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.

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Orange is the New Black’s Summer Release

“Orange is the New Black” just announced its release of the second season on June 6th so OITNB fans will get to kick off another summer in their living rooms with Crazy Eyes, Taystee and Red.

The very final scene of the first season left me shell-shocked and wondering about the future of Piper Chapman, the rich Smith graduate blonde snooze. She was found guilty for money laundering and drug trafficking with her oh-so-exotic and cool ex-lover who snitched on her in exchange for a lesser sentence. That’s all good, but really, it’s the curiosity about the rest of the cast that is killing me.

Oh, Alex, where are you? What’ll be become of CO Matt and Daya? Is Pennsatucky still alive? What will be the latest hairstyle Sophia masters? Who’s Nicky’s next lover? Oh my, it’ll be like having a tea party with Ho Hos and moonshine made from toilet water! Exactly how I imagined starting my summer. So much fun!

When I first watched the show last October, some commenters on my Facebook thought that Piper was the most boring character of all. I agreed, her background and crime are advantageous and trivial respectively in comparison to the others, but as I read more about the show, I understood why Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan wrote it that way.

It’s a television show for pure entertainment. Therefore, it’s racist and sexist because in reality, prisons are full of racism and sexism. If it only shows the white lesbians or religious nutcases, blacks with ever-changing hairstyles (and genders,) Latinas who don’t know how to keep their legs closed, and oh-so-ever disgusting perverted correctional officers with a bad case of blue balls, people will switch to different channel or take their deep-rooted prejudices somewhere else.

Remember Netflix is in this for money. So what will they do to bring in millions more viewers and bucks? Throw in a self-centered chic blonde and somehow, the masses will suddenly decide to watch.

Jenji Kohan, the show creator, said in her interview:

“Piper was my trojan horse… You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories… The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

Piper Kerman, the real Chapman, said in her interview:

“Most of the women in the Camp were poor, poorly educated, and came from neighborhoods where the mainstream economy was barely present and the narcotics trade provided the most opportunities for employment. Their typical offenses were for things like low-level dealing, allowing their apartments to be used for drug activity, serving as couriers, and passing messages, all for low wages. Small involvement in the drug trade could land you in prison for many years, especially if you had a lousy court-appointed lawyer. Even if you had a great Legal Aid lawyer, he or she was guaranteed to have a staggering caseload and limited resources for your defense. It was hard for me to believe that the nature of our crimes was what accounted for my fifteen-month sentence versus some of my neighbors much lengthier ones. I had my fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob.”

Kerman knew her advantage and I applaud her for noticing and using her access to her privileged world where she was served her amazing defense lawyer and 15-months sentence on a silver platter. She, in this position, was best able to have her voice heard and receive all necessary support to increase the awareness of the corruption in the criminal justice system among the correctional institutions across the country. People will more likely listen to a college graduate blonde than a high school dropout who lives in the projects.

However, it’s not the reason why I watch the show. Yes, it’s not fair that it has to be the white one to have a story, but it is just a marketing tactic. I didn’t care about the controversies and so on, but I have to admit OITNB does bring to light some of the whole truth about the life in (and out of) a prison.

When I was watching the entire season in October, I ended up visiting Renny twice that month. The first time I visited him, he introduced me to an inmate, “Jose”, a short, balding and meek-looking man who went to Texas School for the Deaf way back then in 80’s but never graduated.

“Hi, nice to meet you.” He said, sighing and grinning shyly. “I love him, Renny, my man.” Renny beamed with pride, his muscular arm wrapping around his tiny shoulders. As Jose left, he turned to me.

“He killed his own brother. He was drunk and shot him and doesn’t remember one bit of it.” It’s been nearly fifteen years, he said. “He broke down crying on his desk in my classroom sometimes, and I had to comfort him. He looks up to me because I’m his teacher.” It hit me that they have built-in culture inside prison and how ignorant I am about it because it seems so distant, somewhere so far and untouchable… much like a television show.

After hours of driving back and forth from Huntsville and several episodes later, one character in the show emerged oddly familiar to me. It was Larry Bloom, Piper’s hapless fiancé.

Last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

Pulling a Larry here. The picture was taken last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

I could somehow relate to him and his situation; he loved Piper and supported her regardless of her criminal past like I did with Renny. Being engaged or married to someone criminal is completely different from being born to someone criminal. Being a child to a criminal is a force of nature, there’s nothing the child can do. However, I, as an adult, could do something and choosing to be with a person with a criminal’s type of moral values made me feel like I was agreeing to what was really against my values, my beliefs. I felt guilty for remaining with someone with baggage of that magnitude because I loved him. I think it’s hard to accept what happened in the beginning because like Larry, I made the choice to commit to him regardless of the risks and in the end I couldn’t help but ask myself- did I do anything to cause it? I could have just walked away a long time ago and saved myself the pain.

My favorite episode with Larry was the one where he gives the interview with NPR that made his insultingly exaggerated and humiliating article in New York Times seem nothing but a series of banal and naive observations in comparison. He said hurtful things in the interview. However, despite being the clueless little guy he is, I felt for him because I understood the pressure and anticipation of admitting to the world that I was engaged or married to somebody behind bars as well as the misunderstandings and assumptions that come with it.

With my thoughts put aside, I am still looking forward to the drama swirling around the OITNB and hope they’d answer one burning question: Will dirty Joe Caputo and the superbitch Natalie Figueroa get it going? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I’m going to switch on Netflix this summer because like another Facebook commenter said, “Jenji Kohan is a genius.”