1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): I remember taking a class at USF called Theories of Criminal Behavior. The professor told us that one of the most under-diagnosed disorders amongst people who move away from “high-crime neighborhoods” is PTSD. I wondered if PTSD had anything to do with the behaviors that landed me in prison. I also wondered if, after moving away from the Bronx (in the late 80’s and early 90’s) and after serving 9 years in prison, I had a more severe case of PTSD. Of course, my next move was to go online and search for some of the symptoms, and they jumped out at me: IRRITABILITY, flashbacks, OUTBURSTS OF ANGER, DIFFICULTY CONCENTRATING, emotional numbing, SLEEP DISTURBANCES, EXAGGERATED STARTLE RESPONSE, avoidance of anything that would trigger memories, DISSOCIATION, REDUCED CAPACITY TO TRUST. I recognized many of the symptoms in myself. My self-diagnosis came in quickly. I most likely have PTSD. The even crazier thought was that “I’ve probably been suffering from PTSD for the last eighteen years.” It was a jarring revelation. It helped me to understand more about myself and my past behaviors. My self-diagnosis is still unconfirmed by a professional. I’ve never visited any therapist or psychologist, but I’m fairly certain they’d arrive at the same conclusion.
Have you spent time in prison? Are you experiencing any of the symptoms of PTSD? I’m not saying you need to be professionally diagnosed, because you know more about yourself than anyone, and I’m definitely not saying you need to be medicated, but, in order to address the problem, you need to be aware of it. There’s no shame in admitting that you may suffer from PTSD.
2. Anger Problems: I’m talking about those outbursts of anger mentioned above, but you don’t have to have PTSD to suffer from anger issues. After my release on June 1, 2002, I found myself getting into arguments at clubs and bars (places I should not have been) over the silliest and slightest “offenses.” One second I’m having fun, enjoying myself, next second I’m screaming at someone, full volume, ready to send my fists flying. I had this idea in my mind that I had gotten sentenced way too harshly (and unfairly) when I was a kid, and decided if I wound up in front of a judge again It’ll be for doing something deserving of the ridiculous penalty I would surely receive. That was a dangerous mindset to be in, both for myself and anyone who I perceived as acting aggressively toward me. It’s obvious now that my frame of mind then was born out of anger. If I had paid more attention, at the time, to God and Jesus and biblical instruction I could have saved myself from many potentially combustible situations. So, understand that after a lengthy prison sentence it is natural to be angry at something, or many things, but you should recognize it, be patient with yourself and others, and take steps to rid yourself of that disadvantage. I know those quick bursts of anger probably served you well in prison, an advertisement that demonstrated your willingness to engage anyone in combat, but if you don’t relinquish that anger on the outside it’ll be the reason you wind up back in prison.
3. Addiction to Pornography: I wasn’t that teenager who hid porno magazines under his mattress. I was never into pornography of any kind back then, never owned any of it. I was more into real live girls from class, ones that I saw walking the halls of my high school, not ones I’d never know, see, or speak to. Pornography just didn’t make sense to me. But then I went to prison, and the memories of my teenage sexual escapades faded into the past, no longer providing me with…images. More lively and colorful and “realistic” were those “paper dolls” that I once considered very Un-realistic. It’s crazy how something so foreign to you can become so normal when you’re placed in a different environment. It became something to do, something to pass time with. Porno magazines are traded on prison compounds the way kids trade baseball cards (Yuck!). They are sometimes bought and sold for 5, 6, 7 times what they’re worth on the street. I became a “fan,” finally, and continued being a fan for years after my release from prison. The internet made it really easy to access, the easiest its ever been. It was years before I realized it was a problem, and a few years after that realization before I was able to break the addiction. If you’ve just gotten out and you don’t think it’s a problem, it is, or it will be. You may have even convinced yourself that you’re acting naturally, just a man indulging his desires, expressing genetic predispositions, or that your brain is hardwired to need that kind of release. That’s bull. You’re just rationalizing and making excuses for your addiction. It’ll ruin your relationships because the women you meet will never measure up to the fantasies you’ve created in your mind. Do away with it and do something more constructive with your time.