Growing up, very few things existed outside of the couple blocks I knew by my home, or the prison’s four walls and metal door that often seemed like a nightmare. I do not know how often people like me grow up in circumstances where fight or flight response is not constant or the cops were the good guys. I felt it was always a “us vs. them” situation. See, the cops always oppressed individuals like myself, constantly harassing us, planting drugs on us, and using their power to justify abuse. Even when I wasn’t caged in by the facilities created to oppress people like me, I was caged in by the false ideals and the closed-minded people at home. People constantly tried to feed me the idea that I was not good enough or that I would grow up to be a monster. This cage was my reality, but it was also my home — broken, but still my home. Soon, that all changed. Each time I found myself shackled, it struck a chord within myself that screamed, “this isn’t me.” I craved fitting in. So, for many years, I allowed that chord to be hit over and over, spending years incarcerated and years in my own man-made hell.
What inspired me to love myself was simple: I did not want me, or the young boys and girls after me, to experience pain that leaves permanent scars on our souls. At 19, I found this purpose to inspire and bring hope to my community. I decided that my life was worth living. Learning how to love myself, I finally embraced this power inside me to come out and fully embrace me. I did not know what it meant to love myself, much less what being gay meant. I just knew it was right. My whole world changed and continued to challenge me as I started coming into my own. Homelessness and more jail soon came into my life during this journey. Through each experience, I pulled strength from knowing my purpose was greater than my challenges. Soon, I used my pain to propel me to become a better person.
I found strength in the gratitude I was able to give to the simple things we usually take for granted, like watching a blooming flower, seeing the sunset, and eating what I wanted when I wanted. It gave me strength knowing that although I lived through hell, I could find strength and light in these dark moments. Slowly, I was exposed to different ways of thinking and opened my heart to the world. In return, I have been able to experience things people like myself only dream of.
Still, these experiences could never fix a broken system because my voice is still only an echo in a vast canyon. I guess you can say the system isn’t broken. It’s doing exactly what it needs to do: oppress individuals like myself. But I still prevailed and continue to use this experience to shed light on the darkness this system tends to hide. Although both my life and I changed, I found myself in the juvenile justice system one last time as an adult. This experience still torments me to this day. I find myself triggered by thoughts and memories of being in the system. I was once again ripped from my life and treated as an animal. Starting over once more, I found this newfound strength again and set on this journey to not only give back to my community, but also build myself up at the same time.
Being incarcerated made me resilient. It inspired me to not only change myself, but also to create change. Each day, I find gratitude in life that gives me the strength to continue living and giving.