WakeUp Carolina is sharing a six-part weekly series, “Turning A Mess Into A Message,” guest authored by Keegan. He has decided to publicly share how a tragic incident led to his recovery in order to hopefully provide someone hope that there is another way to live. This is Part 6 of the series. If you haven’t yet, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
When thinking about prison you normally don’t think of a place where people are trying to practice being of service and becoming the best person they can be, however, for some of us who are incarcerated, that is exactly what we’re trying to do. The transition for me coming to prison has been a little difficult because I came from a recovery-oriented environment where I was going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings daily and was working in a Sober Living program for men. Having access to several pathways of support to the prison system has had its barriers. The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a shortage of volunteers to come into the facility to bring meetings and added support. From my prior engagement in AA, I’ve been able to continue to maintain my sobriety and most importantly go through each day with a level of peace and serenity I never thought imaginable.
While waiting for my sentencing, I had an extreme amount of impending doom because I absolutely knew and accepted that I was going to prison but it was unclear how much time I would have to spend behind bars. The not knowing and the fear were things I had to work through constantly. One of my best friends that I met in recovery had a very keen eye and was always able to tell when I was stuck in my own fear. One of the most impactful moments that helped with the fear I was experiencing was a simple question my friend asked me, “Where are your feet right now?” This very simple question proved to be of tremendous help when faced with crippling fear and anxiety. It allowed me to move forward despite the unknown, be present, and stay in the moment. The one thing I knew with my case pending is that I didn’t want to waste a moment stuck in fear and not seize the opportunity to grow. During the couple of years leading to my incarceration, I was fortunate enough to learn a lot of tools that I still utilize today. I was introduced to men who had gone through similar experiences and understand that serenity was possible even if I was going to be in prison. Some days are harder than others and I still ask myself, “Where are my feet?” I can easily get caught up in only thinking about what life will look or be like after I’m out. This prevents me from focusing on what I can be doing today to be the best version of myself because each moment counts.
Focus on The Basics
The resources for recovery in prison are limited for a variety of reasons which means I must think outside of the box to actively engage in my recovery. Mostly I’ve stuck to the basics that I was taught early on in my path to sobriety and it still holds true to the present day. I continue to stay in contact with my support network back home which includes my recovery friends and my sponsor. Understanding that I’m not alone is one of the first things I learned in my recovery. I lean on them for support daily in one way or another. It also helps me get outside of myself. I can easily feel sorry for myself and be envious of people complaining about day-to-day life. At the end of the day, I made decisions that put me in prison, and speaking to the people who understand me the best helps me see that. I read in a book a while back that the opposite of addiction is connection and I believe this to be true.
Maintaining the connection “with my people” also allows me to be able to be held accountable. Accountability can be viewed negatively at times but it’s one of the ways I can keep myself in check. Giving and receiving feedback from those I trust the most gives me the opportunity to look at life from different angles. My view on life can easily be skewed, especially in a place like prison. Where my mind can be racing with questions like “What am I going to do with my life?” and/or “How is the world going to view me when they find out I’ve been in prison?” Accountability from my inner circle gives me the opportunity to check my moral compass. Answering questions like “Am I practicing integrity?” and “What are my motives?”
Without having my AA meetings, I know I was going to have to be creative with how to stay out of my head. By talking with my sponsor and friends I’ve been able to realize that things come to life when I put pen to paper. The answers to questions start to come out and the facts, for me, become undeniable. One of my tried and true favorites is a gratitude list. It shows me that I have a lot in my life to be grateful for although I’m incarcerated and have far less material than ever. This assignment afforded me the chance to see that material things don’t matter. It’s the internal, emotional, and spiritual components that are important to my recovery. These components are things that only I know if I’m doing on a consistent basis. I also journal daily, just brief summaries of my days and how I’m feeling to get it out of my head. I have started to write a lot more thanks to a suggestion from my recovery network. My friend asked me if I could write about various recovery topics which give me an outlet as if I was sharing at an AA meeting.
I knew upon coming to prison that I was going to have to find something to keep me connected spiritually so I don’t miss an opportunity to attend chapel. It’s one of the only things currently offered in the facility where I can go and know that I’m surrounded by people who are trying to work on themselves. It also gives me a peaceful place where I can meditate, and focus on my relationship with my higher power, and all the positive things I’ve gotten in my life from being sober. This time always allows me to see that glass as half full instead of half empty. I view my spirituality as an open relationship with people around me and seeing the hope in others.
Staying active with any AA literature is always helpful for me. Whether it’s Big Books, Grapevines, and/or Daily Reflections. No matter how many times I go through AA literature, something new will stick out to me. It allows me to remember different tasks I can use to help my sobriety. I also have recently enjoyed reading creative novels so they can allow my imagination to join in the storyline. Reading has shown me that my thoughts on life can be narrow at times and there is always room for improvement.
I do some sort of physical activity daily. This allows me to focus on my breathing and how far I can push myself. Whether it’s running in the yard, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups; or whatever helps me break a sweat. I try to get myself as tired as possible to help myself sleep. I was taught early in my recovery that addiction is a three-prong illness that affects your mind, body, and spirit. Which is what I try to work on daily during my incarceration. I was given the suggestion to do so by a fellow addict in recovery who has served time in prison. I have found that this suggestion has worked for me. I find that if I work on these three areas that my recovery grows stronger. If anyone ever tells you that you can’t be peaceful and free in prison, then I’m telling you this is untrue! You have to put the work in to get there. If you’re struggling on the inside or outside, try a few of the things I use in here and see how they work for you.
Wow it’s amazing to me how much has changed in your mindset and I have no doubt that you will influence so many others. Your eagerness to make a difference is a model for all of us and we’ve learn from you. Hopefully your writing encourages more involvement in volunteerism and you can see your part in it all. Thanks!