Immediately prior to my last period of incarceration, I had hit what I thought was rock bottom and was left with two choices: in life, things are either growing or they are dying. I cannot lie and say that my first choice was not the latter.
However, writing this piece is proof that I changed my perspective.
Rock bottom is not a nice place to be, but it is also an ideal place from which to build new foundations. Being street-homeless, high-risk, and addicted to crack and heroin, I did not have the right ingredients to mix and fill the foundations. I had to fail again in order to rebuild. I had failed at taking my own life, then I failed at being a law-abiding, erm, citizen. Two of the greatest failures of my life.
So, it therefore makes sense (does it not?) for those with lived experience of when things don’t go quite right to have their voices not just heard, but their solutions listened to
The destination of rock bottom, for which I’d subconsciously purchased a ticket many years prior, was finally reached. In a life full of proverbs, one that sprung to mind was ‘Horses for courses’: Red Rum’s was Aintree, Desert Orchid’s was Kempton, and Frankie Dettori took the whole card in victory at Ascot. David Breakspear’s was Her Majesty’s Prisons.
If you take a look from a different perspective, you will see the incredible things that have been created which have been produced using only seven musical notes (A to G), ten numbers (zero to nine), and the seven colours of the rainbow (red to violet).
So much can be achieved with so little.
One of my favourite poems, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ (by Oscar Wilde), was created from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, as were the great works of Dickens and Shakespeare.
If given an opportunity, those behind the grey veil can and will make a difference.
Whilst incarcerated I prayed that I’d have a platform, as well as my personal foundation with which to rebuild after my release day. A platform – not from which to preach, but to use my words, manifested from my years of lived experience. To share, to educate, to influence and leave others thinking… a platform from which I can inspire by being a difference and making a difference. If given an opportunity, those behind the grey veil can and will make a difference. I am but one of a group of ex-prisoners using their lived experiences to educate and inspire. I can see it becoming, and hope it continues to become, a movement not just against current criminal justice policies, but also social policies.
Those who currently educate us, instruct us on what we can and can’t do, punish or defend us, tell us how safe our children are, and mend us when we break have more than likely been to university. A commitment of the deepest respect. So, it therefore makes sense (does it not?) for those with lived experience of when things don’t go quite right to have their voices not just heard, but their solutions listened to and put into what everyone often wants words to be – action. The university of life.
I decided to give myself the permission that it is okay not to be okay. I told myself it was okay to fail. We wait for defining moments to happen. As a forty-something, the moments that defined me have already been and gone. When we are growing up as children, failure doesn’t stop us, we learn from failure.
A very close friend once said to me, “We can never lose.”
“How so?” said I.
“Because Dave, we either win or we learn.”
Featured image via G Witteveen
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