Editor’s note: Please note that this autobiographical piece by one of our staff writers contains mature themes that involve mentions of depres- sion, suicide, racism, sub- stance abuse, nudity, prison, and sexual assault..
I was not trying to commit suicide, I just wanted to see if I could be hurt.
I sped through the Utah night downing the second pint of cheap vodka I had bought. I was hell-bent. I simply did not care about my life or anybody’s life that night. There was no end to my sadness. There was no peace in my sleep. I hit a sharp curve going 90 miles per hour. I remember spinning and dust. My body jostled around in the driver’s seat until my vehicle came to a stop. I could not think about what had just happened. I crawled into the backseat of my wrecked car and went unconscious.
I was awoken by a police officer knocking on my window. It was morning and I made my way out to the road as per the officer’s instructions. I had spun off the road. My car was nestled against broken tree trunks. The frame of my vehicle was mangled. I stunk of vodka and the officer administered a sobriety test which I unsurprisingly failed. I was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, handcuffed uncomfortably, and stuffed in the back of the police cruiser. A tow truck would come for my car, unfortunately there would be no such help for my life.
I was booked into the Purgatory facility in Southern Utah. Purgatory is a realm described in the Bible as a place of suffering where souls wait and pay for their sins. My clothes were taken from me. I stood naked in front of strangers so they could check my orifices for contraband. I was given a number and escorted to H block. H block held 50 prisoners. We were divided by first floor and second floor groups. I was put in the second floor group. The only people of color were a Mexican man who did not speak English, a “true to form” Vato with a scar across his neck, and yours truly. All other 22 men on the second floor were clean shaven and bald. They were Caucasian in ethnicity. They had tattoos of hate inked on their skin. Some members of the Aryan Brotherhood were old and some were very young. I buddied up with the Vato with the neck scar.
I waited for my court date, which is how getting arrested works, unless you have someone to bail you out. I did not, so I waited. The sobering reality of where I was hit me hard. I was a loser, a failure, and a drunk. I spoke to the only person I could. I got on my knees and prayed. I cried my heart out to a God that I hoped heard me. I knelt in silent prayer many times during the days.
The scripted schedule of prison is annoying. You must be awake at a certain time with your bed made. The food was terrible and the company worse. On the third day we were waiting in line to get dinner. A member of the Brotherhood taunted me. He called me “monkey” and told me I should tell the guards to make the food come faster. I did not understand the slur. To me, our physical beings are classified as primates and all human beings are considered part of the great ape family. I did not realize he was alluding to my skin color. The taunting became common. “Monkey”. I kept praying.
On the fifth day, my Vato friend told he heard some of the Brotherhood saying they were going to rape someone that night. With only three people of color, I did not like my odds. Luckily, I had a bunk next to wall. I stayed awake with my back against the wall all night. In the early hours I saw movement from some of the Brotherhood’s bunks. I sat poised, ready to fight. I would never let anyone touch me like that. I would claw out their eyes out if I had too. What I saw surprised me. The older members of the Brotherhood were being sexual with the younger members. They were victimizing their own. I prayed. I could not watch. Nobody approached me.
The worst part of jail is not knowing anything. In my case, I did not know when my court date would be. I could not plan for my life. I could not look forward to anything. It hurts to think about the people you know on the outside. Your friends are eating in restaurants and going to the movie theater. Anybody can do whatever they want. You can’t. You are in a cage. You have no control. All you can do is wait.
On the sixth day I was praying. It was the middle of the day and a member of the Aryan Brotherhood came to me after I was done. He asked me if I was a spiritual guy. I answered yes. He asked me if I could pray for him. I told him I would teach him how. I instructed him to humble himself by kneeling, which he did. We began to pray in the way I know how. He was moved emotionally and thanked me afterwards. I did not know he was the leader of the gang. I speak Spanish and went to the Mexican man who did not speak English. I do not know why I had not done this before. I asked him if he was alright. He looked relieved to be able to communicate with someone. We prayed. I told him not to give up. I felt grateful that day.
On the seventh day I was called to court and released. As I left H block more than one member of the Aryan Brotherhood wished me well. “Good luck Brother!” they said. I gave them the thumbs up and got the hell out of there. I was given back the clothes I had worn when I had wrecked my car. I walked out into the scorching Southern Utah sun. I had no money and nowhere to go. I tried to call my mother collect, but I never really learned how to do that, so I reached no one, but I did leave a message that would probably end up just as lost as I was. I walked to a place where I had once been employed. I hoped to regroup and use their phone. The strangest thing happened then. My sister showed up at this particular place. She came looking for me. She told me my mother did receive my voice message and had told her. My sister had a feeling that I would go to my former job for shelter. She was the angel and hero I needed to get me home.
It did not get easier from there. I went into an unstable future. I kept with me the wisdom of prayers answered. I did not know what I was going to do, but at least I knew I did not have to do it alone.
Authors Note and Opinion
If you have read the story above, then you know I have been in some dark places. Sometimes that place felt like a deep hole I couldn’t climb out of. I quit climbing and learned to fly. Please do not give in to thoughts of suicide. The storms of life come and go, some last a really long time. Please wait them out. You may have days where the only thing you can do is breathe, keep breathing. The storm will pass. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts reach out. Please say something. It is not a joke, entertainment, or beautiful. It makes it a lot harder for those of us left behind. Do not go where we cannot follow. Do not leave us, we need you too. If it hurts, fight back. I beg you to endure the storm. It will not last forever. The sun still shines beyond the clouds. Do not worry and rest assured. You are my brother and my sister and I love you. Stay.
Haskell Emergency Response Team (HERT)
National Hopeline Network:
Lawrence Headquarters Counselling
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Your old pal Joe