Saturday, April 25, 2015

‘Defying the Laws of Categorization’

Monday, April 6, 2015

It’s seemingly impossible to put me inside of a box. It would be easy to say I am a convict, a gay man, a person of color or simply a Jew. There is nothing simple about placing ourselves in a particular category though because, as human beings, we are deeper, more complex that just that. For me, I remember a time when all I wanted to do was ‘fit in’. I think a lot of kids and young adults do. It wasn’t I began to really know and accept who I am, who I wanted to be, that I was happy to be different. Within the 4 categories listed above that people use to define me. there are also inner categories that have evolved. Some, mind you, are black & white. Some, more than not, are very grey. It is for that reason that I believe that the majority of human beings, myself included, have begun to defy the stereotypical laws of categorization.

A Convict: The greater majority of people would think that all convicts are hardened, career criminals lacking in moral fiber in all areas of life. In fact, that presumption is true in only some instances. A great majority of convicts are 1st time offenders who made an very poor decision in life and regret it deeply. Some are guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others were simply involved with the wrong people, be it romantically or platonically. Then you have men like myself, who have adopted some convict-like institutionalized behavior as a means of survival – but also, maintain a firm grasp on reality and a very strong moral compass. As far as the convict prison population is concerned, I will forever be an anomaly.

A Gay Man: Nowadays saying that ‘I sleep with and am attracted to the same sex’ works, but there is a lot more to the inner workings of being a gay man. The basic stereotype, I believe, is that we all well groomed, fashion forward, effeminate and outspoken. The truth is that the gay community has a number of sub categories such as bears, twinks, leather men, body worshipers, muscle heads etc.. A lot of gay men try to fit into one of these categories and it works for them. It has become apparent to me however, that I do not easily fit into any of them. If I don’t, then I believe it is safe to say that there are many other gay men who do not as well. Somehow, I have bits and pieces of all these categories within me, but I have no idea what it all means. I am pretty meticulous about my grooming but I do have body and facial hair most of the time. I am strong and masculine in my everyday life, but can also be submissive in my private life when called upon. I have worn a harness of two in my day and I do take pride in staying in great physical shape. I also play sports, enjoy the outdoors, getting dirty and a slew of other things that are not typically associated with the gay community.

A Man of Color: It took a very long time for me to stop caring about whether I was seen as a Black or White man. Unfortunately, I have never been accepted entirely by either the Black or White communities. The reasons may seem trivial, but they are real and they continue to happen to most people of mixed race. I have never fit a stereotype of any particular race or ethnic community and that fact became very clear to me when I came into the prison system. I am not Black enough…I have swagger but it comes from confidence rather than from being a Black man. I am not at all interested in Rap or Hip Hop music and lean toward alternative music instead. The Ebonic language is foreign to me most of the time. Racially, my differences, the reasons that I do not easily fit into a category, are the most prevalent. They were also the most tough for me to swallow. Now that I have embraced how I am different and have become proud of it, I can say with confidence that referring to myself as “swirly”, doesn’t bother me a bit

A Jew: Stereotypically, people categorize Jews as being thrifty, large nosed, intelligent, deserving and, for the most part, Caucasian. Some only recognize the Orthodox versus the Secular Jews and that is their prerogative. There are however, a great many converts to Judaism as well. Madonna and Amare Studemeire have both converted, to name a couple. They believe in what works for them, for their own faith. I do the same and I am proud of it. I do not need to shout it out loud it to the world for validation but rather, I will tell people, when solicited, about it. I share it with them with pride because it is what makes sense to me and, it’s what I believe.

You see, I am all of these things, and they make up me as a human being. I am not just a convict, a gay man, a person of color or a Jew. I am proud to not be categorized into a box.

I am proud to be just me.

’50 Shades of Gay’

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I was 10 years old the 1st time I looked into in a gay bar.

My mom and I were walking down Castro Street in San Francisco and doing some boutique shopping. It was a beautiful afternoon. Because the various bars were beginning to get populated, I assume it was probably around happy hour. I recall seeing this gigantic black man standing outside of a door wearing jeans, and what I now know to be a leather harness. His torso looked like a double black diamond alpine ski trail. Loud music was pumping out from inside and I kept seeing bright flashes of color. 

At some point, I wiggled free from mom, jogged up to the door and asked the big guy out front if I could look inside. He smiled a brilliantly warm face back to me and said ‘all right’. He picked me up so I could look into the windows and I saw huge women dancing about on a stage. It looked fun, and I remember wondering why they were so big. The man put me down in front of my mom who had finally caught up to me. She thanked him and he told me that one day, I would be allowed to go inside if I wanted to. I’d only have to wait about 10 more years. 

That club was the Pendulum and it will serve a purpose in my life forever.

As the years passed by I would poke and prod my mom’s gay friends about certain things and began to understand the diverse differences among the gay community. Keep in mind that my mom’s gay friends were RN’s and physicians. They had accomplished great things in their lives with their careers. Still though, when it came to their definition of ‘gay’, they had divided themselves up. The 1st groups I learned about were the “Bears” and the “Twinks”. Since those definitions were based primarily on physicality, it was easy to understand. But even though they were in distinctly different categories, they still socialized together and it wasn’t ever a situation to which there was an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.

I am certain many will frown upon this, but by the age of 16, I had a fake ID and was hitting the gay clubs whenever possible. I never had sex with anyone, and I didn’t drink alcohol. I would simply dance and absorb the sense of belonging that I felt. It was like being free. Soon, I realized that some bars and clubs tailored themselves specifically to certain lifestyles within the gay community. I discovered that I was most comfortable within the leather and sports themed gay bars. Those establishments were filled with jocks and body worshipers. That experience helped me to realize and understand who I was.

By the time I was 18, I was DJing at one of the hottest gay bars in Scottsdale. It was a jock bar and I had developed good friendships with the staff and owners there. I was very in tune with all that was going on as far as drug use and prostitution. These were things that were also happening at straight clubs, but I never liked the way it looked, specifically, I never liked the way it made the gay community look. For me, my friends learned early on to never pass the marijuana to me because it would put me to sleep instantly. Since I love my sleep, cocaine or crystal meth were absolutely unappealing to me. So, if a lot of drug use was occurring around me, I simply accepted it subconsciously and continued to have my own version of a good time. I was still very young and naïve, but I was evolving quickly at the same time.

The one thing I remember most however, was the sense of belonging and camaraderie, It didn’t matter what lifestyle within the LGBTQ community you represented, you were accepted. More than that – you were supported. I am certain that there was judgment, cattiness and bad behavior amongst some, but I was afforded the privilege of not having to associate with those people.

Today, at 34 years of age, I have a decidedly different outlook on the LGBTQ community. Most importantly however, I miss them. I miss the feeling of belonging because I have been the odd man out in prison for so many years.

In my experience, those from the LGBTQ community who come into the prison system are perhaps more damaged, more lost than most. Many of them are HIV positive, have incredibly high levels of dug addiction and are willing to do just about anything for a dollar. It is sad and upsetting. The majority adopt female names regardless of the fact that there is nothing even remotely feminine about them.

In the beginning of my incarceration, I used to try to befriend other gays in prison, but it truly never worked out. I was quick to discover that many of them simply wanted me to be their financial supporter. Additionally, because I knew how to fight and defend myself, they also wanted me to act as their protector. (Unfortunately, most of them do not exactly abide by the rules willingly...) So, for my own sanity, I began to retreat from them. 

Soon enough, many of the gays began to view me as a threat and, as time passed, that sentiment was spread throughout the prison system. It was clear to me that because I presented myself as a ‘man’, because I was sober and didn’t fool around with other inmates, that I was somehow projecting myself as ”better” than them. In response, I began to judge and discriminate against them because I believe that their behavior was creating the basis for widespread homophobia in prison. Candidly, their drug use, behavior and promiscuity in this environment, embarrassed me as a gay man.

The very idea that I do not want to chance befriending any other gays I come in contact with - speaks volumes. I can’t say that all gay men in prison are like this, because I know that surely cannot be true. I simply wish that some of the ones here, in the prisons I have been at, would carry themselves better, or at least try to better themselves. This experience, when it comes to prison, has made me sad and very frustrated as a gay man.

I suppose, at the end of the day, that we, as human beings, are all intrinsically different. Because of our varying orientations, we will not always agree with how we choose to lead our individual lives. I mean, I realize that I am ‘David’, and yes, I am a gay man. That’s all I can be and work on - because the other various shades of gay, well I can’t let that affect me. ‘

Not in prison anyway…

Saturday, April 11, 2015

‘The Character of People’

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I spent the entire day yesterday at visit with Kevin and it was a really good day. We sat outside, being that the weather was beautiful, and casually discussed a great many topics. At some point, he mentioned that he had noticed that I was speaking of certain affiliates here less and less. He was very curious as to why that was. My answer, as complicated and perhaps even judgmental as it goes, was this: The more time that I spend in prison, the older I become and the less I want to associate with the people around me. For some reason, their negative character traits have become so increasingly clear and apparent to me that I simply choose to have no association with them, if at all.

Somehow, (and mind you, I hate to admit this…) I have become incredibly judgmental toward certain character traits within people. I think many of us are this way, but it’s just so difficult to really admit it. It’s easier for all of us to simply state how we are not judgmental. Personally, I think its critical when selecting various friends and associates, but you may of course, disagree with me on that. There will always be things that are important to me that may not be important to the next person. And that’s okay. In fact, I readily accept that. Similarly, there are things that are really inconsequential to me that may e very important to another person.

In my opinion, these are the most prevalent negative character traits of an inmate in prison. (There are exceptions, but the following list most certainly represents a sizeable amount of the prison population.)

A lot of guys, still after being here for years, refuse to accept any type of authority. They remain only devoted to themselves and can be very disloyal.

Everyone lies, both in and out of prison. Some lies are mundane and unimportant. Others can be very damaging and harmful. In prison, it can be life threatening. The levels of deceit that some of these guys go to accomplish what they want is scary. Because they do so, I realize that there are no boundaries with these men.

I believe that this behavior is conscious and that we, as humans, should be kind to one another. Unfortunately, I have witnessed cruel and unkind behavior from one person to another even before coming to prison. Within my stay here though, I have been hard pressed to witness any authentic act of kindness from most inmates.

I cannot speak for everyone, but I don’t see how allowing oneself to be manipulated by other things or other people can be a positive thing. To me, it is a clear cut sign of insecurity and weakness. When I meet people like this, (and there are many here in prison) I become very nervous. Is it so hard to self direct your own life?

This is the last, but worst item on my list. I suppose that because it hits home in such a way that I judge people the most on it. I myself used to blame everyone for everything in my life. All the while, I never stopped to look in my own mirror. It’s a tough thing to be accountable and responsible but, we need to be in order to evolve, grow and better ourselves. If we are unable to do that, then what’s the point of living a life in which we try to be productive?

There is a certain amount of leeway that needs to be afforded to men in prison however, and I am the first to say that this life is NOT easy, in any way. What bothers me is that so few have any desire to better themselves, to change, or at least, be accountable. Instead, the majority of inmates come into prison to pick up new negative character traits and/or habits. It is very disturbing when you look at the big picture.

Look – no one is perfect. I am certainly far from it but, I do judge just as others judge me. I am not entirely sure if it is something to be seen as a weakness, or a negative for me, but it has certainly evolved over the time I have been in prison. At the moment, I am not too sure if there any way of getting around that.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

‘My Current Play List’

Sunday, March 22, 2015

People are always interested in the type of music that I listen to. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have my headphones on 90% of the day and my CD player on my hip. (There are no MP3’s here…) Still, I realize that music is a way of telling a lot about a person. 

My current CD collection stretches pretty far in terms of decade and genre, so I have no idea what you might ascertain from it, but here it is nonetheless. 
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
*Alice Smith
Katy Perry
Robin Thicke
Myley Cyrus
*Calvin Harris
Jennifer Lopez
Claudia Lette (Brazilian Beyonce')
Nick Jonas
Sam Smith
Ariana Grande
Chris Brown
*Jessie J
Nicky Minaj
Tamar Braxton
*Toni Braxton
Kesha Cole
Selena Gomez
Donnel James
Mark Ronson
Izzy Azalea
Azealia Banks

*Clean Bandit
Ricky Martin
Trey Sangz
Deborah Cox
Nina Simone
Patti Smith
Janis Joplin
Etta James
Kelly Price
The Gap Band
The Commodores
Earth Wind & Fire
*Patti Labelle
Anita Baker
Luther Vandross
*Deneice Williams
*Mumford & Sons
Lilly Allen
Luke Bryan
Little Big Town
*Florida/Georgia State Line
Swing Out Sister
Romeo Santos
Jenni Rivera
Icona Pop
Scissor Sisters
Michael Buble
Lady Gaga
*Kings of Leon

There you have it: My incredibly diverse taste in music. I have placed an * by those artists that have become my favorites. I am always open to new recommendations though so feel free to let me know if you have some suggestions!