I Found My Strength in Family When you ask people what it is that means most to them, the common answer is, “Family”. Yet daily we avoid the opportunity to convey this sentiment through our actions. This may not be true in every instance, but at least in the environment I happened to grow up in, it was. I was born to a family that had its share of issues like any other. This was further complicated by the disease of addiction, and intensified yet again by continual absences brought on in the forms of prison sentences. I thought that I was a unique case. That I had just been dealt a bad hand, and that luck was someone who only visited me with the first name of bad. It took me opening my eyes to the reality of the world we live in, and stopping the self-pity to finally see that I share this struggle with so many other fatherless men who have found themselves drowning in the justice system. Forever longing to be a part of the family they left behind, yet unknowing of how to truly be there when finally given the chance. This is my story. This is how I have come to love myself enough to finally allow myself, and my family to be happy, strong and complete through my presence in life. Our life, our family chosen, and blood. Three things that all life form share in common are struggle, progress and death. Everything that has ever, and will ever live struggles at some point. From this struggle either comes progress, or failure which in turn results in a premature death. This paper won’t focus on the latter commonality, but rather in the first two. I hope that by sharing some of my struggle, and progress that I can in some way help you through yours. Growing up I often felt as if something wasn’t quite right. However, being a child, and innocently blind to the nature of the world as I have now come to know it. I see the same naivete in every child I have ever met, and I celebrate them for it. Unfortunately, I also have to grieve over it sometimes. A poor child doesn’t know that he/she is poor until exposed to children more fortunate, and so many children just like myself don’t realize the level of dysfunction that they are being desensitized to. The norms of my household would be considered heinous in most households, and criminal in the eyes of the law. Yet, to me it was just every day. I learned to express love in unhealthy ways, and to suppress my emotions, because, “men shouldn’t talk about their feelings.”, and “Crying makes you look weak!”. This put me at a huge disadvantage, and caused me to deal with my emotions in ways that took me down a path that led to many years locked in a prison devised of my own insecurities. These insecurities took form in social anxiety, estrangement, and cries for help in the form of erratic outbursts. Some turning into acts of violence, or obscenities all with the hope of gaining acceptance, and that no one would see just how scared, and lonely I truly was. I wanted so badly to have a family of my own that I sought out the approval of a gang, and in turn practiced prison politics. I battled with myself over being too weak, and forever sought to “prove myself” to people who honestly couldn’t care less. I became a role model for younger men of, “what to do in prison” The entire time I was trapped in this cycle, I was intentionally oblivious to the pain that I was inflicting on the ones in my family who managed to escape the mindset that had trapped me. The ones waiting for me to be ready for a family. A sister, nephews, cousins, and a young man that called me his dad one day, and I refused to correct him for it, because I need him as much as he needed me. More so, if I am to be totally honest. They simply couldn’t grasp why I wasn’t able to see the worth I had, or why I created this chasm between us. This in turn drove me deeper into the mindset I had been nurturing my entire life. Fast forward>>>3 prison sentences later, sitting in a cell, I knew something had to change. If I truly wanted different, then I had to truly be different. What a concept! What a completely terrifying concept!!! I was petrified by the thought of looking at myself long enough to find out what was wrong with me, let alone talking to someone else about it to find a way to fix it. But none the less it had to be done if I was to do something different. To BE something different. It was messy, and incredibly uncomfortable. It was also a lot. When I say a lot, I mean an effin’ LOT!!! So much, in fact that I was a bit overwhelmed, and unclear of where to start. This took me back to my childhood. I figured the best place to start was at the beginning. This helped me realize that my issues started when I was a child, and set me on the mission to be the father figure that was missing in my life. Be a man that I would have wanted to raise me. The first step to that, was finding out who I was. Really am. I did this and, to my surprise, he is someone that I love. It was crazy to me that the love, and acceptance I had been seeking for so long, and from so many different places were inside of me the entire time. I came into this program looking for a way to mean something to someone else. To the child who helped save my life, Jaylen Alexander. To my future children and wife. To my brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces. To any, and every person that I choose to love. I had all of these ambitions that were centered in my need for acceptance, and what I ultimately gained from my commitment to change is self-worth, and a love for myself that can’t be dictated by another human being. This influenced every aspect of my life so dramatically that I was transformed. This may sound crazy. You may have your doubts, but I promise you that it’s true. My self-love gave me true confidence, not just false bravado. It made me like who I am, and in turn want to share that with others. I found a sense of purpose being in the lives of others who may not have anyone else they feel truly cares. It renewed my faith in humanity. It made me want to help bring more smiles into this world, because there is all too much sadness. It showed me that if I am to be helpful to others, then I have to make sure I focus on keeping my half done. My part should be running strong in case, should someone else’s falter, it can keep us going until we figure out where the malfunction is, and fix it. This probably sounds like a huge task, or maybe helping other people isn’t quite your thing. But look at this on a smaller scale. I’m not necessarily talking about being Martin Luther King Jr. here. I’m trying to tell you that the only thing you have to do to change this world for the better is work on yourself. Become the kind of man you hope, and pray your sons will be, and that your daughters will marry. The kind of person who doesn’t claim to be fearless, but rather embraces their fear in hopes of finding ways of coping with it. You can impact this world in the most dramatic fashion simply by being present in a child’s life. By helping them to void the stones you have dashed your toes on, and the holes you have fallen into. By showing them how to get back up, and teaching them that “not getting it right the first time”, isn’t failure as long as they try again. By being an example of the strength, your families possess. Not just physical strength, but the strength of your love for one another. This will teach them the value they possess. It will show them they have merit, and worth, and are contributing forces in this world. Who knows? You may be giving them the confidence they need to achieve something they would have otherwise thought too much. You could be raising the next president, or human rights activist. Someone who finds the cure for cancer, or someone who raises their children with the love that we were devoid of throughout our childhoods. That in itself is something worth shouting about. By doing this you are gaining strength. The more you flex a muscle, the stronger it becomes. So, what I’m getting at is FLEX YOUR FAMILY!!! Look to the ones who have been watching you flounder, and grasp for meaning. To the ones who have seen the strength that you give them, and I promise that, like me, you will find your strength in Family. I pray that you take something from this missive that benefits you. That even if you don’t find it right in this moment, reason, and meaning come into your life, and when they do you can look back and see the truth in the words I have written. That you are able to draw strength from the fact that it can be done. That you take a second to stop and look at the incredible amount of strength you are already in possession of in the forms of young children, and ferociously committed to loving without constraints, or requirements. In the forms, of mothers, and mentors. Sponsors, caseworkers, church members, co-workers, and friends. In the form of your Family! Chosen, and blood. Find that you are the strength in your family.