An honor to serve? How about a fair chance at a job, or housing…

Society doesn’t trust me to use federal assistance for food or school tuition, is willing to refuse me housing and employment simply and solely based on a background check with no discussion because of my criminal record, and some countries won’t let me cross their borders…

…and yet you trust me with the “honor” to be on a “jury of peers” and serve jury duty?

Really.  I find this ironic and hypocritical.  What do you think?

Shame on Hoosiers, Shame on America!  Give us a break!  (Read on to learn more…)

An honor to serve? I’d rather have a fair chance at a job, or housing…or other assistance granted to other citizens. Thanks!


I’ve learned a lot in the last 5 years about the barriers our society puts in place for people living with a criminal record.  I was as surprised to learn about them as many people I talk with about my experience.  I guess “ignorance is bliss.”  But ignorance also keeps the status quo in place…  Which is why I try to talk about what I’ve learned, in hopes that education and awareness might help remove the stigma and perhaps even help to change laws or rules to make re-entry easier.

So to clarify – we are talking about someone like myself who is no longer on parole or probation, but has “served the time” for his or her crime.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to not do any actual time in jail or prison, apart from a couple hours around my original arrest.  (So I haven’t experienced the “full force” of “re-entry” – of returning to society after serving time for a crime.

For a lot of reasons, including a Higher Power who was looking out for me and some “next right things” I did when I hit bottom and sought help for my addiction, I was fortunate enough to be given a plea bargain and a chance, through probation, to have my felony charges dropped to misdemeanors – if I met the conditions of my plea bargain.  I was doing well at first in 2010, but was over-confident in my ability to stay clean for the first year of my recovery (while I was on probation) – and ended up blowing the terms of my plea bargain.  While I successfully completed the balance of my 12 month term without issue, I found myself “living with” a felony record.

So, what barriers are in place for someone who has served their time, but still lives with a felony record?  In the State of Indiana (some of these are Federal issues, some are State-specific):

  • I can’t get a student loan for tuition assistance to go back to school
  • I can’t get food stamps
  • If landlords run background checks, I’m likely to face barriers securing an affordable, well-maintained place to rent and live
  • If employers run background checks and aren’t educated with new(er) guidelines related to “ban the box” and fair hiring practices, I’m likely to face barriers getting a job.  Learn more at:

  • I can’t travel to some countries in the world, including Canada (note: the same is true for individuals convicted of a DUI in the US…no travel to Canada!)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)


Two overarching principles emerged as key criteria in the grading system (with 1 being best and 10 the worst):

• State and federal laws should require individualized determinations about the suitability of someone with a criminal conviction for the opportunity, benefit or right sought that takes into consideration the nature of the conviction(s), the time that has elapsed since the conviction(s), the age of the person at the time of the conviction(s) and any evidence of rehabilitation.

• State and federal laws should prohibit government agencies, public and private employers, and others from considering information about arrests that did not lead to conviction when making decisions about a person’s eligibility for employment, housing, or other benefits.


Note: since I completed my probation, Indiana has made some steps in the right direction.  After ~8-10 years, under certain conditions, felony records can be expunged – which makes some of the issues/barriers I’m going to talk about mostly disappear.  Records are still accessible to law enforcement of course – but issues of employment, housing, travel – largely become a non-issue.  But, it’s still 10 years until I reach that point…so around 2021.  For details, see:


To learn more, check out:

AIDS or Alzheimer’s…remembrance with transparency

Celebrating a life as it should be…

This week, we lost a soul due to complications due to AIDS, as he was living with the HIV virus. He was in my men’s group where I receive care coordination for my own life care as someone living with the HIV virus. I only knew him from the group, but his passing touched me for many reasons. I’d like to share a little of his story to keep his memory alive.

We will call him Scott. The fact that I have to pick a false name “to protect his family” goes to show that even today, with all the progress we’ve made in the treatment of this nasty virus, there is still the need to protect people’s dignity because of the social stigma that is still out there in our society. His family chose to have contributions go to the Alzheimer’s Association, as opposed to where he received life care for this real disease. Sad, for me at least, because I really don’t think the Alzheimer’s Association did anything for Scott. Each week, he found support and camaraderie from a small circle of men who met in the basement of a non-profit organization, dedicated to those infected with HIV/AIDS.

So if you’re reading this and you’re willing, please make a contribution to your local HIV/AIDS organization in Scott’s memory.

And let me be clear – I don’t fault his family for making this choice. If we lived in a society where caring for someone with Alzheimer’s was equally respected as caring for someone with the HIV virus and/or complications from AIDS, then they could be transparent. But, we don’t…yet. So, they felt this was necessary.  I respect their decision.  I hate they had to make it…but I understand.

I’ll remember Scott for his love of music. For his love of food. For his sense of humor.

I’ll remember Scott because he was confined to a wheelchair, living in an assisted living home where we was often treated with disgust. Food would be taken from his fridge. Human excrement would be left in his bed sheets or on the floor, because the staff wasn’t willing to clean up after him. Granted, Scott was a cantankerous man who was probably difficult to live with. He sometimes made us uncomfortable in group – but he was human, alive and living with this painful, ugly disease. He felt trapped in the nursing home – a victim, perhaps by choice, but perhaps not. At least he had our support group, where he could vent and process and find support. How many people are out there who don’t have that?

I’m reminded of a song by Barbara McAfee, entitled “When I Die.” It’s given me much comfort in my living, and given me hope that I can die with grace and dignity, surrounded by friends and family.  The opening lines are:

“When I die, I know there’ll be singing
By my friends all gathered around.
As their sweet voices fade behind me,
I will join in the one great sound.
And I’ll stand on a sunset hillside
Just like I did in that dream
Join the multitude there that is singing
The song inside everything.

When I die I’ll fall into a hammock,
Woven of each song I’ve ever sung.
I have sent them a forward to catch me
On the day my life is done.”

When I die, I want this song played at my memorial service.

And, if I happen to die of complications due to AIDS, I want that listed in my obituary.  And I want donations made to the Damien Center, or IAIC, or Broadway UMC…or similar organizations, should I live somewhere other than Indianapolis.

I want people to know one can die with dignity from this disease, or from addiction, or from natural causes…or from a motorcycle accident.  I don’t know how I’ll go, but all of those are real possibilities, as I live life “in the grey” between the “!” and the “?”

The more we talk about it and tell our stories, the less shame and stigma there will be…

So Scott, I celebrate your life – your struggle – your smile.  May you find rest on a hammock that was prepared just for you…

Reflections on a Year in Recovery

This week is significant in my recovery journey. I have 38 days clean, sober and abstinent today, which in and of itself is a miracle. But a year ago today, I hit my spiritual and emotional bottom – and took action to get myself in treatment. Quite literally, I chose life. Since then, I’ve been on an amazing journey of growth. My life has changed dramatically since then, but even amidst the change and the losses, I’ve been able to see my Higher Power at work in my life. I’m truly grateful for where I’m at today. It’s in the spirit of gratitude that I wanted to share my mini-lead today — to help me remember that feeling of emptiness, loneliness and despair that almost had me take my own life — but more importantly, to celebrate the recovery and growth I’ve found in these rooms with the help of my Higher Power.

I introduce myself as an addict, because at the heart of my disease is the mental obsession and compulsion to avoid pain, to numb the feelings I don’t want to feel, to escape reality, to find acceptance. In my experience, I’ve used sex, relationships, alcohol, and drugs — it really doesn’t matter what the substance is. I could just as easily substitute any of those tomorrow for something else — shopping, gambling, smoking — whatever. But, the result would be the same. None of those people, places or things can fill the emptiness in my gut or make me whole; they all get in the way of my relationship with my Higher Power and my healthy relationships with others. So I
choose to focus on the broader disease – the mental aspects of obsession and compulsion – and on the tools and gifts of recovery, rather than a particular substance or label. So please accept my sharing with that in mind.

In fact, as I’ve started to study my addiction history with the help of a therapist, I’ve learned how progressive this disease is. I used to listen to other people’s stories about how they started drinking or drugging as a teenager or in college. But, I was the goody-two-shoes over achiever in school and never touched alcohol or drugs in high school. Even in college and into my early 30’s, I drank socially and never touched any drugs. So, at 41 when I admitted myself to a local treatment center and disclosed a daily meth habit that had been going on for a couple of years, it shocked my friends and family. Only my ex- had an inkling of what was going on, and even he had no idea had bad things had gotten.

The dots I hadn’t fully admitted or connected were when others were drinking or drugging in high school or college, I was having sex or getting into sometimes unhealthy, co-dependent relationships as a means of escaping, filling the void, feeling good. Looking back, these attempts to escape wore thin in their effectiveness — so like any addict, I sought more — more sex, sex with alcohol, and eventually, at 33, picked up my first drug and spent the next 8 years of my life mixing sex, alcohol and drugs in greater amounts, with greater frequency, more intensity because in my emptiness, I no longer ultimately cared whether I lived or died.

That’s how progressive this disease is — it’s the disease of more. One is too many, and a thousand is never enough. Sex, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, relationships — it’s all about the obsession, the compulsion, the escape. But, in treatment, therapy and the rooms I’ve finally found freedom and a new way of living.

At the root of my emptiness are a couple core issues. First, growing up, I learned that what’s it important is what you do, not who you are; it’s your accomplishments that others value, not your convictions. That approach served this young gay man well. All around me, I heard that being gay was bad – not acceptable. So, rather than deal with that in my formative years, I compensated by becoming the quintessential overachiever — which of course, got all sorts of validation from my family and friends. This carried into my 19 year career. Even though I have been out now since my mid-20’s, that drive to succeed, that sense of self-worth from doing rather than being was so strong, I continued to climb the corporate ladder as hard as I could.

Another deep part of my sickness was in ability to cope with my feelings, to effectively deal with change. Some of this was tied into what was valued in my family; around the dinner table and over the phone, we would talk more about school, work, accomplishments — less about feelings and emotions. I learned that anger wasn’t healthy, and you didn’t show your feelings. I also moved around a lot growing up — I moved 4 times between the ages of 0 and 17. A lot of change, a lot of loss. But, I had learned not to show my feelings — so I stuffed the sadness, the resentment, the anger over the losses growing up and learned how to survive with the “it’s all ok – I’ve got it under control” mask. I had learned – it’s the image you portray – the mask you wear – that matters, that gets you accepted, that fills the void. So I thought.

Let me fast forward now to a year ago — when all of this came to a head. As I shared at the beginning, I sought treatment a year ago. My last two years of active addiction were pretty bad. I had tried to quit on my own and never could; I finally gave up even trying and just succumbed fully to my disease. I had fought so long to hide my addiction, but it was beginning to wear me down. So, when I reached out for help, I set things in motion so there would be no backing out – I know I needed help so badly. I called 911, was taken to the hospital and admitted myself to a local treatment center. I completed treatment and started coming to the rooms as soon as I got out. Looking back, I think my pink cloud was so strong — I was simply grateful to be alive, that everything else was a blessing. But, in that slightly naive, overachiever approach, I was unprepared for when the pink faded to black. And for me, the black wasn’t losing my job — being forced to sell my house at a significant loss — or facing charges with no prior criminal history. For me, what caught be off guard was facing my feelings.

For this addict, because I got real good at wearing masks, my self-deception — my lack of self awareness — was so strong, that eventually I relapsed. I had started to face some of my demons, and tried to do it on my own. It was too much for me. Until I learned to let go, and ask for help, I would continue to repeat my mistakes and relapsed several times. I spent a couple months working a half-hearted program. I was still making meetings, but I wasn’t sharing honestly about where I was – what I was feeling. Sometimes, I didn’t even know because I was so incapable of staying with the pain or living through the feelings. The way I’ve learned to survive in my 42 years of change, loss and rejection is to run from my feelings, numb them, maintain a facade of “I’ve got it under control.” But, I’m learning I can’t survive if I continue to run. I have to slow down, reach out for help and allow myself to feel. I can’t be the patient and therapist at the same time – I spend way too much time in my head with that approach, get overwhelmed and eventually would say “f*%& it.”

I can honestly say that the last 38 days have been different. I’m working a stronger, more focused program – to the best of my ability. I’m not pretending to know everything when I don’t — using that survival technique that served me well for so many years. I’m learning to say, “I don’t know” and ask for help, ask for suggestions. Literally, sometimes people close to me will ask me how I’m doing, and my response is “I don’t know.” Then, with their help, I figure out how I’m feeling and why. That’s how incapable I had become at being self-aware.

What I’ve been told is just focus on today — do whatever it takes not to take a drink, pick up or use someone — today. And that’s all I have to worry about. It sounds simple – and it is. But, for this addict – who suffers from “figureitout-ism” and likes to make things super complicated – it’s about getting back to the basics. Go to meetings, share where I’m at, call my sponsor, call others in recovery, work my steps, and pray.

I’ve also learned some humility – learned to be aware of my ego – my over-self confidence and arrogance that shuts people down and cuts me off from getting close. Again, years of practice – but I know I can’t survive without help, without friendships, without community. When I respond to people’s suggestions or insights with “I know” or “I understand” or “I get it” — particularly when I don’t know, don’t understand, don’t really get it — I starve myself of the very experience, knowledge, insight that I need to survive. My best thinking got me here — my trying to control, manipulate and manage people, places and things doesn’t work. Instead when I accept where I’m at, surrender my will, I am able to grow. I’ve grown more recently because I’ve stopped pretending and focused on being authentic — first to myself and then to others. And I’ve only been able to do that through prayer and with the help of others.

In closing – back in February, fresh out of treatment, if I had tried to predict where I’d be today, I would have been so wrong it’s not funny. First, I would have never imagined I’d be fired from my job after 19 years; be forced to sell my house; worked through a plea bargain; and be in a position to launch my own startup business. And second of all, in predicting the outcome, I would have then tried to control the outcome – and would have fallen so short. Instead, despite and through my relapses, I’ve learned how to let go of outcomes and focus on doing the next right thing. By doing that, my Higher Power has then blessed me with far more than I could have ever imagined. There’s no way I could have come up with the plan that unfolded. But, in letting go and letting God, He’s done for me what I was unable to do for myself. And THAT is the beauty of surrendering…that is the beauty of this thing called Recovery.

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