From the April 2012 magazine.

While I Was in Prison

Literature and letters helped this prisoner find AA and start a sober life

Like it says on page 33 of the Big Book, "One doesn't necessarily have to drink a long time nor take the quantities some of us have." I am 42 years old and have spent the last 11 years in and out of prison due to my alcoholism. When I was younger, I felt I didn't fit in. Then I started drinking and all my fears vanished. I thought I could have everything—women, money, my dreams—the sky was the limit.

But at some point, in my youth, alcohol turned on me and I crossed that invisible line from having fun to not having anybody that wanted to be around me. I had three DUIs by the 12th grade and still, I couldn't see the unmanageability. On the last DUI, the judge made me go to AA meetings and I could see why you guys were there and I wasn't: You needed it and I didn't.

In a geographic, I moved from North Carolina to South Carolina and there I found I could control my drinking if I drank during business hours only. That didn't last and blackouts became a way of life for me. I was left with the bewilderment of blackouts: what happened, who I might've hurt, how I got home and where I left my truck.

I eventually became unemployed and unemployable. I found after drinking that I could do a break-in and get money to keep drinking. I did just over four years in prison the first time I was caught. When I got out, I got back on my plan—which got me drunk. Anything I do on my own is trouble. I stayed out of jail for eight months, but now I'm back with seven year sentence. It's all due to my drinking and self-will run riot. It took 25 years of drinking to see how I was a tornado winding through the lives of my parents, wife and children.

It took prison, AA and a program called, Bridging the Gap for me to finally find myself. When I got to prison this time, I was a beaten man and was willing to try anything. I wrote to AA and they sent me a Big Book and hooked me up with a sponsor. I wasn't alone in my alcoholism. My sponsor, Jim M., told me I could stay sober through the Twelve Steps but I had to be willing to go to any lengths.

I totally understand why the Steps are in the order they are. I found admission was the key to seeing the powerlessness and unmanageability of my life. Then Jim showed me Step Two and that "deep down in every man, woman and child is the fundamental idea of God." In Step Three, I learned that I couldn't be the lead actor because I couldn't get the players to do as I wanted. I had to quit playing God and let God be the director and agent of my life. Jim M. told me that although we were so far apart—he was in NYC and I was in North Carolina—we could still take this Step together just by picking a date and time. I was in awe at how willingness, open-mindedness and honesty are the keys.

After Step 3, we launched onto a course of rigorous action. There was a lot of pain in the Fourth Step and a lot of stuff I never told anyone in my life but I know that stuff will get you drunk. There were times when I thought my fears of self appraisal would do me in, but I agreed at the beginning that I would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol. I honestly, without reservation, took Step 4 and when the time came to do Step 5, Jim M., my sponsor set up a whole day to come from NYC to the prison.

On that day, he brought a cheeseburger, fries and two pieces of pie. We are allowed food if it's an outside visit. I found when I layed eyes on him that I'd known him forever. I poured out my life through words and crying. My Higher Power was holding me by the hand that day and showing me that anything was possible in sobriety.

I asked Jim M. how I could ever repay him for what he did and I will never forget his words: "Just do the same for another alcoholic." I know it was hard for me to understand why someone would come all the way from New York to North Carolina to help someone like me and I'll never forget Jim M.'s words when I was bawling like a baby. He said, "You are a good guy, a good father, and you have been sick for a long time."

After taking this Step and accepting the unconditional love of AA, I saw that a world of opportunity is available for me as long as I take the simple suggestions.

Bridging the Gap showed me that no matter the circumstances, I can start picking up the pieces of my life and establish long lost relationships with loved ones. It's hard for me to put into words what a beautiful gift AA and that program has been to me. Today, I get to put on civilian clothes and go to AA meetings in the community where I'll be living.

At the meetings, I find people just like me, just different shapes, sizes, colors and names. These people care. AA cares. I feel I'm no longer a burden to society, no longer terrorizing the community and I no longer have to take chances playing Russian Roulette while drinking and driving.

In prison, I know a new freedom and a new happiness. I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. Our whole attitude and outlook on life has changed and God is doing for me what I could not do myself. I had a visit from my son and my daughter and that hasn't happened in a long time and I can only thank god and AA. Today, though I am incarcerated, life is beautiful.

-- C.T.

North Carolina

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