How Being Married to a Felon Made Me Mindful

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November 13th marks one year since my divorce was finalized and I packed my entire life into my white Toyota Corolla and drove from Texas to California. I didn’t celebrate it because it reminds me of the ugly stuff that happened to me, but I’m going to share what I learned from my marriage to Renny that turned out to be a few of the most valuable lessons in my life.

When I worked on my inner self, I came to the term that it’s no question that my marriage has changed me for the better. Before meeting him, I was all about me and me was the only thing that mattered. I was self-centered and acted indifferent. Alas, when he went away, I didn’t do a 180 degrees turn and became Mother Teresa. I slipped and said not-so-nice things sometimes. I judged the people I don’t know that well without thinking twice. I slept in on Sundays when I could have spend them volunteering to make this world a better place for our children.

I woke up.

Instead of wasting my emotional energy away by staying angry at him, I managed to discover the courage to forgive him and move on. Now, I just feel sorry for the guy. I don’t think I could do that before I met him. I wasn’t brave (or wise) enough back then.

I’m far from being a spiritual guru but ever since I backpacked in Brazil a year before meeting him, I have unexpectedly started a spiritual journey and discovered affirmation and mindfulness. I felt like I was awakened. I’ve found a better way to live, opening my way to the brand new world. I finally understood and it was just a beginning. Then, I met him the following summer.

My friends, it’s been nearly four years since he went away. I’ve come a long way. I made tons of mistakes on the way, but I made progress too. When I finally moved past the final stage of grief- acceptance- I started relearning how to love myself and be mindful again. I had to do things that nurtured me and made me stronger spiritually. I finally learned how to allow myself to heal from within. I want you to know that, in a relationship or in any other situation, no matter how long the night seems to feel to you, the sun will always come up next day.

Don’t ask me why I fell for him because it’s in the past. I know that few of you are going through crappy times now because you decided you want to remain with somebody with a past that resembles an episode from Prison Break or Breaking Bad or something with “Break” in it. Well, the good news is, you’re not alone.

Since I like to discuss about this kind of stuff with like-minded people, I thought I’d take a step further and blog my thoughts about it. If you beg to differ, that’s fine with me, because what I’m going to say next is based on my observations.

Don’t get me wrong- the career criminals are, hands down, pathetic cowards, period. They have blatant disrespect for their communities and society. They are too wimpy to face their fear. They hurt other people or animals, directly or indirectly, to get what they want. Be it out of necessity: I was so fucking hungry and depressed I stole a muffin, or just because: that person annoyed the fuck out of me, it doesn’t matter what the reason is, they act like the laws don’t apply to them. They believe that they can do whatever they want. They just go out and break the laws without thinking about the consequences. And don’t get me started on their ignorance, it’s still not an excuse.

What I noticed while living and making the documentary with Renny is that most criminals are naturally impulsive, even if they are living a clean life. Unless they show an ability to control that, they will always be impulsive in other parts of their life.

They don’t think about the future because they are in the present like wild hungry animals looking for ways to survive. When they are committing a crime, all they think about is what they are doing at that very second, not what they will tell their spouses and children when they get the phone call from jail.

That feeling of nowness gives them the rush they so love and come back for more. That’s why Renny was a career criminal and when he got out, he failed again. He would tell me the stories of his bad boy heydays, like the one when he stole and maxed out his ex-best buddy’s credit card on crack cocaine and a sportfishing boat. His eyes glistened as he recalled evading the LA cops in a stolen Dodge Viper and sleeping in it for a week before selling it to a chop shop for few bucks.

Of course they deserve to go to prison because they did stupid and hurtful things and not only that, they dragged a whole lot of people into their mess.

But the very second they are committing a crime, they become one in the moment. That philosophy of living in the present moment (of course in a nonviolent way, the Gandhi way!) is effective and we need to do it more often.

You may wonder how could I come up with such comparison, but that’s what it was like living with him. I saw many things I never saw before. It’s a lame example, but don’t tell me you never stole a candy or made copies of your butt on your company’s copier. Think about that moment. When you swiped that Hershey bar or pressed the Copy button in the spur of moment, you definitely weren’t thinking about what to wear for your date tonight. You were so focused. Remember that intoxicating feeling? Well, we need to reprogram our mind and start taking regular dosages of that feeling. Any time we are in midst of stressful times, we need to be more mindful, take a breath and let go of the toxic tension. Appreciate what good things we have right in front of us. The more we do it, the more of a rush we will get out of it. We need to make this habit into a necessity. Your problems will go away and solutions will come to you. You can’t think about problems with the same kind of thinking that caused them in the first place.

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We all have compassion inside ourselves. It’s just matter of how much you are aware of it. If you’re not sure, nothing works best to discover it than looking in eyes of the people who have nothing but way bigger baggage than you. While I still do believe in giving second chances, I know many valid reasons to be skeptical of dating a felon. It’s a matter of how trustworthy that person is, that he or she will not hurt you. If you are involved with such a person, think about why you are with that person and if it is worth your well-being to continue dating that person.

And be more mindful. It’s so easy to forget the small good stuff that make our life worth living, not the stuff that gave you the instant gratification, but the stuff that you cultivate with love and joy.

Renny’s Letters

More than year has gone by since Renny was last arrested on November 21st, 2011, leading to his prison time. He’s already served the first year of his sentence and has more than a decade to go, unless his parole board decides to let him out earlier. Rex will be well into his teenage years by the time Renny serves his sentence full-time and gets out.

This sole fact is already enough for me to let Renny go and move on. However, we still write letters to each other and his letters almost always make me emotional. No matter how detached I’ve been from him, living far away in the world, his letter always bring me back to right in front of him, behind the bars inside his cell. His letters enclose me in the four cold stone walls of his life. They angered me and made me cry. But his desperate words and search for spiritual wisdom (specifically, the whys of his destructive actions) also filled me with the mixture of forgiveness and compassion. He has a very long road ahead of him.

And so do I, raising Rex along the way.

That’s why I’ve a hard time keeping up with this blog, because it reminds me how I feel alone with so many responsibilities and sacrifices. Every time I write Renny a letter, I’m emotionally worn out by the time I sign my name.

I don’t want to feel that way every time I click ‘Publish’. I don’t want to turn my blog into a place for me to whine and bitch around because life didn’t turn out the way I expected.

Don’t get me wrong, our letters are not entirely of sad stories and angry resentments. We talk about what we read and saw on TV. We talk about the future. We talk a lot about spirituality. I told him he can write for this blog if he is ready and wants to. He said he will.

I also have to prioritize. I’m so happy to tell you that I’m the Production Assistant for ASL Films’ next production which will be filmed in Minnesota this coming spring. I really look forward to experiencing this exciting opportunity.

And not only that, our latest film, SLOT, is already out! Check out www.aslfilms.com for the showings in your area. I’m in it and it is something that I am proud to be part of!

Alas, that means you might hear less from me for the next few months, but this blog is still very much alive, and I will keep you updated every once in while with any kind of news or anything relating to the project or what I am doing. Thank you, my friends, for reading and staying in touch with me! I’m glad you are part of my life! And to others, thank you for your continuing support, I can feel it and I really appreciate it!

Until then,

Bellamie

I’m still here! Part two

When Rex and I returned home in Austin last July (thank you all for your sweet comments on the photos posted on my Facebook wall and Instagram!). I felt much better as a whole person. I could just drop the entire project and move on with my life, focus on Rex and go back to school and find a job, etc., but there’s something deep inside me that just flat out refuses let me give up.

I spent the entire month doing serious soul searching to find the answers to my questions about my film project. Why am I doing it? Will doing it and reliving those memories be good for me emotionally and mentally? Do I want to just shut him out and banish him from my memory forever? Does Renny deserve to have a movie about him? Indeed, he is center of the story, but it’s my story. It’s also the story of many other women and men who experienced or are experiencing the life with substance abuse and domestic violence. It’s easy to look down at drug addicts and dismiss them, but ask anybody who knows, addiction is a disease. It is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde disease. I survived it, I may as well as use my film as the method of telling my story.

I know there are many more people out there who went through similar experiences, but sometimes I feel like I am the only one because I’m a full-time mother and I have to stay home most of time. I have to admit that I haven’t been to Al-Anon meetings. Renny encouraged me to attend one when he was attending NA meetings back then. I thought I could handle it. Man, I was wrong. I know I should have went to the meetings. I should also see a counselor, but I’m not comfortable with sharing my experiences through an interpreter. It doesn’t matter how good he or she is, I don’t like the fact that a third party is involved. I can’t always be sure all my information is conveyed 100% accurately to the counselor. It is already hard enough just talking about this on my blog post; I still have a harder time talking about this in person. I have to swallow my pride before I explain to somebody who asked. The shame is still inside me and I am trying to let it go. I saw this quote somewhere and it can’t be any truer. “There is no shame in making mistakes. All we must do is get over our pride and admit we were wrong.”

To many of you who wrote to me about your experiences: Thank you for sharing with me. I’d like to reach out to other people like you. Your letters help me building my confidence to make my film project happen. I also want to get in touch with the advocates too. If you know of any good support groups in the Austin area, please share in the comment space below. Catherine, my awesome producer and friend, and I are planning something really cool. We’ll make the announcement in a week or two. Last, but not least, please Like on our Facebook page and follow our blog! Thanks so much!

Goodbye, Chuck

The memorial service yesterday for famous Deaf artist Chuck Baird was touching and special. It seems that there are three kinds of people that connected with him: those who are closest to him and have personal relationship with him, those who are art lovers, and those who are Jesus Christ followers like him. It is obvious he was a very well-liked and well-renowned man. Not only was he a great artist, he was also a great storyteller. He touched thousands of lives, including mine, in one way or another, and for that reason, he will be forever remembered.

He died a simple man, yet he showed the abundance in everything- especially in his paintings. He was profusely creative and his love for art was endless. He showed his love and his beliefs in all of his artworks.

He stopped by my home twice, the first time in October and a second time in December. The first time, Renny was living with me. That time I didn’t think Renny would relapse again a week later. Chuck talked to us about his faith in Jesus Christ and how he found love through Him during his long battle against cancer which was ravaging his body and eating away at his bones.

Sitting in a recliner, Chuck told us about the power of praying. I’ve read and heard about how powerful group prayers could be. I am not a church-goer, nor is Renny, but Chuck told us that his church was praying for Renny’s recovery. We were very grateful for that. After a hour or so of talking, we thanked him and he left. We pondered about him for the rest of that evening but eventually his visit moved to the back of our minds and we moved on.

After Renny’s relapse, Chuck stopped by my home again. I was surprised, but, of course, always pleased to see him. I noticed he had lost a lot of weight as I led him to the recliner. His appearance changed drastically in a short time since the last four years he’s been fighting his cancer. We chatted a bit and then he paused. He said, “I was in the area when I thought I’d stop by to see how Renny’s doing. But the real reason I came is that I want to tell you how much I admire Renny.” To him, Renny was an unique man with a great vision. Chuck saw the glow in Renny’s eyes as he talked about the things that excited him and noticed how Renny had the charismatic ability to attract people. I was in the midst of grieving and feeling angry that it took Chuck’s observations to remind me of the good things I’ve forgotten about Renny. Despite the few times we met, his description of Renny was spot-on.

We spoke of forgiveness; that we can only move on in our life if we forgive others for their wrongdoings. The concept is universal, found in every religious book out there. I learned, “Forgive the person, not the action.” While I agreed with Chuck, the wound was still so fresh that at the time, forgiving Renny wasn’t in the picture.

After I left for my parents’ house in Ohio for the holidays, Chuck’s health deteriorated rapidly and when I got back, he was always in and out of the hospital. Last Friday, my friend broke the news of his passing and I was heart-stricken. The fact that his physical being is gone forever finally sank in. He was thoughtful for paying us visits and I wish I could say the same about visiting him. That’s why I felt the urge to write this blog post as a way of remembering our conversations. It’s been almost three months since Renny went away and I still have mixed feelings about forgiving him, but I know that deep inside me I will forgive him one day. After seeing Chuck near his final days, I can imagine that his soul is out there right now, cancer-free and among the angels, celebrating the amazing life he had on this earth. With this thought I can’t help but smile.