Tag Archives: i want to be a better person

Me in a men’s prison and this is not a porn

21 Jul

I walked into the liquor store down the street from my building and bought my usual six-pack of Harpoon IPA.

“How you doin’?” the smiling dude behind the counter asked.

“Good. Gonna be a lot better in a few minutes,” I told him.

He laughed. “Pop a couple cold ones and you’ll be all right.”

I walked out uneasy with the words I’d chosen, with the fact I really was about to “pop a couple cold ones”‘ to “feel a little better.” It’s true I need major unwinding tonight, but the fact I’m choosing a beer to speed up the process is pretty freaking ironic.

I’ve spent the last two days, 9am – 4pm, in the classroom of a men’s medium security prison, sitting in a circle with about 16 inmates and three ladies “from the outside” like myself. I’ve been listening to grown men talk about their important memories, about what goes on in their minds on a daily basis, about what they’d wish to buy if any thing were purchasable , what they’ve all most wanted to do at some point in their lives, how they feel about the people they are today. I’ve watched them struggle to find something about themselves of which they’re proud, I’ve heard them express gratitude to one another for creating this temporary community where they are comfortable and relaxed for a whole seven hours during their day, I’ve heard them talk about their insecurities, the crimes they committed, I’ve heard them reinforce to one another the importance of self-forgiveness, of patience, of compromise, of hard work, of considering consequences. I’ve heard them talk about their children, their wives, their girlfriends, their mothers, and oftentimes about the absence of their fathers. I shared too, I shared as much as they did. I cried today, and honest to god, I never imagined I might feel so comfortable letting a couple tears stream down my cheek in front of 16 ripped and tattooed, white t-shirt and blue jean-wearing strange men. “Jesus, I think I’m PMSing,” I blurted out loud. They laughed.

Some of these men have murdered, robbed, physically and emotionally damaged others. Many of them are alcoholics, crack-cocaine and heroin addicts, many of them have gotten out and back in and out and back into prison.

And yet I haven’t felt as connected to a group of people as I did in these couple days. Is that at all strange? Yea, sure, I realize how fucking weird it sounds.

I could say that I’m looking forward to making a commitment to this program because 7.3 million Americans are in jail, prison, on parole, or on probation and the great majority of them will get back on the streets, so shouldn’t we help them reinforce positive values, ways of thinking, and habits so that we can in turn better protect ourselves? I could say it’s because they might discover a thing or two that will help ease the strain in the relationships they have with their sons, daughters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, friends, which in turn may positively affect the lives of each of these people. I could say it’s because we need to reduce the number of incarcerated people so that our tax dollars aren’t sent to jail, so many of which are run by evil fucking corporations.

All of these are fantastic possible consequences of showing convicts an alternative to violence. But my mother said this to me on the phone today (and I’m so glad she did because, goddamn it, we all need a little encouragement and affirmation in our lives): “do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do, not because of statistics.”

I’ll say this: with the overwhelming negativity that permeates this world, I’d be a fool not grab an opportunity to help breed positivity. With all the sadness and regret that gets passed around in that classroom, has come more empathy, eagerness, effort, and honesty than I’ve experienced in months. I want to be present and cooperative in a group of people doing the same. It feels hopeful, honestly. I don’t care who or where we are; that’s the kind of stuff we should all live for.

And fuck it, where else would I get stories like this:

I was eating lunch next to Nick and Jay, when Nick said to me, “I can’t believe you’re eating state food, man. You can bring in your own lunch, you know that?” I told him, “Yeah, I know. But I didn’t today, and I’m hungry, and if you guys can eat it, then it’s no big deal.”

Nick then said, “I worked in the kitchen for a couple days, man, and that shit is nasty. Some of the people working in there are just crazy. You get used to stuff in here that you’d never consider out there. You know what, there was this one crazy dude in the kitchen once who put his own shit in the pancakes while he was cooking it.”

Jay nodded vehemently; he works in the kitchen and had just an orange for lunch that day.  I said, “Oh well. Chocolate chips!”

I’m a slave for you

8 Jul

Not gonna lie; I am a stuff junkie. When I was a kid, my parents taught me to be resourceful, and to have fun without the latest and greatest toys. Sure I spent many hours with Mario and Donkey Kong, but I spent many more riding my brother’s recycled bike (dad and I painted it, changed the seat, and added a horn and basket), playing with the dog, and making up games. I’d run through the back yard, in between corn and coffee plants, chanting like a little Indian girl hunting white people. The dog was either my wolf companion or my horse. Imaginary rivers and quicksand were crossed by swinging from liana or my rope. Whole afternoons would go by, spent outside, until a crusty and hungry mini-me returned home for the evening. I can’t remember caring for many material things; I was satisfied with my cheap watches and a few Nintendo games, though I did wish Freddy Kruger’s replica glove weren’t so expensive.

Then we moved to the US – just as I hit puberty. To make up for my accent and small boobs, I needed gorgeous hair, the prettiest skirts, the most bad ass leather jacket, the newest sneakers, the best this, the best that… as my mother eventually began denying me all of my wants and needs, I started working at age 14, so I could afford all the shit I wanted. God only knows how many thousands of dollars were spent on teen magazines, beauty products, jewelry, clothes… I remember watching shampoo commercials and running to the bathroom to check myself in the mirror; I’d run my fingers through my hair, angry that it wasn’t as shiny, thick, or straight like the model’s. I’d make weekly lists of shit I needed so I could run to the mall after payday and spend my check on the stuff – stuff that would become obsolete weeks later.

When it wasn’t clothes and beauty products, it was gadgets or home furnishings; but there was always something to buy.

It wasn’t until after college that I really began to assess my slavery to stuff and my easily persuadable personality. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true; I’m fairly gullible and impressionable. I tell myself that these traits go hand in hand with my optimism and the big heart I carry on my sleeve, but still… the truth is, I’m not like my mom, who can walk through any store and barely blink at the shelves, focusing solely on the specifics of her list. On a grocery shopping  mission, it is not unlikely that I’ll find myself sucking my thumb or twirling my hair, staring at crayons and erasable markers, convincing myself that drawing pictures would be incredibly therapeutic IF ONLY I had the glow in the dark glittery glue.

I know myself too well, and at least I have that on my side. I can’t tell you how much more pleasant my life has been since I cut out television (commercials), and celebrity-centered news, online shopping, women’s magazines, and ‘casual’ trips to the mall. I don’t know what Vogue wants me to Buy, Keep, or Store, I don’t know what Posh was wearing when she went out for brunch on Saturday, and I haven’t a clue how quickly the new wireless home theater systems can deafen me. I stay away from stores like a lap-band fattie does from sugar, and when I do go I clutch to my list.

Unless I don’t make one. Unless I foolishly tell myself that I’ll just “pop into Target and Sephora real quick” for a computer cable and some foundation. “Twenty minutes, and I’ll be home before dusk for a jog with Tori.”

I found the foundation. I also found lipgloss and $100 worth of perfume. I found the computer cable, along with a new bath curtain, wastebasket, soap dispenser, play-doh, more nerf gun ammunition, Starbucks coffee, a $20 mug, organizing boxes, tanning product, and whatever the fuck else. It’s absurd and I’m ashamed. I’ve put aside some stuff to return over the weekend, and I’m hoping this relapse is an isolated episode. But my oh my, how pretty does my bathroom look.

I like life

5 May

This is what happens when you’re me.

You’re sitting at a café, reading funny blogs, when a girl walks in and says to your waiter/bartender:

Hi, I was here earlier and left $20 to pay my bill that was only $6.95, but I didn’t have time to get change so I left, and now I’m back. I’m really hoping someone left my money aside.

OK, well I don’t have a cash register back here, but you may speak with the manager right over there by the cash register.

She walks just a few feet away and waits to talk to the tall guy in black.

At the same time, the waiter and I exchange a glance that says, dude was that chick serious?

A girl sitting two seats down from me says, very loudly, I don’t believe her. I mean, I used to work at [insert retail here] and people would do that all the time. Honestly, she’s lying.

I say in a low voice, to him, I mean, I’m not going to say that she’s lying, but, dude, that’s not a very smart move. We chuckle.

The loud girl says, seriously, that is the dumbest thing I ever heard. That’s how people are. They were burned once so they turn around and screw someone else over, like, you know what, I got screwed so I can do this. ‘Cause people are entitled… [there was more, I forget] Guilty till they can prove they’re not! I should know, I just finished law school.

You just finished law school and you’re saying your motto is guilty till proven innocent? I ask.

Yeah, she says with a smile.

And you’re gonna be a lawyer? Good lord, I hope I never need one.

It was a JOKE.

Really? It didn’t sound like a joke.

It was a joke. I was kidding. She’s really glaring at me now.

OK, well. You’re saying all that about a person who is standing right there.

She stares at me, looks back to her computer screen and says, Oh get off your high horse.

I’m not on one, I’m just… you know, trying to show you what just happened. I apologize if I was rude.

You decide you must blog about this, so you do. Then a guy sitting next to you (between you and loud girl) – the one who was standing outside the café smoking a cigarette with his laptop bag in tow as you walked up to the café entrance with your own laptop bag in tow while also smoking a cigarette; the one you end up sitting next to because there were no other empty seats at the bar, and you both pull out 10″ tiny laptops – says:

I’m sorry, I noticed earlier you were reading something about the FCC net neutrality regulations, what was that on?

Oh, I think it was CNet. Yea, here it is, It’s CNet. We go over the article together.

Somehow he’s a blogger, I’m a blogger, we start talking about blogging and hosting options, readership, getting published, Twitter, the Grub Street writing classes, NPR, The New Yorker, Goldman Sachs, British elections and the lack of a real Green Party in the US…….. Jesus Christ.

See, for every unpleasant interaction you have with a person, if you keep an open mind and open heart, you can just sit there, and good people bump into you. And then you get a little blog post out of it. Then you order a chocolate chip cookie with your coffee. You should really stop drinking four cups of coffee at 11pm. Hi, Tristan. Your blog‘s awesome.

Oh, and upon delivering the bill, the waiter says, the cookie’s on me. Seriously.

(You give him an awesome tip, obviously. OK, I’m done)

22 Apr

Are you stupid? Do you see a ‘No Turn On Red’ sign anywhere? Fucking drive, you asshole. Oh no, you’re really old. I’m sorry, old man. You shouldn’t be driving, you know.

Hellooo? It’s fucking green, you idiot. Oh, you’re gonna slow down on purpose, I see what you’re doing. I’m gonna find your mother and piss on her, you son of a bitch.

I say these things – rather, scream them – at least once a day from the safety and anonymity of my moving vehicle. The windows are closed so no one actually hears my words, but they see my mouth moving and my hands banging the steering wheel. I wouldn’t blame them if they called me crazy because I’m sure I look it when my rage escalates so quickly, for barely a reason.

My family tells me when I was little – 3 or 4 – I would get very angry very quickly, to the point I’d find myself unable to respond in any way but by screaming: “I AM ANGRY!” as my veins attempted to break free from the skin on my neck. I would scream it as I raised my hands and curled my fingers into a tight semi-circle of hatred. Except I had a lisp and my own way of pronouncing certain words, so instead of saying “estou nervosa!” I’d yell “estou lervosa!” That, of course, was just one more reason for my brother and sister to make fun of me, at the height of my rage, forcing me to stomp outside and scream at the top of my lungs. I often relied on my dog to lick my face and calm me down, which she always did, reinforcing my conviction that my only chance at happiness would be to run away. Girl and dog, free from bullying siblings and parents who enjoyed watching the scene so much that by the time they ordered the elder children to stop, the young’n had already suffered irreparable damage.

I’ve gotten my self (and friends) in uncomfortable situations that could’ve been avoided had I simply ignored and walked away. But I couldn’t shut it, clearly, and when I encountered an asshole, I made sure to express my opinion in the least possible respectful manner. And I was ready to scrap if needed be.

It wasn’t always like this. Moving to the U.S. at age 12 and not speaking the language forced me to become a spectator and an imitator. I wasn’t barking orders at the boys, as I’d often do during Catholic school recess; I was now sitting on the sidelines, trying to pick out one word out of ten, and watching for clues of how and when I was to react. Eventually I overcame the “language barrier,” and my overt confidence was back in full force. The shy kid who’d spent many lunches at the library was now very vocal about the vapidness of 90% of the high school student body and my own intellectual superiority.

I remained that way for years, encouraged by the fact my family and I have a serious problem discussing “feelings.” In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to mention the word in my house without hearing: For fuck’s sake, what kind of esoteric shit are you reading? Quit the stoner talk. My brother was the worst – unless I was going through a truly upsetting situation, he’d greet me with Hello, giant whale. Such greetings invariably resulted in mini fights when I was younger because, like most girls, I desperately wanted to shed the unnoticeable extra 5lbs I perpetually carried around my waist.

Most of the time, what irritated me greatly deserved no more than a mental note of its occurrence. When a friend annoys me, I don’t go into a diatribe about his extensive disregard for my friendship; it’s exhausting. It creates weirdness. It leaves both of us very upset. Instead, I curl my fingers, as I did at age 3, and tell him through mock-clenched teeth, “You anger me!” This prompts him to call me crazy, and laugh at my ridiculousness. I laugh too, and then explain what it is exactly that he did to offend me. And when I overreact, my friends tell me, “hey lunatic, you’re overreacting.” I find it very hard not to smile and simmer down after that.

At the end of the day, I want to be disgustingly happy. I want to smile and shed tears of joy at the drop of a pin, without fear of being ridiculed, underestimated, misunderstood, or whatever else. I want to be a source of positivity for others. It doesn’t mean I’m reaching for people-pleaser status – I don’t think that’s possible for me, actually. I’m simply looking to remain honest yet respectful of my surroundings. I strongly believe that in most cases, anger is a shield for my ignorance or insecurity. I prefer to make note of my reaction and ask “why.”  Why does X all of a sudden anger me? More often than not, it’s due to my own shortcomings. And that, friends, is how lessons are learned. I’m not perfect, and I don’t operate this way all of time. But I try, and I find myself happier each day, I know I’m succeeding.

Except when I’m in the car. There is no excuse for your fuckery, and I will make it known loud and clear. And if you’re not elderly, with child, or driving one, the finger I display as far out my window as I possibly can, will deliver the message.