The summer of 1981 brought me to a juvenile treatment facility in Los Angeles.
I was housed in a wing with gangbangers, throwaway kids and teenagers that were attempting to escape some monster in their home lives.
While we made up a diverse group across race, culture and social lines, we all suffered from a similar problem: chemical dependencies. It was an interesting mix within an area of LA colloquially known as “The Jungle.”
One of the daily requirements at my facility was the group session. This was when all of the adolescents within our wing came together to participate in therapy. These sessions were usually facilitated by an individual from the East Coast named Vinny.
Throughout most of these sessions, I never really listened to what was said nor ever said anything of substance. A group of us runaways were even named the “Seattle Sliders” by the very perceptive Vinny — we were all ”faking the funk.”
The reality was that we were locked up in a facility that prevented us from using drugs. The chemical diet was limited to caffeine and nicotine. Smoking was allowed in juvenile facilities back then.
We were taught about sobriety in the 12-step meetings we were forced to attend, but I had not experienced the spiritual awakening talked about during their teachings, an awakening that was supposed to open the door to a new perception and a new reality.
I just wanted to keep on getting high. As a 15-year-old, there were still plenty of drugs that I had yet to reckon with.
One day, during a group session, Vinny read the poem “The Perfect High” by Shel Silverstein. It was the first time that I recognized the immensity of what being an addict truly meant. In some ways, the poem forecasted my own path: my pursuit from substance to substance, never finding the right mix.
I had always been chasing the rush, even all the way to prison. I refused to listen to my parent, preacher, teacher, lover and friend about this monster that lived within me.
The poem resonated like no 12-step program ever could for me.
Forty years later, the poem still resonates with me. It was my refusal to care enough about myself that caused my problems.
Now I live in prison. Now I am a prisoner. To quote David Byrne, “Same as it ever was.”
As most addicts who have thought about their actions, eventually I realized I became a prisoner to my addictions.
Today, I try to find that “perfect high” within myself. I seek enlightenment in everything I do.
There is one truth that I have come to know: The actions that I do that contribute to a greater good — usually for something or someone beyond my own self — are the elixir for my own recovery.
It is a struggle, but within that struggle, I am being forged anew.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.