Where am I going?

Jensen, Josef Michael



Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen Where am I going? By Josef M. Jensen Places I ’ve been We moved around a lot when I was growing up. I grew up without roots, a place to call my town. The people in my life seemed transient. No one stayed in my life for a long period of time. The only two people who were consistently around were my mother and my grandmother. These two women raised me. I had a pronounced lack of male role models by which to gauge my adolescent maleness. My mother’s pursuit of her own happiness eventually invited a man into our lives. I allowed my juvenile sense of injustice to develop into frustration and anger towards both my mother and this man. This rift between my mother and me would not be named for decades. It sat there accusingly between us. I felt betrayed by her when she moved us away from my grandmother in pursuit of her own life, and I felt betrayed by her when she invited this stranger into our lives. It was the first time that I felt I was on my own. Like there was just no relying on other people. I felt that my life was a little bit outof my control. Things happened that I could not influence. I felt helpless. Every time I saw my stepfather I was reminded of my mother’s betrayal. I wasn’t angry at him, I was angry because of him. I was angry because I felt he had caused my mother to betray me by demanding that she make a choice between me and the promise of her own happiness. The fact that he had done no such thing was irrelevant to my adolescent mind. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen When my grandmother died all of the unresolved issues that had developed hung in limbo never to be resolved. Her death happened so suddenly, and with out notice; I never got the opportunity to say good bye. There was no closure for these upsets in my life. This feeling of emptiness, of incompleteness drove the entire craziness of what became my life. I was confused and filled with self blame and doubt. I blamed my self for my mother needing to move away. She wasn’t happy and it must be my fault. No matter how ridiculous that seems now, to a little kid it was dramatically real to me. The state of relationship with my mother caused me to internalize a lot of my feelings about grandma Kathy’s death. I grieved silently or maybe not at all. I shoved all of that emotion into the crooks and crannies of my mind and the inevitably deep depression followed. I withdrew from people. My friends in the neighborhood eventually stopped coming by to ask for me because I never went outside. I felt emotionally isolated so I created that state in my life. I have come to realize that my mother was going through the same thing I was. She was just as upset as I was. My mother tried to talk to me about Grandma’s, her mother’s, death several times, but I always downplayed its affects on me. I didn’t want to talk. I was fine. Little did I know there would come a day when I would have to do the math on all the “I’m fines.” When I was exposed to the numbing affects of alcohol, it wasn’t hard for me to become dependent and self medicate my way through it all._It was easy to develop this into a habit that I would carry with me for a long time. My withdrawal from interacting with all of the people in my life that could have helped me through this ordeal had an interesting affect in that I found a group of older individuals who felt like I did, the world was just too much, and there really wasn’t any point in fighting the way Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen things were. You couldn’t control what happened to you. These guys shared my despondent outlook on life. Alicia was a friend whose life nearly saved mine. Her influence brought me out of the darkest days of the depression, after my grandmother’s death. I don’t know why we became such good friends or why she invested so much in me. When Alicia was murdered I found myself in the same place I was in when my grandmother died. The major difference was that I had learned how to avoid it all. I had already integrated the habit of self medicating. Her murder caused me to experience new depths of darkness. Her death seemed amplified in its affects and in its power. Alicia’s death seemed only to reaffirm all the misery I’d felt before, and now again. After Alicia’s death, hanging around these individuals allowed me to fall right back into the status quo of my life before Alicia. Looking at my life now, it is really hard for me to admit that after everything she did for me I slipped right back into the pattern of behavior she had fought so hard to bring me out of. Alicia had brought me out of the self imposed isolationism. In helping me to begin the very long process of confronting and resolving the feelings surrounding my grandmother’s death, she had turned into the crutch I relied on instead of alcohol. I simply exchanged one crutch for another. This self imposed emotional isolation meant I never developed the ability to create, and maintain healthy relationships with people. I became so familiar with the lives of adults that I adopted all of the norms of people who were older than me by ten years or more. Psychologically I skipped a huge part of the maturation cycle of my age group. I did not have the adult Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen experiences upon which to draw when making these decisions; decisions with adult repercussions, I made them with an adolescent’s sense of self awareness and responsibility. Less then a year after Alicia’s murder, my grandfather’s death made me give up. I just didn’t care about life any more. I withdrew deeper into a world of isolation. I truly felt like no matter what I did there was nothing I could do, there was nothing I had control over in my life. The more I felt out of control in my life the less responsible I was capable of being. My use of alcohol and drugs increased and created total numbness to my own emotional state, and resulted in a numbing of my awareness of the emotional states of others. I lost the connection to and empathy with other human beings that makes us human. I was unaware of people as people. I lost respect for other people’s rights and well being and a sense of our collective humanity through a denial of my own. Where I am My life in prison has taught me many things. I learned to magnify all of my anger and fear. I learned how to harness, those very powerful emotions into the energy necessary to perpetuate the chaotic, unpredictable and very dangerous environment in which I found myself. When you enter the prison system your life seems to go on pause. Your life stands still, while the lives of your family and friends, everyone else around you seems to move forward. When you come to prison, you are “put on the shelf” with a “use by” date which tells the system when to release you back into society. That is what I learned during the first year of my incarceration. Everything that I learned at that crucial time pointed to factors outside of my self. It’s hard to be angry at yourself for the state in which you find your life, especially when you have the world to blame. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen In his book Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective, Mr. Berger writes “One of the most devastating means of punishment at the disposal of a human community is to subject one of its members to s stematic o robrium and ostracismd” Mr. Ber er sums u the rison Y PP g P P experience in the words “systemic opprobrium and ostracism.” Psychologically the experiences one has in prison are counterproductive to bringing order to your life and beginning the long journey towards understanding the implications of your life, as you have lived it, as it is and has it could perhaps be. Taken as a whole, our experiences are both humiliating and dehumanizing. The psychological, if not the physical, conditions found and experienced in prison are barbaric. Prison life is being physically, emotionally, mentally and socially contained in an area no bigger that your standard full size bathroom It is living in that ten by twelve foot bathroom with another man at least eighteen hours a day. It is washing your clothes in the same water in which you defecate. . It is living in a state of constant frustration and agitation. Life in prison is being constantly reminded that society has forsaken you; they have given up on you. It is the slow emotional decay as friends and even family abandon you as unworthy of their time, and indeed their love. It is the heightening of all of your senses and the dulling of all your emotions. It is the abandonment of the capacity to love, to have compassion and to care about other people. It is the relentless murder of your humanity. The culture that survives in prison destroys your ability to see any hope. We either abandon it willingly or are forced to abandon it as a fantasy. We abandon the possibility or we obsess on it. A life sentence has become a death sentence. We are warehoused and excluded from those things that matter most. It is a state of affairs which only serves to fuel our anger, our frustration and our hatred. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen When I came to prison I became not only a physical prisoner of the system, but I entrenched my self deeper in the mental prison I had been building sense my adolescence. Change became dangerous. It represented the unknown, and the unknown had proven to be psychologically deadly for me. It represents things that we can not control, or that are outside of our ability to influence. I find it striking that it is the very nature of prison life to be unpredictable, and yet we struggle so hard to maintain a level of predictability that we become what has been called institutionalized. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” These words which appear above the gate of Dante’s Inferno describe the only way to ensure your mental survival. Once in prison we find fear and anger. A slow burning hatred for the system that has abandoned us manifests in frustration, violence and inevitably our sense of hopelessness. When we come to prison we find ourselves standing in the eye of the storm, enveloped in a fog of violence waiting in the shadows, and willingly embrace its unpredictability. This violent shadow sits there like a gargoyle, silent but deadly all the same. The system wages a war against us, at least it seems that way to the men living their despondent lives in the concrete boxes of the prison system A friend of mine once described the mental shift necessary to ensure your psycho- emotional survival in prison as “thinking backwards.” You have to abandon all that is socially productive, if you haven’t already. You have to abandon all which is sane and rational. These characteristics are so out of the norm here they can actually hinder your ability to function. I think what my friend meant was that the emotional, mental, psychological and physical equations upon which you base your world view and the solutions to the problems of life must de-evolve to a state approximating barbarism. You must consciously abandon 10,000 years Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen worth of civilization if you are to survive the onslaught of your own humanity upon your existence. Society has ostracized us and reproaches us with a macabre version of life. We know society has abandoned us, the whole system and all of our experiences tell us we are less than desirable. Checking into prison is like checking out of society, out of everything that gives meaning to being alive. The reality of our state of exile fuels our anger towards a system that seems to function against us our whole lives, and relentlessly pursues us into prison. From a prisoner’s perspective, prison is death in stasis. It is living while being dead. It is the slow agonizing plunge into the darkness and decay of emotional isolation and, what can only be described as insanity. That is the environment in which I live. As someone who has been there, I understand why our lives fuel the hatred we feel towards the authorities. I understand the frustration we feel towards being told we need to conform to a system which abuses us and kicks’ us when we’re down. Yes, my life in prison has taught me many things. The last decade things seem to have started to speed up. Everyday things seem to happen faster and faster. It is like the universe is propelling me towards some, as yet, unknown destination. Where I Am Going I have lost so much of my life just trying to get my life back. I’ve lived a large part of my life, and “done my time” in a state of numbness. It has been easier that way, emotionally and psychologically. It is easier being lonely than being hurt over and over. It is easier depriving yourself of meaningful human interaction than having how you feel about someone used as a weapon against you to hurt you. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen The driving force behind much of what I have accomplished in my own life has been the sudden clarity of vision I had when I realized that my life was the product of other people’s decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I either made or chose to go along with many of the decisions that have negatively impacted my life. However, many of those decisions were made because I was despondent in my attitude towards life. I didn’t believe in my ability to make decisions that impact my life. I wasn’t in control of the things that happened to me, and I was powerless to influence the events of my life. So many of the destructive decisions I’ve made in my life were destructive not in themselves but in the limitations they placed on my future decisions. In economics there is a principle called opportunity cost. It is what you give up by making a decision; you give up the opportunities of making different decisions with their different results. The opportunity cost of many of the decisions I made literally was my life. Looking back on my life I am surprised at how easy making all those bad decisions became just because everyone around me was making bad decisions. My desire to be part of the “in” crowd, to belong—or feel like I belonged—caused me to “go with the flow” more often than not. I wanted to be seen as a part of what was going on. I wanted to be accepted. Making devastating decisions became the norm for me because it was the norm of the group of individuals I was around. When those around us are making these types of decisions we tend to make similar choices. I woke up one day and realized that every facet of my life was the way it was because I wasn’t making any decisions about my life. I had sort of let the universe take me wherever the easiest decisions took me. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? ' ' Josef Michael Jensen The first really hard decision I made was to drop out of the gang life style. Abandoning the system of meaning by which I had defined what was important and was acceptable to me was very hard. It was probably the single most powerful decision I’ve ever made. Sure, I had some help. I may not have made the decision at all if it hadn’t been for the influences of a particular sergeant, Curt who unwittingly taught me the power that one person can have in another person’s life. That is were I started my new life with that first decision. I had to make some “game changing” moves in my life. The opportunity was there for the taking I simply had to embrace it. It is like standing in a dark room and suddenly the lights come on. It happens to us all sooner or later. I am still standing in that room, but I’ve been able to do some exploring, something you know if you’ve read this far. How we deal with the realizations and revelations that stem from this sudden clarity of vision defines our lives. The fact that my sense of being has expanded to include those people around me and elsewhere in my life is a monumental testamentto just how different I really am. I am not the guy who came to prison all those years ago. My circle of concern and influence had so far collapsed in on me that I didn’t even care about myself. As I began to care about me I started to notice all these other people around me who were also suffering, just as I was. Over time, as I learned to believe in myself again I found myself concerned about these other men and the plight of their existence. What I didn’t expect to find along the way was myself. I know that sounds funny. Imagine how it feels writing it or going through all the emotional and psychological changes that were necessary to get that far. Finding yourself isn’t a funny experience, at least not at first. I went through the depression and then the anger. A mild frustration followed. Imagine waking up Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen in the morning, looking around you and all you see is restrictions, restrictions on when you can eat, when you can sleep, when you can use the restroom, when you can shower, and when you can exercise. It is here, in the land of frustration, where many of us come to rest for the entire time we are incarcerated. We remain frustrated. We remain angry. I have seen too many people get stuck in this senseless whirlpool of being lost. The good news is that being lost doesn’t mean you don’t have any value. Your value is intrinsic to your being. You are you, and you are valuable. My journey towards freeing myself from that mental prison was long and painfully emotional. It was made even more difficult because my peers and the environment in which I found myself were not conducive to such a dramatic shift in personal awareness. Understanding everything I have been through in my life, both before and in prison, has provided me with insight and a depth of understanding that as so drastically altered the way in which I look at the world that it is almost impossible to explain the complexity of the psychological shift in my thinking. I understand why we exist in a state of constant agitation, and why nothing the system does will change the lack of honesty, faith and trust in ourselves. I understand these symptoms because I know them to be only symptoms and not the causes of our problems. The punishment theory of crime has allowed us to abandon the idea of humanity; and at least for the prisoner, has caused him to fall victim to his own humanity by denying that humanity. He is no longer a human being in the eyes of a society that really never cared for him in the first place and maybe that is why they treated him as they have. He is a criminal and that is all he will ever be. We seem to no longer believe in the human quality of growth and the ability to change. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen We are left to do this thing on our own, to devise our own strategies and tactics. For the most part there will be no one there to hold our hands and guide us through the jungle of our psyches. The path is not one that you can walk in groups, and this is not boot camp, you will find there is no buddy system, but you can’t do it alone either. It is a journey that you have to be motivated to begin. Once you start, no matter how difficult it becomes you must keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other. You will look up one day and find yourself amongst many travelers making similar journeys in their own ways. You will learn things about yourself and those around you that you will probably wish you had not. I think it is what every human being wants, both consciously and unconsciously to do. We all want to live a meaningful life. We want to know that our lives have meant something. I have come to take an interest in other people, and how they are doing. I still fell woefully inadequate in that task but I am finding myself more and more in tune with the way other people feel. Maybe I am becoming more susceptible to the emotional states of others because I am in tune with my own. It saddens me a great deal that a human being can be reduced to such an emotionally isolated and psychologically deprived state as these men I see and interact with everyday. It saddens me that they feel abandoned, like no one cares, and like there is no hope. It saddens me that these human beings have been reduced to something so inhuman. When I came to prison my anger and frustration at the world and, perhaps more telling myself, was harnessed and used against me psychologically and emotionally to transform me from the scared, immature kid I was into a convict, a prisoner capable and willing to perpetuate a dissocialized culture of hatred and violence. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen When I came to prison I found myself in good company. These were men who felt like I felt, these were guys who the world kicked and had kept on kicking their whole lives. These men had the system pegged for what it was, a means of keeping people on an uneven socio-economic keel, of suppressing the masses for the benefit, and financial gain of a few. When I came to prison I was eighteen years old; I had a lot of messed up views of the world and myself. As I grew older I started developing a sense that something was wrong, this just wasn’t right. Maybe my state of psychological and emotional maturity was catching up with my physical maturity. I didn’t know what it was, but it had my attention, and so it started. When I came to prison it was the older convicts who took me under their wing and taught me the ideas and tools of this strange, backward culture into which I was entering. I quickly assimilated this understanding and these ideas into the person I thought I had to become. I knew, or better said, I believed that the more fully these ideas and tools of chaos were ingrained into who I needed to be the better chances I had of surviving in prison. All that got me was a life devoid of feeling, of love, of compassion. It got me a life of anger and frustration. My own dissatisfaction and the contempt and hatred it created in my life only allowed these conditions to persist. My belief that nothing could be done about it meant that nothing would be done about it. This despondent state eventually becomes so pervasive in our psyche that we start to think it is us who are to blame for our own inability to succeed, to experience happiness. We come to resent all sorts of things and people in our lives. We resent the people who meddle in our lives, who profess the desire to help us, because they represent our inability to determine our own experiences. We resent the people we care about because we care about them. They are Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen dangerous to us because we care for them. So we push them away; we push them out of our lives any way we can. We consciously choose to build these walls around our minds isolating ourselves emotionally. We look our selves in this mental prison and hang the key around our neck only to forget it is there, just within reach, long before we lock ourselves in a prison of concrete and steel. What does all of this have to do with where am going? Be patient, I am working on it. Looking at thirty years of my own history I can’t help but think about how much time I’ve wasted doing very little that will mean anything in ten, twenty or thirty years. What contributions have I made to the world? I think we forget sometimes what we do today either contracts or expands where we can go, where we’ll be tomorrow. I may have grown up in prison, but my experiences here never fully enraptured my being. I did not succumb to the spell like affect of the chaos. My experiences propelled me toward an understanding of myself, where I am today, and without them I wouldn’t be writing this, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. While I was trying to figure my life out the universe was conspiring with me in subtle ways. The pieces of the puzzle started fitting together as I began to understand them. As I began to really look at my past, my crimes and my role in the events of my life, how I responded to the circumstances in which I found myself, the past slowly became intelligible and lost some of its mystery. Having seen my past and reached an understanding of where I was and where I am, I realize just how far I have come in my life. I think at the heart of the human condition is the quest for meaning, for some sense of significance. I think everything we do in our lives is some Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen manifestation of this quest. We all want our lives (the pain, the joy) to mean something, to have some greater significance in the cosmic scope of things. I think there is some deep rooted human need for order, a sense of purpose, intelligibility and meaning. How do you find meaning in your life while doing life? Now, that is a very hard question to answer. For me, it has taken losing my freedom and ten years of very hard work to figure out. I think we can give meaning to our lives in several ways. The most obvious is the effect we have on the lives of other people. I know some one reading that last sentence chuckled or at least thought to them selves; “Dude! You’ve ruined lives.” Yes, there is that. I will live with the guilt of that for the rest of my life. The trick is going to be making that mean something. It is the same thing that the friends and families of the victims in my cases will struggle with, finding meaning in the deaths of the people they loved. To live a meaningful life became important to me. Even though I did not know what it meant, the idea became stronger and stronger in my mind. It became a powerful intoxicant in my blood, emboldening my heart and enlivening my spirit. I had to remember where I’d been, realize where I was, and dream of where I wanted to be. I had to be able to dream again. A huge part of this journey for me has been the excitement of waking up to the possibility of life, I mean of living life. I discovered that life will beat the odds. Life will prevail; life will overcome all of the darkness, the turmoil and the destruction that men can unleash upon it. I found myself buried under the rubble of my life before prison. I’ve come a long way, not only in understanding my past and my crimes, but to a large degree myself. I am not the same eighteen year old immature man-child who had been locked into an adolescent state of being emotionally and psychologically by the events of his life. Word Count: 4937 Where Am I Going? Josef Michael Jensen It was a long time before the spell of my own anger and frustration wore off. But when it did I began to see that life could be different. Life could be what ever I wanted it to be. I just had to open my eyes and look for what I wasn’t seeing, the opportunity to do something about, and with my life. Looking at where I am in my life today, emotionally and psychologically, I doubt very much that I would be half as far along as I am without the people in my life. I have encountered and gotten to know some outstanding human beings as a direct result of my incarceration. These individual’s impact on me personally and in my life have caused me to realize the power of influence one person can have over the life of another. The power of believing in someone and getting them to see that it is possible to believe in them-selves, to believe and dream again can transform that person’s life and maybe yours too. I’ve made decisions in my life, or not made decisions I should have made. ‘ Berger, Peter L., Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1963, p. 73 Word Count: 4937

Author: Jensen, Josef Michael

Author Location: California

Date: July 10, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 15 pages

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