any wonder that, discounting those places with wars being fought, the United States is by far the most crime obsessed and violent country in the world with the greatest percentage of its citizens in prison?

Mass media, including the news, will shape the way we think and the way society acts, as long as we remain unaware and complacent and refuse to make our objections heard. The easiest person to control is the one who doesn't realize he's being controlled. Turn off your television; there's a reason they call it the "idiot box". Try to watch only positive, uplifting shows/movies. Choose only positive and educational reading material. Play only positive video/computer games, if you have to play them at all. Be selective and wary of what you watch and read. Take back control of what you put into your mind.

The fantasy world of crime and violence may be exciting, but the reality of it is something you never want to experience personally. It is not a game; there is no reset button. It's is not a movie; you are not Scarface or James Bond. Also, take it from someone who knows: drug and alcohol are responsible for most all of crime and violence. So as fun and exciting as they may seem, please leave them out of your life entirely.

Understand, too, that the real world of crime and violence is really no more pervasive than it ever has been. In many ways, it's less. It's the exception, not the rule, and lies on the fringe of society where it belongs. There's no need to be more "tough on crime" than in years past; and there's no need to punish people any more severely today. If anything, we need to be more understanding and caring about the causes of most crime, which, again, is drug and alcohol abuse/addiction, and focus instead on "tough love" when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation.

I wish that the real world sometimes did work like it does on television, but that just isn't the case. The sad truth is that our judicial system is just as corrupt and self-serving as our political system. Believe it or not, police and prosecutors often lie at trial. They withhold evidence favorable to the defendant and fabricate evidence against. And court-appointed "defense" attorneys are no less guilty, making backroom deals and serving their clients heads to the prosecution on a silver platter. They do it because the numbers of people being arrested and processed every day, for whatever reasons, are enormous, and it's just not feasible to grant a fair and complete hearing to each and every one of them. They do it because it's easier. They do it for political reasons, to boost their careers. They do it to purge society of the filth and trash they feel is lurking around every corner. They do it for a sense of empowerment in a dog eat dog world. They do it because they can.

When establishing the framework of our country's legal system, one of the founding fathers said something to the effect of, "it's better that a dozen guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned wrongfully" and rules of law were set in place to prevent that from happening. Today, however, all it takes is an accusation to be thrown in jail. No evidence is required to be sentenced to life in prison. Simply being called a murderer or worse by the district attorney is enough for any jury these days. After all, an elected official wouldn't lie to us, would he ?

Being the good citizens, they are, a jury will always give the state the benefit of any doubt. The threat of a jury trial is always used when negotiating a plea bargain: "take this 15 years or I'll make sure the jury gives you 50" because juries aren't professionals; they have no idea what the "going rate" is, say, for robbery as a first -- ever offense and where no one was hurt. If the prosecutor says 50, then it must be 50. They have n no idea that many others are offered 10 years or less for the same offense, or that two others recently signed for 25 years for eight counts of robbery.

Sorry to dash your TV land, fairytale perceptions against the rocks, but this is the way it works in the real world. It's nothing personal -- someone has to go down for the crime, and it may as well be you. Your name/reputation will be dragged through the mud and you'll be portrayed as the worst person imaginable in order to influence the jury against you in sentencing. "Isn't it true that you killed a man with your bare hands?" (No. ) "Isn't it true that you had a plan to kidnap someone and hold them for ransom?" ( No...) and " Isn't true that you raped that woman?" (What woman? What are you talking about?! ) All baseless accusations, but for the jury, those bells have been rung, and there's no taking 'em back; those ideas/images have taken hold, despite your objections. In fact, the more you vehemently deny such unfounded allegations, the more guilty you seem: and of course the prosecution knows this. Plus, false and misleading "evidence" will be used against you, such a as a "Bomb"and a "Rape Kit", for example, which , of course , are nothing of the sort. Also, expert witnesses will testify that you have absolutely no conscience and cannot be rehabilitated, even though they've never met you and were just called at eight o'clock that morning to review your file. But even if you're able to overcome such treatment and be vindicated, the whole experience, lasting many months sometimes, is extremely dramatic. More than likely, the local news and Internet have shared every sordid detail, including the lies -- especially the lies -- with the world.

Of course, if you're guilty, you deserve to be punished, but at trial it's unlikely you'll be sentenced only for the crime you committed but for the extra half dozen other more horrible offenses the prosecutor has accused you of. The fact that there is no shred of evidence for any other crimes, that they are all just creations of his own cruel imagination, make no difference whatsoever. At trial, conviction alone is not enough: the greater the punishment, the greater the sentence, the greater the victory. So although this may be your first ever offense, the prosecutor will seek a life sentence based on all the "extraneous" crimes he was able to "prove up" by his word alone. And the jury, doing their part to make the world a safer place, and plainly terrified of the monster you most certainly are, will oblige him.

Anyway, please keep all this in mind if ever you find yourself in the jury box with someone's life in your hands.

Thanks, as always, for listening and caring. Bye for now. -- Eric