(In the picture above, with an incarcerated man “Abe” whom I wrote about here, and with San Francisco Police Department Captain Renee Pagano, whom I wrote about in The Washington Post here)

Many amazing individuals helped me turn my life around: from one of addiction, criminal activity, and methamphetamine psychosis, to one of community service

Some of my most meaningful help came from persons who are/were incarcerated…and from persons in law enforcement

You taught me that behind bars and behind badges, beat the hearts of human beings

You taught me to look past uniforms—whether worn by people in prisoners, or by police—to see the human beings who wear them

Of course, by no means do I intend blanket endorsement of all things any law enforcement person does or has done

Any more than I condone the acts of those of us who—like me—made mistakes leading to our incarcerations

One thing persons in law enforcement and persons who are/were incarcerated have in common, is: You are often deeply misunderstood

As for those of you in law enforcement, I had every reason to fear and mistrust you

After all…you arrested me, stripped me naked, and tossed me in a padded cell…locked me in jails and the psych ward, searched my homes and vehicles

Architected a global conspiracy to pin 9/11 on me, kidnap and torture me to death…hid surveillance devices in my dwellings…terrorized me with doctored pictures of me in magazines and on the internet…recruited my friends and family to engineer my downfall

(Of course, the “conspiracy” and its elements were in my mind—which was riddled with psychosis, due to my poor choices which led to my getting addicted to meth)

Yet time and time again, you in law enforcement said a few kind words to me, spent a few moments listening to me, offered up a heartfelt word or two of advice

One of your ranks, a San Francisco cop, became my 12-step sponsor…on his own time, he drove to the rehab facility where I lived at the time, picked up me and two other residents, and brought us into his home, to coach us on turning our lives around

We were three guys pretty much right off the streets…one had robbed a McDonald’s at the point of a shotgun (it wasn’t me)

As for those of you who are/were incarcerated…I had every reason to misunderstand you

After all, hadn’t I stayed out of jails and handcuffs for the better part of my two decades of drug addiction?

Didn’t that somehow make me a better human being than you?

Yet time and time again—starting from the morning I came to on the filthy floor of a holding cell filled with ten other men, my jail-issued slippers for a pillow, my head a few inches from the toilet

You who are/were incarcerated looked past my shortcomings, accepted me for the human being I am, however flawed

You praised my efforts, despite my history of selfish accumulation…of a house, motorcycle, Jeep, financial accounts…all of which, and more, I threw away to greed, as I buried the shame from my past mistakes under an avalanche of intoxicants

One of your ranks, a man named Ernest Kirkwood—who served nearly three decades in prison—recruited me, in 2017, to launch a Toastmasters-style club in a women’s unit of San Francisco County Jail

The “Breadwinners” meeting is ongoing for over three years (interrupted by the pandemic)…Ernest inspired me to enroll many incredible members of the San Francisco Toastmasters community as guest speakers and coaches

Ernest demonstrated what it is to dedicate one’s life and time to helping others, transforming past mistakes into a source of good…he set an example for me and others to follow

Formerly incarcerated people like Ernest—and others I’ve written about (such as in previous blogs here, here, here, and here…you can read my co-authored article about Ernest in the East Bay Times here)—taught me to understand…

That the reasons I stayed out of jails and handcuffs for so long, and only served a couple of months… while you serve(-d) years/decades/lifetimes in prison

Are due to the unfair advantages society gave me, because of the color of my skin (white) and my socioeconomic background (privileged)

Had you been given the same opportunities as I? You may well have done far more good with them, than I ever did

While the above sounds obvious to say, it’s different when you live it

While I can’t know—or even, it feels, legitimately imagine—what it’s like to have dark skin, be the victim of racial prejudice

I know very well the sheer terror that comes from certainty I’m being targeted by law enforcement…the depths of terror and fear

Yet while even today, I continue to experience what many would label a form of schizophrenia—I hear voices, entertain ideas about government interest in my life

My beautiful life of spirituality, self-improvement, and service to others is possible—in large part—because of the help I’ve received from people who are/were incarcerated, and people in law enforcement

As a result: Today I volunteer for the FBI and the police, helping them better serve communities affected by incarceration

I volunteer inside maximum-security prisons, for organizations that deliver entrepreneur and employment training to incarcerated persons (Defy Ventures and Hustle 2.0)

I was recognized by the Director of the FBI with one of the highest community service awards the Bureau bestows upon civilians, for my work with incarcerated persons turning their lives around (you can find me on the FBI website here)

One kind word from a cop, is like fifty kind words from anyone else

We as persons engaged in criminal activity are often locked in negative thought patterns…such as, to automatically fear and mistrust certain individuals, because of the uniform they wear

When we receive a kind word from a cop, it forces us to break our other negative thought patterns too

In my case, today I realize: Had I never made the poor decision to use meth? No one would’ve locked me in a padded cell, etc.

One human-to-human interaction with a person who is/was incarcerated, yet is turning her/his life around

Inspires us to recognize our shared humanity, while at the same time escaping our shared human failings

Thank you, to all our brothers and sisters who are so dedicated to changing lives for the better—your own and others (like mine)

You’ve taught me that in our prisons, are found many people who truly deserve to be walking free on our streets

You’ve taught me that behind the wheels of our squad cars and desks of our precinct houses, are found many human beings who truly deserve to be protecting our streets

Let’s hope you’re better understood, some day

I am grateful you’ve helped me better understand myself

Resources For You

If you know or are a person who is struggling, check out my free PDF: Ten Helpful Questions to Ask When Someone You Love is Recovering From Addiction

Simply go to my website, and hit the “Download PDF Now” button in the lower right. When you enter your email, you’ll be signed up for my weekly newsletter, Meditations on Meth. Feel free to unsubscribe if you don’t want it.

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