I grew up poor in terms of societal standards, but my heart was as content as a kids could be in knowing I was loved dearly by two parents, a twin brother, and two older sisters. Despite growing up in a rough neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, I did well in elementary and grade school, was active in after-school events (sports, Cub Scouts, family activities), and maintained a normal, vibrant childhood. But by the age of fifteen, though, my parents were unable to control my twin brother and me.
We began to hang out with other neighborhood boys who were doing more than shooting BB guns; before long we were stealing cars, skipping school, smoking drugs, drinking alcohol, and going to juvenile lockup seemingly on a weekly basis. This rapid deterioration of behavior devastated and perplexed our loving parents. They’d done the very best they could to keep us from all the negative influences that permeated our community, and now here we were, living in defiance of all they’d instilled in us.
I aspired to become an architect, but I struggled with this as a viable future because no one around me was successful – so why would I be any different? I struggled with my identity as a black kid who only saw failure, poverty, and endless despair all around him, so why should I believe I could be any different? This insidious mindset only fueled my addiction and exacerbated my criminality to an all-time level, landing me in prison at the age of nineteen for three years for my part in an armed robbery.
During my time in prison I seemed to turn my life around; I earned my GED, became a tutor, participated in several other cognitive-based classes, and graduated from a prison boot camp program as valedictorian of my platoon, which also cut my sentence by just over a year.
Things were looking up for me as I landed a decent-paying warehouse job within two months of my release, enrolled in a community college, and saved $5,000 in six months to buy a car that first summer. I’d met a nice young woman, moved in with her shortly thereafter, and was very pleased with where my life was going – but there was only one problem: I started drinking again.
Despite still being on post-prison supervision, I began drinking, thinking I could manage it. I rationalized that because I was doing so well in 95% of my life, it won’t hurt to compromise on the remaining 5%. But that 5% quickly began to consume much of the other 95%, and I found myself living recklessly, drinking and driving daily and allowing my arrogance and irrationality to dominate my decision making. This, tragically, would lead to two people dead and another severely injured in a DUI crash just two years after my release from prison.
Devastated by the tragedy I caused, I did an immeasurable amount of introspection and soul searching. I needed to know why I’d lived my life the way I had and, more importantly, how I was going to begin to clean up the wreckage going forward. It soon became imperative that the only way this tragedy would not be in vain was if I honored my victims by devoting the rest of my life to helping others in their addiction; to prevent them from making the same catastrophic mistake I had that cost people their lives and their families and friends a lifetime of heartache.
Taking advantage of the educational opportunities afforded me, I began to unravel the tangled threads of my life, gaining wisdom and insight that I have been able to use in understanding my youthful motivations and counseling other young men. I have been diligent in my studies to absorb all that was being taught so I could have more to offer those whom I encountered, and I have learned to listen to men in a way that builds empathy and trust: two pillars in any relationship. I don’t always have all the answers in my mentorship, nor do I expect to, but I use my costly life experiences and education to help young men see their lives, choices, and outcomes in ways they hadn’t before.
My journey is far from complete; I’m still learning to hone my counseling skills, refining my communication on a continual basis, and working on my recovery daily. But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is I know what my purpose is, I know where my destiny leads, and I am confident my many misdeeds and mistakes are not in vain. The irony of it all is when I was in the “free world” I was living aimlessly, recklessly, and in despair; it was in prison – a place designed to break one’s spirit – that I discovered who am, where I’m going, and how I am supposed to get there.
Categories: Martin Lockett
Really enjoy your writing, Martin. It’s insightful. Keep writing!