The Same Old Shoes

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Written By: Brian Brinson
Sep 27 2011

I happen to be one of those people who believes we are all equal. This means, in our own voice, with our own preferences, we all have equal opportunities. We choose what we believe and design who we shall become in this world, thus determining for ourselves in what ways we will touch the lives of others. I struggled with my own choices for many years.

I grew up in L.A. during both the '70s and the '80s, which were amazingly diverse times. My family kept me quite sheltered from the world and force-fed me their ideals, including their religious ones, for which I did not have any interested desire. I wanted to seek out myself in the world. I wanted to know what my true voice was, but I was unaware how afraid of that notion I was. For some reason, I felt invalid in this world.  Perhaps it was due to years of being shut down by the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse that seemed to find its way into my household whenever my dad came home.  Whatever the case, I was young and frustrated and wanted something else.

As I grew into my early teens and an ever impending sense of rebellion was upon me, I became easy prey to the street life in L.A. and the party scene. At first the sense of giving a stiff middle finger to all forms of authority seemed to be validated in nothing more than underage drinking and smoking. In a way I suppose it was for a time, but I knew it had limited direction, if any. The scene continued to grow and expand around me while I continued shoulder tapping the supermarket patrons in the parking lot for a bottle of vodka, which has a funny genesis all its own.....

Growing up, there were two brothers, Mark and John, who lived two doors down from my house.  They had a heavy metal band even when we were in junior high school.  My friend, Scott, was throwing a party that they were going to play at and had invited me to come out, I had never been to a party before, so I was very excited.  Being my first social event like this, I hadn't brought any beer.  Folks at this party were cool, though, and kept offering me beer.  I talked with a few different guys and made a couple of new friends, all the while getting quite tipsy.  After a bit, there were no more beers in the fridge.  Some people set a few down and walked away from them, so I just helped myself.  At one point, the only beer I could spot remaining was in the hand of this bigger, older dude.  After watching the band for a few more minutes, to my extreme joy, he sat the beer down and went to the bathroom.  I ran right over and picked up the can to discover it was nearly full, so I tipped it and took a big swig.....of cigarette butts and tobacco spit.  Boy, I couldn't smoke for a while after that.  I'm a bit surprised I ever smoked or even drank after that.

At the age of 15 I began to be exposed to the lyrical wisdom of men like Dick Lucas, and to the notion of other, more all encompassing spiritual paths, unfortunately I had made my mind up to simply listen and read, but not act.  All I wanted to do was get wasted and bitch about society. This was to be the path of my existence for several years to come, during which time I would begin to experiment with several different drugs, and even have some very intimate relationships with a few of them. All the time being exposed to more ideas telling me I was not filling the shoes that were mine.  Amidst the drinking, pot smoking, L.S.D., mushrooms, cocaine, mescaline and heroin, it was meth that truly whispered those sweet nothings in my ear.  It offered me something strangely different---a very powerful false sense of self esteem.  It was different than all the other substances I had ever been exposed to before.  This one told me I didn't need the validation or company of others. It really only started out as occasional benders with the stuff, sniffing or smoking it at parties that would last for a few days A higher sense of myself cautioned me against becoming to intimate with this demon, and for years I listened, but the monkey on my back truly was too powerful.

Life found me on the road traveling with a mixed bag of gypsies, from one place to the next.  Never really settling in to one particular place, but I did call Oregon home for several years.  This seemed to be a place right out of a story book, the trees, the streams, and the sleepy little valley towns.  I had truly found a place I wanted to get to know more.  But something just wasn't satisfying my urge to keep getting fucked up. I would find myself with wine or whiskey down by the creek or the railroad tracks almost every night for years, never seeming to be able to curb the nauseating desire to swill this gut rot religiously.

Two decades of this behavior were to pass before I finally decided I had had enough of my own self pity and directionless angst and wanted to figure out some way to become a positive member of the community I lived in.  Unfortunately, the tail end of my attempts to quit drinking and wasting away were met head on with a full blown intravenous meth addiction.  It really happened randomly, if that even makes sense.  Just setting down an addiction to alcohol, I personally had no idea that I could so easily fall prey to this temptress from my past. Any humble change of direction at that time would have been better than the meth addicted life of crime I had come to find myself in. I wanted to trade it all in for a job as a dishwasher, a cruiser bike, a little trailer to live in, and a cute, chubby girlfriend to wrap my lonely arms around at the end of the day. But I had five warrants for my arrest and was only days away from my last arrest. This was to become one of the single most pivotal events in my life.

On May 30th, 2005 I was arrested in front of a gas station trying to pass a check that didn't belong to me, and was booked into and detained at the Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs. On July 19th, 2005, just four days after my 35th birthday, I was sentenced to a term of ten years in the Colorado Department of Corrections. The only word to describe the feeling I remember from that moment is surreal.

I, again, had the same choices as anyone else upon entering the prison system. I could whine like a little bitch about what had "been done to me", I could act like a real pussy and click up with a white supremacist gang, I could beg my long since left behind family to send me money so I could buy a television, a coffee pot and a 50-sack of food each week and drown my sorrows that way, or I could think about the prospect of a dishwashing job, a cruiser bike, a little trailer to call my own and a chubby cutie that likes to cuddle. The former would have been easy. Everyone was doing it. The latter, however, was what I chose. I now had an opportunity to take all the knowledge, understanding and wisdom that had been sent across my ears over the years and recreate myself. After all, how many opportunities do we ever really get in life as an adult to have a bed, clothing and meals given to us for free for years at a time just so we can reflect on our lives and learn to do some things a little different in the hopes of becoming a better person? I believed this to be the one chance I would get.

Anything worth having is worth working hard for and even fighting for, and I never quite got the "convict mentality".  The division walls of race are up thick and immediately upon entering those facilities.  I grew up in East Los Angeles, though.  My cell was occupied by myself and a Hispanic guy.  I sat down and ate with Hispanic dudes.  In the gym, I worked out with black dudes.  Acutely, I was aware of the looks I was being given by the Aryans in the place, but one day they decided to confront me.

I didn't have to work that day, so I went to the gym with this huge Mexican dude named Psycho to do some back.  It was a few of us dudes on the cable weights, some guys playing basketball on the court, and the Aryans playing handball as normal.  After our workout, there was a little time left, so I checked out one of the acoustic guitars and went across the gym by myself to play.  Within moments I was approached by two of the white guys.  They let me know that they weren't happy with my living and eating situation and said they wanted me to put in some work and get some work done.  Put in some work meant that they wanted me to run in on and fight dudes they picked out.  Getting work done meant they wanted me to get a Swastika tattooed over my heart.  Well, that wasn't going to happen.  I came in this place without one and I was leaving the same way some day, which is what I let them know.  I told them I was happy with where I lived, and if they really had a problem with me, they knew where that was.  I won't lie to you, I was scared shitless of these guys, but for some reason they ended up leaving me alone.  I was able to continue to work on myself.

A good cellie (roommate) I had in there just happened to be from Denver and quite involved himself with the local underground music scene and suggested a program I might try to get involved in that would help get me out of prison and also bring me to Denver. I had never lived in Denver, so this was also another great way I could continue to recreate myself.  But the program required me to learn things I knew nothing about, so I had to struggle with my old, self-defeating nature again to even convince myself to start getting up at 4:45am each day and walk down to talk with these two instructors in an effort to convince them why they should give an opportunity to a guy who had spent his entire life drinking and taking drugs.

Can you believe, I was finally given a spot in that program? I was trained in the operations of heavy equipment, tested on six different types of soils, brought out into a Colorado community to rebuild a habitat to preserve a stream from contaminating mine tailings, and given a Class A commercial drivers license with two endorsements. And, as promised, after 18 months of successful completion of the program, was placed in a halfway house in Denver, broke, knowing no one, and scared out of my wits. But I kept getting out there every day looking for work, looking for clothing, looking for bus passes. And it paid off.

I am now employed by both the City of Centennial and the City of Castle Pines public works departments. I live in a place let's say a bit bigger than a trailer. I have my cruiser bike, but I also get to mob around in a Jeep. And my beautiful fiancé is one of the most brutal death metal vocalists in America, a welder, and a mother of two. She's perfect!!  Oh, and she has a cruiser bike too.

I finally took off the prison boots, put back on my own shoes, and they fit. Everyone had their own idea of what it is in this world they want to become and all I ever wanted to do was put the needles down and become a more active member of my chosen community, but if I can do it after the hell I created for myself, anyone can create a new reality for themselves.

brian and holly

Cold Ones & Rolled Ones with Ami Lawless on Radio Valencia online at radiovalencia.fm or 87.9FM in San Francisco, also available on podcast in iTunes. Shit talk and shenanigans, arts/culture, guests/interviews and giveaways all set to hardcore/punk/metal! Yes, this might seem like a contradiction... but really, aren't we all? Stop by for the party Thursday evenings 6:00-8:00 pm, Bay Area time zone, bitches.
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