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Pen Pals

I Spent the Past Ten Years Going in and out of Prison and It's Ruined My Life

When I went to jail ten years ago I knew it’d be tough. Many people told me that I’d ruined my life, but how could I accept that when I was only 23? Today it’s become much more of a reality, but I refuse to throw in the towel just yet.

by Bert Burykill
Feb 8 2014, 3:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Jumilla

Ten years ago I was one cocky motherfuzzy. I was driving all over the Northeast moving a variety of party favors, and I was acting like a maniac while my girl was studying abroad in London. For Valentine’s Day, I had the money—thanks to the drug game—to fly out to London and spend a long weekend with her, and we planned to spend spring break in Italy. The Friday after I got back from visiting her, my apartment got raided, then I got arrested, and my life was altered to a degree that I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand...

I think there is a decent chance I would have died or gotten caught for a more serious offense had I not been nabbed by the cops when I was, but I will never know. It was my final semester of college, and I had some big plans—my goal was to stop slinging coke and switch over into growing and selling weed on a large scale. I was DJing a lot of parties back then too and seriously envisioned myself taking my passion for music to the next level.

I was a confused kid, but I was not ready for the shitstorm I was getting plunged into, and I was clueless that the next ten years would be all about serious legal beefs. I had no idea that I would not have an entirely peaceful, content moment for—well, possibly ever again. Every time I see a cop, or the doorbell rings at my place, I fear for my freedom; during my monthly visits to parole I’m always prepared to walk in and not come out again. The paranoia, fear, and uncertainty that has become the backbone of my whole character has left me extremely debilitated to a level I would have never anticipated.

I still remember the pork chops knockin’ me like it was yesterday. It was the definition of surreal, and it goes through my head now like I’m watching a movie. I couldn’t believe it at the time, and I know I was never thinking prison was really a reality. I had always gotten away with things, and I possessed a bulletproof Superman syndrome like none other. I remember asking the cops, “I’ll just get rehab, right?” They laughed at me and guaranteed I’d be going upstate, but they also reassured me, ‘cause I would surely get six months of SHOCK boot camp and be home soon. They brushed it off like it was nothing. I don’t think they comprehended the monumental effect they had on me when they slapped the cuffs on my wrists. Ten years later I’m still in the final stages of trying to get off parole from the same charge—I’ve spent six years in prison and the rest under strict supervision that has nearly driven me insane.

For the past month, I’ve found myself at a crossroads, and overall extremely disappointed with where my life is at. I’ve been performing poorly at meeting my many challenges. It’s become a vicious cycle in which my failed attempts at achieving success fuels my inability to motivate myself to get where I need to be. Nothing has happened as fast as I thought it would, and every hour I spend being unproductive just adds to the pressure of me existing in a place that’s way behind where I thought I’d be. When I went to jail ten years ago I knew it’d be tough. Many people told me that I’d ruined my life, but how could I accept that when I was only 23? Today it’s become much more of a reality, but I refuse to throw in the towel just yet.

It was in 2004 when I entered the SHOCK boot camp program way up in the Adirondacks. I spent much of my time there on autopilot, numb, in a state of shock (no pun intended). It’s ironic, ‘cause I think their main goal in that program is to wake people up. They openly admit that they will break you down and build you back up. They try to brainwash individuals and change them in six months, and that just isn’t going to work on the average cracker. It doesn’t matter how much you scream in my face, or how much physical labor you force me to do, or how much you tell me I was living foul and I need to obey the laws to be be a productive member of society. With some people, that rhetoric just doesn’t click.

The SHOCK program is on its last legs and its enrollment has been cut in half, which I think is a shame. In theory, it rehabilitates inmates more than regular prison does, but more importantly, it took a lot of years off my initial sentence. Of course, I fucked it up, got caught for basically the same shit again, and ended up serving out the maximum on my three-to-nine-year sentence, but at least SHOCK gave me a fighting chance. I could’ve completed an early release in 2006 if I had just stayed out of trouble and been smart about my shit.

Learning better decision-making was part of what SHOCK was about. Some of the police in there acted like life coaches by trying to instill better morals in us. I can’t hate a few of them for really caring. There were some decent cops in there who at least seemed invested in our well-being and attempted to build up our sense of self-worth and confidence. You won’t really find any pork chops like that in regular prisons. Unfortunately, that program didn’t do a goddamn thing for me, and just a month or so after I was released I returned to the same illegal ways that had put me in prison a year before.

I constantly wonder why I haven’t grown up yet and why I don’t feel anywhere close to 33 years old. Most of the stressors in my life come from my arrests and the time I served that put me way behind my peers in all kinds of ways. I’ve made it hard on myself, no doubt. I tried to find discipline when I was locked up, and I often felt accomplished because of the amount of time I spent writing and exercising, but I didn't have very much to distract me from those things either. Now, I really believe that writing is the one thing that can save my life and give me hopes of achieving what I’ve always wanted—if I can spread some knowledge, make people think, and put a smile on a few faces then I’ll be a blessed individual. It wasn’t that long ago that I felt certain I could finish up a book that would blow everyone's mind, but over the last year I’ve failed to complete a simple project that I thought I’d finish in a few months.

I’ve made pledges to myself on various occasions to spend every spare moment I have writing whatever comes to mind, so that even if 90 percent of it is trash, that ten percent left over will be gold, and eventually I’ll finally be a bona fide “author.” As of now I’m still an aspiring writer who hasn’t really accomplished shit, and that is a mega-hard pill to swallow.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that my past put a serious handicap on me, but now I need to accept that it’s going to take a painstakingly brain-waking earthquake of energy to get where I need to be. I’ve been trying to get my mind straight for the past couple months, and the going has gotten tough-rough, all up in my butt... but I’ve taken a few deep breaths and pledged to get off my ass for one final attempt to be the fly cracker I always thought I’d be. I sat in that SHOCK camp and countless other prisons and jails, promising myself that I’d overcome all the bullshit and become a man that my family could be proud of, and that when I looked in the mirror at myself I’d want to start feverishly beating my dick in awe of myself, and never ever be ashamed. Recently, I’ve been on the verge of complete defeat, and feeling fucked is what pussies and assholes feel like... I wanna be like a big, massive, virile jammy, who’s fixin’ to pull out and spray my sauce all over the place, for the whole world to lap up.

Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here.