(KUNM Airdate: 9/29/06)

NOTES BY PRODUCER PAUL INGLES: Over the years, my radio work has occasionally taken me into prisons on reporting assignments. Those visits have always had a profound effect on me because I'm overwhelmed with the wonder of why each inmate is in prison and what will happen to each once they're released - as most of them are - and left to re-integrate to society. It seems that the whole experience would be a workshop in conflict resolution. Crime often has roots in some inner conflict that leads to an outer conflict that is handled inappropriately or violently. While in prison, inmates usually have an opportunity to work on the inner conflicts that got them there. Some take advantage, do the work, access programs - then they're out and given another chance to address conflict differently in their lives. On the outside, certain programs can give them more support, but not everyone in the society opens their arms to them.

This time on Peace Talks, our host Carol Boss, talks with two former prison inmates who grew up in substance abusing families. Both began using at the age of 11 and progressed from alcohol to marijuana to cocaine to meth. We used first names only. Our first guest is Chris, who is now clean and about to start work as a matre dei in an Albuquerque restaurant. He was released from prison April 2006 after serving a 15 month sentence. Our second guest is Alisha who, like Chris, grew up in a home with drugs and alcohol. She started using at the age of 11. At 21, she was convicted of attempted first degree murder. She served a 5 year prison sentence, and is out now rearranging her life. She works at a Village Inn restaurant in Albuquerque and is back in college studying business communications. She has two young daughters who live with grandparents out of state.

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EXTENDED INTERVIEWS: With Chris or with Alisha.

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Transcription: Rogi Riverstone

CAROL BOSS: Despite your best efforts while serving your term in prison, you wound up fighting with other inmates who were challenging your efforts to recover from your addictions.

CHRIS: I was put in Maximum Security. I was locked up twenty-three hours and fifteen minutes a day. The day I hit Maximum Security for fighting, I realized it was time to do the work. It was time to write. It was time to do an inventory. It was time to look at my behaviors and what lead to where I am in my life. By doing this exercise and meditation, I found this freedom, this peace, within. That's what I'd been looking for, my whole life: a feeling that everything's ok. For the first time in my life, I realized it's not about outside issues. It's about internal issues. It's about dealing with the conflict within and finding your peace within. Every day, I had a routine. It was a physical routine, with exercise. I did an AA meeting; I did an NA meeting. It was amazing, the amount of peace I found in my nine-by-ten.

BOSS: You were trying not to get into your anger, but you did have that moment where there was anger.

CHRIS: Well, Carol, you're in a situation where there's a code of living. If you hit that button and you PC, you will have a miserable existence.

BOSS: What does "PC" refer to?

CHRIS: "Protective Custody," from the other inmates. It's the most dishonorable, most disrespectable code of conduct that can ever happen in prison to a man. You have to stand - strongly - for what you believe in, no matter what the consequences are. It's all fine and dandy, on the outside. But when you're living in that society, to show fear - to be a coward - is a sentence known as "PC," which is a miserable way to live.

I made the decision that, no matter what, I'm going to stand up for what I believe in. If that means having to resolve it with violence - which was not my choice at that point in time - it was going to happen, one way or the other. No man is going to tell me how I'm going to live in an institution - no other inmate. I chose to live clean. I'm going to carry that message, regardless of the consequences. Those consequences were very violent, very brutal, but I walked the line. I walked the line as a man in recovery. Never did any other inmate question who I was, as a man, did they ever question my recovery. I was respected for it, the rest of the time I was there. The people that came at me, they apologized.

BOSS: What's different, now that you're out of prison, in terms of yourself? Can your buttons still be pushed?

CHRIS: No. What I try to do today is not react. I try to act. That's where I talk about, "taking a pause." I'm not responsible for my first thought, but I'm responsible for where I take it. If I'm in a situation that has conflict, I pause. I go to God and say, "what would you have me do?"

I don't buy into conflict resolution through violence. It got me nowhere, my whole life. My stepfather was a very angry man. He died on the streets of San Francisco. My twin brother, internally, was torn apart because of violence, and he died with a needle in his arm, all alone, in a room. That's the way he dealt with it: with a suicide drug overdose.

For me, I'm learning how to live. By learning how to live, it's about spiritual principles. Spiritual principles are about having honesty, having forgiveness. I think forgiveness is the biggest thing we can have in our lives. Forgiveness is not only about me, forgiving you. It's about hoping you might forgive me. And, in turn, the greatest gift I get is: I'm able to forgive myself. That's the key to transformation: forgiveness. As far as someone else, changing that code of conduct, that's not going to happen today. I won't allow it to happen.

BOSS: What advice would you have, for others who find themselves in, perhaps, a similar place? Not everyone has those moments of transformation. Not everyone is immediately committed to turning themselves around. But what advice would you have?

CHRIS: It's a really good question. If you're talking about someone, coming out of prison, I would recommend that you find a halfway house. I can only speak from my experiences. I'm not from New Mexico; I didn't know anybody in New Mexico. At the halfway house I went to, I started out with a roommate. Then, I got my own room. They gave me food; they gave me shelter. It was imperative to have that in my life. When you're struggling and you don't even have a place to go, your chances of success go down, huge. When you're hungry, your chances go down, huge. By having that opportunity, it created freedom. You start to have privacy. There's no privacy in an institution. You start to cherish that. You want to find some more freedom. Most men and women who get out of prison, their first thought is, "I want to go back." The introduction, back into society, is very overwhelming. When you're carrying a felony record, like mine, my first job interview, we had a great dialogue. I was telling her I did ten million a year with a company and so on. She said, "what did you go to prison for?" I said, "conspiracy to commit armed robbery with a deadly weapon." She said, "it's been a really nice interview. I'm going to get back to you; we really want to hire you." I knew the interview was over. But I had a place to go; I had dinner that night. I had people from the community come in and serve me food. I had a meeting to go to. I had Community Corrections, which was paying my rent. So, all of that stress wasn't sitting in front of me, and I was able to think, "ok, tomorrow will be a better day."


BOSS: Alisha, why don't you talk about some of the advice you got from counselors that was really important to you, that really helped you when you got out of prison?

ALISHA: Not to be scared to pick up the phone, to remain open, willing and patient, to give of myself freely, to be humble, to listen - not talk all the time, to be grateful. I've learned a lot, through being grateful. Believe in myself, set goals in my life. I never even had a goal. Goals was like a sucker game. I didn't really have goals. Also, not procrastinating: do things when they need to be done.

BOSS: When you talk about them, telling you not to be afraid to pick up the phone, that's encouraging you to call, when you need to talk to someone? Did you do that?

ALISHA: Oh, yeah, I do that on a daily basis. It feels good, because people call me, too. I'm starting to see my life coming back. Not fast, but I start to see little things. Like, my family is back in my life. I saw my Papaw, for the first time in eight years, last month. He was here for three days and it was good to see him. My sister's here with me. My nephew - I hadn't seen him in years. It's so good to have my family in my life and to be able to give pure love, real love, because they've loved me. Through all the stuff I've put them through, they've always loved me. I'd never been able to give love back - like, proper. Now, I'm able to love people and care about them sincerely, as opposed to it just being something that's said.

BOSS: Are there conflicts that come up for you, internally, about how you relate to people?

ALISHA: I have to watch myself, sometimes, because I have an addictive personality. That means, if I try something once, and I like it, I'm addicted; I want to do it, all the time. I have to really watch myself on that, because I can really go overboard; I'll switch on my addictions like eating or shopping.

BOSS: How do you deal with it, when you catch yourself?

ALISHA: I go to an outpatient center, here, in Albuqueruque. The support I get there is amazing; I get blown away by it. If they don't hear from me in a few days, they call me and say, "you'd better get down here, right now."

BOSS: What kind of support do they give you?

ALISHA: They help me in all kinds of ways: counseling, I go to acupuncture, massage, anything that I need - anything that they can help me with. They have great counselors there; they have wonderful staff. The director is my very close, personal friend; she's wonderful. It's so much love. And it doesn't matter. You can fall down and bump your knee or whatever, but they're going to pick you up. They're going to say, "alright, come on, let's get back on track. You can do this."

These are the steps that you need to take. Having a good support system is very important, changing your playmates and your playgrounds. I choose not to associate with people that I used to associate with. I don't choose to put myself in those situations any more. I choose to do other things. I'm from Missouri. I wanted to go home. Inside, my heart told me that's not a good place for me to be. But my mind was all homesick, wanting to go home. Your gut tells you things, and you should really listen to it. If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you go back to your old stomping grounds, you're doing the same things. You're trying to do something different. Your chances of succeeding are nil. You're left with just institutions or death - that's all. There's really not much hope for you. But if you choose to take a leap of faith into the unknown and do something different, then, your chances are higher.

BOSS: Is it important for you to be honest about your history when you meet people? If so, how does that happen for you, how does that work?

ALISHA: I think there's a time and a place. I've started a new chapter in my life. I don't think everybody needs to know what's happened in my life. There are some with whom I'll share freely; I'll dig out the biggest bone in there - out of the closet. But this is my new life now. All that stuff is in the past. Moving on, this is who I am today. I think I make sound judgments on that: when to be free and when not to be free.

BOSS: Do you deal, at all, with people who are distrustful of you? If that's happened, how do you deal with that?

ALISHA: I've been snubbed a couple of times. I really don't have that much to say to them, because, if that's how they feel, that's how they feel. I know who I am today. I'm ok with that. People are going to feel however it is that they feel. There's nothing I can do or say that can change that. I know there are things I can do to change my mindset. I choose not to have any negativity in my life.

BOSS: That sounds like finding peace with yourself. How's the anger management?

ALISHA: I've done very well with my anger. I've worked through a lot of deep, emotional scars. I worked through a lot of emotional pain that stems from my early childhood. Just being able to talk about those things and forgive people and forgive myself - it's like a ton lifted. We can talk about it like adults, or we can agree to disagree. I'm not going to lose self control over anything.




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