You wouldn’t know it to look at the comment section or follower numbers to this site, but a lot of people check out this website daily. I still think it has to do with publicly going on the record about pornography. It’s a stigma that probably isn’t going anywhere for a while. I do get a lot of private messages directly to my email — and actually a lot to my LinkedIn page now — and one of the repeat requests I get is to talk more about my time in jail. Over the years on this site, those have been some of the most popular entries, but I largely felt like I said everything there was to say until I: 1) Realized that I’m coming up on the four-year anniversary of me getting out after serving six months and six days, and 2) I hadn’t written a Grateful Eight entry for July yet.
As regulars know, I’m always late with this feature, but the concept is to list eight things I am grateful for, beyond just the typical family, health, etc. answers. I’m only nine days late this month. So…here are eight things that I learned to be grateful about/for I may otherwise not have had I not done that jail time:
- Time to Read — I entered jail at 39 years old. It had been 22 years since I got my first job as a professional writer. I love writing, and that last decade was spent mostly as an editor, reading and fixing other peoples’ work. After 8-10 hours per day, every day, working with words, the last thing I wanted at the end of most days was to read more, so that activity was largely lost in my lifestyle. The time I had in jail allowed me to catch-up a tiny little bit. At some point, I’ll do a Grateful Eight of book titles and many will come from my time in jail.
- Restaurants — I know that the Coronavirus lockdown has caused a lot less eating out, but there is still take-out, curbside delivery, traditional delivery and outdoor dining in a lot of places. That’s a ton of freedom compared to what I have. I don’t like Pizza Hut, but they make great commercials. So does Arby’s and Outback Steakhouse. Sitting in jail, knowing that I couldn’t even get takeout from these places stung, because I didn’t anticipate how good food would look on TV. I couldn’t imagine being someone who got 20 years and watched TV everyday knowing they couldn’t have any of that food until they got out.
- The Newspaper — I appreciate these because I worked in the industry for so many years, but never as much from a consumer point of view. The TV operated only certain hours of the day and except for the local news at 10, it didn’t operate when other news shows were on and we didn’t any of the cable news stations. Our pod received two copies of the daily newspaper every day. The ability to get my news through a trusted, unbiased source and not through the Internet or cable news reminded me of how news is supposed to be reported.
- Being a Poser — I’ve never been in a fight in real life. I’ve never taken a single self-defense course, and something tells me that in a real fight, before I quickly lost, I’d either play total defense or fight like an angry cat. From day one in jail, I talked a bit about being a master of jiu jitsu. I knew a bit more about it than the average person because I once profiled a real master of it. Nobody ever questioned my ability and when the topic of fighting came up, as it often did, I’d say something like, “I know I could take everybody here, perhaps with the exception of X and Y.” It showed confidence, but also humility. It gained X and Y’s respect, and if you had their respect, nobody would mess with you. Especially since you knew jiu jitsu.
- Having a Fallback Hustle — The guy I became closest to in jail was a master thief in stealing copper from housing developments being built at night and stealing parts directly from cars in parking lots in broad daylight. He explained how it was all done to me in detail. Someday I’ll write something and have all the little elements correct, but it’s nice to know if I ever decide that crime is the life for me, I’ve been taught by a guy who never got caught for that stuff. He was in jail on a firearms violation. Felons aren’t allowed to have guns. He didn’t agree with that law. That bit him in the butt.
- Six Months of a Different Kind of Rehab — I am lucky that in the two years between being arrested and arriving for my first day I was able to make recovery from porn addiction and alcoholism my full-time job. My mental health was the best it had ever been when I entered jail. I think that allowed me to see how many people had failing mental health, untreated conditions, or had simply never been taught basic coping skills, so the things they did to survive were maladaptive. Being around these people was good for me to gain perspective on our broken mental health system, but it also gave me time without the outside world to focus on what I’d learned and the tools I needed to move forward. I was never comfortable in my own skin, with just my own company, prior to entering recovery. Thankfully, when I got there, I was just learning how and the six months I was there really taught me how to be comfortable with myself. I don’t think I could have got that anywhere else. It sucks to be cut off from the outside world for any length of time, but I tried to make the best of it.
- Pens — Yeah, the writing utencils. When I wrote my book in jail (and I actually wrote one other non-fiction book, two fiction books and lots of letters — I estimate I wrote between 1 million and 1.2 million words while in jail) I only had the kind of pencils you use to score mini golf with. You know, the half-pencil with no eraser. I went through about 80 of them in my time there, and I only wrote the last 4 months of my stay. It was a treat to leave and have a pen to use.
- Clean clothes — Yeah, if you weren’t one of the grubby guys you’d change your underpants and undershirt and socks every day, but you still could only get a clean uniform every other day. Spill something on it…too bad. Tear it…too bad. Only able to get a shirt or pants that is too small or too large…too bad. Don’t like tan…too bad. They were comfortable, much like pajamas, but it would have been nice to change them every day. Trying wearing the same pair of pajamas for 48 hours. They degrade around hour 36.
Usually I ask people to tell me what they are grateful for, but since most of you haven’t been to jail and those that have probably don’t want to admit it, I’ll pose this question: Since the coronavirus lockdowns have been like a form of house arrest in some circumstances, what have you come to be grateful for that you weren’t before this all started?