09 September, 2013

What Doesn’t D**n You Makes You Stronger

Sin. People tend to cringe at the word. Especially those who are absorbed in the Old Testament way of life. Yet the undeniable truth is that we as humans all make mistakes, and every little mistake, every slip, every retaliation, every sexual desire, every porn watch, every feeling of ‘I want that’, every refusal to give, every refusal to assist others, every shout, every curse word, is a sin. There’s no doubt, therefore, that a mistake I made days before my 16th birthday was undeniably a big enough sin to warrant even a worldly punishment.
The events leading up to that turning point began in June 2008. I was one person that wanted freedom, and wanted freedom fast, not thinking of the responsibility that’s supposed to go with it. Many of my fellow teens had all the freedom, all the fun in the world, yet my parents, being baby-boomers who had me at an old age, were so ultra-conservative that they would do anything to keep me from having that freedom. So, when their finances also went down the tubes and my parents, sister, and I all had to leave a 2500-square-foot 4-bedroom-3-bath house with a pool in the backyard for a 2-bed hotel room, at which hotel my dad happened to be working at the time, that evil was magnified tenfold. My tendency to want to go places and do things with people was greatly hindered by the lack of space and the ability for my parents to spy on me at all times. My dad, being a night auditor working the 11PM-7AM front desk shift, screamed his head off at me the minute I set foot outside the hotel room door. And then there was my sister.
Being 5 years younger than me, my bratty sister and the 20-friend gang clique that she masterminded did everything in their power to bully me, and in that hotel room especially, there were countless times where her, my dad, and I would all escalate to the breaking point. Screaming. Punching. Kicking. Yelling. Everything was a nightmare. When my family finally got the chance to rent a townhouse, I thought, ‘Yes!’ There was finally enough bedrooms for space to be available to everyone. Uh, not so fast.
March 20, 2009. In less than a month I would be 16. My family finally sits down to have dinner in the temporary townhouse, when my mother, all shaken up by the amount of yelling, screaming, and cursing going on in the hotel room, decides to use her unforgiving heart to impose a zero-tolerance policy on cursing, despite the already hard family tensions and extreme emotional scarring going on. The punishment? Automatic desert ban. I thought, ‘Okay’. But little did I know, that would exacerbate the situation beyond what any of us could fathom.
So what happens? My sister uses her name-calling to continue to make me get all mad. At the table, all she ever did was call me names (what exact names they were I don’t quite remember, or there would be dialogue here). And she would curse as well. For 10 minutes, until finally, something slips out of my mouth accidentally in response that wasn’t the least bit cool. But my mother didn’t care. She continued to be biased towards my sister anyway. If only she had banned both of us, none of this would have happened. But no, she only banned me. She even rewarded my bratty, slutty, evil sister with ice cream, while imposing the desert ban despite the fact that both of us were in the wrong. That’s when I snapped. My mother vs. my sister vs. me. False imprisonment. Threats with kitchen weapons. We were all using such evil towards each other, and me significantly more so given how I was always a target in the past. So when my mother finally decided to take out a cell phone to call 911, I decided to throw it on the floor and shatter it into pieces. It didn’t matter. She told my sister to do it. That’s when I got even more defensive. Eventually to the point of using pieces of my yet-to-reassemble bed to barricade my door shut. It didn’t matter, however, because the cops came anyway.
“Hello, are you in there?” the cops say through my heavily barricaded bedroom door.
“Y-y-yes,” I reply, with such a scared, intimidated tone I could barely speak.
“We’re just making sure you’re okay,” they say politely. “And don’t be scared of us, because we’re only here to help.”
Given how polite and calm they were, I decided to comply, lifting the pieces of my yet-to-assemble bed off my bedroom door one-by-one and letting police in. I was very surprised, shocked, in fact, after all the commotion to have such a calm, peaceful response from police. And they offered psychiatric help, knowing that a month and a half earlier I was in a private psychiatric hospital to detox me from medications that instead of helping my Asperger’s syndrome ended up making it worse, promising to take me to the same place. But when I got in the back of the car and slept in it, taking care not to lay on my tightly cuffed hands which were in excruciating pain every time I leaned into them, for 20 minutes, I was in for a surprise when I finally woke up at the destination. Instead of taking me there, they took me to juvenile hall.
“I’m screwed!” I thought.
I knew there would be a court date, but it wasn’t going to be immediate. I was in the cell, lying on the cot, just praying my head off.
“Lord, what’s this going to do to me!”
“I know I’m a sinner, but the world doesn’t tolerate sin nearly as much as You do!”
“Will I have to celebrate my Big 16 in this hell on earth?!”
I was so fearful of what kind of an environment this was, I could barely speak at all. When questioned, I stuttered so much they could barely hear a word I was saying. I became so quiet, so scared, in fact, that they even wrote my landline phone number down wrong! That of course would carry over to the probation department (more on THAT later). I started participating, therefore, in Bible studies that pastors were starting to use in the cells.
“Maybe I’m here for a reason,” I thought.
So, I joined others who shared similar stories in the cells themselves. I began to continue to receive the Holy Spirit and pray my head off. And when the court date arrived, my fear quickly turned to hope. A plea deal was reached, with the help of she who got me arrested: my own, now very forgiving mother. The sentence? Only 10 days! I was also charged with only a misdemeanor, not a felony. I thought, ‘Yes! Thank you, Jesus!’ And also, I would be relocated to another part of the juvenile hall campus. One that was protected from the rest of the place, one where violence among teen inmates simply did not occur. And it also had an in-unit classroom, meaning that we all could catch up on school work in the place as well. On top of that, this in-jail classroom would later become the scene of a miraculous turning point in my thinking and understanding.
The life in there, however, would be far from perfect. The guards watched inmates like hawks. That was a good thing, however, because it prevented all forms of violence. I was obedient. I was quiet. There were others, however, who weren’t. When there was suspicion, we were all strip-searched. Scanned with metal detectors. If there was any uncertainty about an action or about the location of police property (which was usually every other day or two), the guards would go from door to door, cell to cell, conducting metal detector scans and strip searches through and through until the guards were certain the entire unit was clear. The entire place was a dystopian, authoritarian enclave of Orange County, reminding me very much of the society that George Orwell painted of a future 35 years off back in 1949. And one day, it pushed an African-American fellow inmate of mine (possibly from a gang) to the breaking point.
“F*** you, guards!” the guy shouts across the in-jail classroom that I happen to also be
sitting in.
“Everyone, put your heads down!” the guards say in response.
I along with everyone else ― all 40-some-odd people in the in-jail classroom ― did as commanded, except for this monster in here, who continued to shout at guards. In fact, I started to pray. Silently, of course, so as not to speak, which we were all told not to do. In the meantime, however, this guy continues to yell and curse. He’s tased. He’s pepper-sprayed. He’s cuffed. He’s held on the floor, face-down so he can’t breathe.
At the same time, I’m untouched. My fear and trembling actually made me a better person than he was, just like my parents, teachers, and school administration had said all along! After all, anger is a sin, right? I suddenly realized in that moment, the night before being released, that I actually could do what I thought I couldn’t do: refrain from violence in adversity. I once thought refusing to lash back at bullies was absolute cowardice, but now I actually had real-life proof, from a first-person perspective, that nonviolence and cowardice are actually exact opposites. I suddenly started to see that the security in place was a good thing, because it actually prevented the bullying that went on in school all the time from happening in this jail for kids, while at the same time creating the perfect environment for this miraculous first-hand demonstration by the Holy Spirit to take place.
The very next day, April Fools’ Day, 2009, my time in that hell on earth was up and I was released. I walked with my mother into the parking structure and got in my mother's car, thinking “Hallelujah!” I took those experiences with me, including that awesome learning experience in that in-jail classroom. The Holy Spirit then continued to shape me, continued to transform me, and I did a complete 180 from the ‘eye for an eye’ lifestyle I had lived before. Not to mention, of course, that I was released on April 1 anyway, right on schedule.
So, where did I celebrate my 16th birthday, on April 14, 2009? Certainly not in jail like I feared I would, that’s for sure! It happened to be a Wednesday. At the time, that was my normal worship night! I ended up celebrating it with the awesome fellow worshippers of mine, at the awesome Mount of Olives Church youth ministry (The R.O.C.K.) that I know and love.  However, I wasn’t done yet. I would be on probation for 1 year. So, I still had to comply, knowing how much I would hate being incarcerated again. During that probation, I had many rules and restrictions, including one where I would need to stay at home past 10:00 at night (which is a common restriction on juvenile probationers anyway). A year later, I waited for hours in the courthouse hallway to enter the courtroom again, this time to terminate probation, excited that it was already certain I had done the time.
“Probation termination request granted,” the judge rules.
“Yes! It’s finally over!” I ecstatically thought.
And just in time, because the spring of 2010 was the time when the Holy Spirit finally got me transformed enough to actually start taking classes in public (El Toro HS) instead of non-public non-sectarian school (more on THAT later), and my senior year would start the following June, when I would finally be there for the majority of my school day. Had I still been on probation during senior year, my life would have been completely miserable due to the inability to go outside at night past 10:00, but nope, I was actually able to attend the same activities (including the all-nighter to end them all: Grad Night) that every normal student attended. I couldn’t be more thankful. Of course, at the same time as this El Toro awesomeness, my family would have to pack up and move again due to the townhouse landlord’s rent-skimming scheme. This time, however, we ended up only being in a hotel room for 3 months instead of 9, followed by 27 months in a 2-bedroom apartment. Not the best place for a family of 4, but it was still an improvement over a hotel room. It would take until November 16, 2012 for the American dream to finally return to my family again.
So, my advice to all who use violence: Don’t. Fighting sin with sin may make people even with each other, but in doing so it brings both parties closer and closer to a hell on earth. Not only was I made stronger by this incident, but also more normal, more of a light in a world of darkness than ever. I can rest assured that because of what Jesus did at the cross and in the now empty tomb, regardless of my sinful past, I’ve already been saved. To be honest, I have even felt feelings about going back there. Not as an inmate, but as an evangelist. Sharing my testimony. Being a light in a world of darkness. A Holy Spirit-guided ray of hope for the lost. Because after all, faith without works is dead, right? As long as I am guided by the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit, turned from sinner to saint, I cannot be more thrilled, couldn’t be more fearless to actually use The Word to not only my own advantage but also that of all those who are around me. So, just as I turned from the grip of anger, pride, and retaliatory tendencies, so should everyone else.