Troy’s Times – October 2008

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“It is not important How we come to the events in our lives, but how we Deal with those events”- Troy
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This Month’s Featured Article:

From Hole to Whole

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “Hole” was a 6 by 9 foot cell, containing a steel bunk bed, a stainless-steel toilet connected to a stainless-steel sink, and a stainless-steel shower. I was locked in this cell for 24 hours a day, with the exception of one hour a day when I was sometimes, and I want to reiterate, sometimes, let out to pace back and forth in what looked like a small dog kennel. If I was lucky, I didn’t have to share the space with a roommate.
There were several of these cells lined up in an isolated part of the prison. The people housed in the cells were the troublemakers of the institution; many of them were mentally challenged and probably shouldn’t have been within the confines of a traditional prison setting. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week they would beat on the doors and scream. There was never a quiet moment. I never got any proper rest, but instead learned to catch a few winks as it subsided to a dull roar.
The steel door which provided the entrance into the cell contained a small slit in the center, which when opened up, provided the means through which they would slide food trays. As I stated previously, many of those sent to the hole were looking for trouble. You may be minding your own business and the next thing you know, your psychopath roommate decides that it is a good idea to throw a cup full of urine and feces in the guards’ faces when they open up the slot to slide in the food tray.
What did the guards do? They did what most of us would do if that were done to us. They would “suit up” and come in with their batons. You didn’t have any control over who your cellmate was when you were in the hole, and you better hope it wasn’t your cellmate who decided to pull this because you would take the beating right along with him. The guards didn’t know whose arm it was that came out of that slot and frankly they really didn’t care. To make things worse, for the next two weeks, at least, that slot wasn’t staying open for very long. Food trays were coming in on the fly. I don’t know how you feel about eating food off a concrete floor shared by the human waste tosser, but believe me, when you’re hungry enough you’ll eat food off of anything.
As bad as this all was, it was not the worst part of what I had to endure. The worst part was not knowing what my family, friends, scholarship committees, and teachers were being told. All I knew was that I was considered a “risk to the security of the institution” and that my case was under review.
I talked before about the value I place on my own integrity. I had worked very hard for the past six years to create hope and optimism against the proof of history; love and trust instead of hurt and anger; a glimmer of a future in the place of a suicidal past. It was as fragile as a vase that had been smashed and glued back together. I did not think it could handle a blow like this.
I knew, and I can’t blame them for this, that most of the people rooting for me had a little voice in the backs of their heads telling them not to get too invested or too hopeful because I could still let them down at any instant. The entire time I was in the hole, my mind was filled with conversations that I thought they must be having.
Without a doubt, everyone would believe the warden over me. After all, why wouldn’t they just naturally accept that I had found trouble once again? I could see the anger on my dad’s face and the tears in my mother’s eyes as clearly as if they had been standing right in front of me. That’s how I spent my time. If I could not distract my mind with the book that I was reading multiple times over or busy myself with thinking about actual schoolwork, I spent my time torturing myself with countless conversations played out in my head about how Troy had let everyone down again.
Because I was in the hole, they didn’t have to let any mail that I sent leave the prison and they didn’t have to let any reach me. I could imagine my family’s letters going unanswered and them assuming the worst. I knew for a fact that I had failed to complete the classes that I was taking and doubted that I would be allowed to make that up. “Sorry Professor, I couldn’t finish my assignment because I got sent to the hole.” Not exactly the conversation that you want to have with your professor. Of course that, along with my current situation was sure to be reported to my scholarship committee. That would be gone for good.
The way that I saw it, that vase that I had rebuilt and protected for the past six years was smashing to the floor in front of my eyes.
For two months that was my torture. Sixty days of living in a tiny cage along with the animals of FCI Florence. I was losing weight, I had become pale, and I had read the same book six times. Up to that point I had always believed that things happened for a reason, but I have to tell you my faith was being tested. I had always believed that I could learn something from any situation I was placed in, but at that point, the little voice was starting to come through again, “Why is this happening to you Troy? All you’re trying to do is improve yourself, all you’re trying to do is give yourself a chance to succeed when you’re released, all you’re trying to do is get an education. Why is this happening? Why do you even bother?”
They, this ubiquitous they, continued to tell me that I was under investigation but they wouldn’t tell me for what. I was faced with the possibility of at least another 30 days before anyone even had to review my situation. And then it happened. The only thing that could make the situation any worse. They informed me that I was being shipped to FCI Englewood, the oldest, nastiest prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Built in 1939, it was like something out of a medieval movie. I was being shipped to the armpit of all prisons.
As it turned out, what I thought could have been some of the worst news ever, turned out to be my family and friends coming to the rescue. All of the conversations that I had made up in my head, my father’s anger, my mother’s tears, couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
In reality, my family and friends grew suspicious of my circumstances as soon as they heard that I had been sent to the hole. Not only did they not believe a word of it, but the more they received the runaround from the warden, the more concerned they grew.
My family and friends, including those well connected friends on the scholarship committee started calling up their friends and their friends called their friends. Twenty-eight senators and congressmen total, including Strom Thurman and Newt Gingrich, along with the Head of the Federal Bureau of Prisoners were apprised of my situation and they all called the warden. In the end, the situation started to gain such a high profile that the warden decided to eliminate the problem as quickly as he could by transferring me to another prison.
I was released from the hole to find that not only was my fragile vase still intact, but for the first time in 20 years, my friends and family had assumed the best in me rather than the worst.
Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. I was quickly shipped off to FCI Englewood. Shifted like cattle from one pen to another, I was informed that asbestos removal was making things tighter than usual. Within the individual housing units 150 inmates shared a pod consisting of a common area and individual cubes. The common area was approximately 20 by 40 feet and housed four showers, three sinks, three toilets and a microwave oven. No stalls, no privacy, barely room to breath. On the east wall guys were taking showers, on the north wall guys were using the bathroom, on the west wall three people were brushing their teeth, and on the south my fellow inmates were lined up to heat their food in the microwave oven.
Take a moment to picture that. No stalls, one large open area and all of these different activities were taking place right next to one another. Just over five square feet per prisoner, minus the space taken up by the five star amenities. You could feel the room breath.
Of course there was some respite if you could call it that. I was also assigned to a cube. Within this small cube (which I would estimate to be 10 by 12 feet) there were three bunk beds to accommodate my five lovely cellmates and me. My experience at FCI Florence had taught me that it was hard enough to find one guy you could let your guard down around. I couldn’t even imagine what this was going to be like.
I was in this setting for only a very short time before the realization set in that there was no way that I could spend the next five years in those conditions. Again came the voice “Why is this happening, Troy? Why have you been singled out? Why have you been moved to such a horrible place? How are you going to do this time?” I tried to keep my outlook as positive as possible. The only way I knew to do that was to start over again. I needed to feel myself working towards my goals, otherwise, I would start to feel the reality of my new conditions, just barely above that of the hole. I concentrated on staying positive and on the tasks at hand to get me back on track. All the while I was trying to control the voice.
Of course there was plenty to do because, in many ways, I had to start from scratch. First, I had to get permission from Englewood’s educational coordinator. I had been in the middle of my last two courses when I was thrown in the hole, so I filled out the paperwork to get my books and coursework sent to me. I also had to write to the school to get permission to resume the classes and convince them to make a special exception for me so that I could complete the class without the video that I was required to watch. After about a month, I received the permissions that I needed, but was informed that all of my coursework and books had been “lost” in the transfer. Of course, I’ve always suspected that they were probably “lost” the first day that I was thrown in the hole, but regardless of what happened to them, I was responsible for that work and I needed the books to do it. So, I had to repurchase the books, which anyone who has ever had to purchase a textbook knows, is not cheap and I had to rewrite all of the papers that I had completed during the first half of the course.
My work area was a desk in the corner similar to the one in the previous facility. At FCI Florence, however, I had only had one roommate to share a desk with and we worked opposite shifts at the prison furniture plant. At FCI Englewood, I shared with five people who were constantly coming or going. Whether they were writing letters home or doing some other activity that required the use of the desk, I soon found that sometimes sitting on the floor with my books and papers piled around me had to be good enough.
It took me three months to finish my classes and get my second degree. The little voice was starting to get fainter again and I was starting to contemplate my Masters degree again when I heard my name called over the intercom, “Evans #24291-013 report to the records office immediately.” The lady at the records office told me to shut the door and sit down. I would later discover that FCI Englewood is the only institution within the Federal Bureau of Prisons that had the policy that saved me, the only institution in the entire nation that automatically reviewed the sentence computation of every inmate that was transferred into their facility via another facility. She told me she just got off the phone with the regional office and in reviewing my sentence computation she had found that there was a mistake. I should not have been sentenced to thirteen years. I should have only been sentenced to eight. I was going home in ten days.


I just summarized that whole experience in a few brief paragraphs. Possibly the most important six months of my life, and it probably didn’t take you more than ten minutes to read. The most crucial, desperate moment in my transformation, and we just blew right by it. But there was a warning there. You will be tested; and you will have to choose to pass.
That was the second time in my life that I had everything torn away from me. I remember the day that my father came home and told us we were moving like it was yesterday. I remember it because that was the first time in my young life that I learned that life is not fair.
Let’s take a moment to get that thought out of the way, because many of us go through life absolutely paralyzed by it. Life is not fair and every moment spent in the contemplation of whether your circumstances are fair or not is another moment wasted. You can analyze your situation until you are blue in the face and complain to your best friend that this isn’t fair or that is unjust. The fact of the matter is, what has happened to you doesn’t matter any more. There is nothing that you can do about it. It is now a constant chapter in your history that will never change and every moment that you spend in its contemplation is another moment lost to dead time.
Do you remember the quote at the top of the preface of this book? “It is not important how we come to the events in our life. What is important is how we deal with those events.”
The day that my father came home and told our entire family that we were moving to a strange new town, I had my foundation ripped out from under me. In my fourteen-year-old estimation, I might as well have been sent to the hole or transferred to the worst kind of prison. I was going to a place I didn’t want to go, for no good reason, to be around people that I didn’t want to be around. I was being ripped from a place of security, encouragement and success and being tossed into the unknown.
What did I do? I spent the next fifteen years of my life letting my future disintegrate while I rotted my brain with drugs, all the while absolving myself of any blame. Why? Because it wasn’t fair. I absolutely wallowed in that thought and then compounded it with my drug paranoia. My grades weren’t fair. Being denied play time and getting cut from the team wasn’t fair. The way my parents treated me wasn’t fair.
Deep down, I knew that I deserved at least some of what I was getting, but it could all be drawn back to that move. It was not fair and throughout my teenage years there was a voice that was screaming out to my father the entire time, “You had no right. I’ll show you.”
“You think you can take your fancy job and uproot our entire family?”
“I’ll show you.”
“You’re going to spend weeks on end out of town?”
“I’ll show you.”
“You think that we’ll all act like the Cleavers so that you can pretend to have the perfect life for your co-workers?”
“I’ll show you.”
“You think you can control me, discipline me, make me be the son that you want?”
“I’ll show you.”
I showed him right up until the point that I was face down on the ground in shorts and flip-flops being arrested for armed robbery.
How I wish I could go back and talk to my fourteen-year-old self.
I will tell you now what I would tell that young man. The things that happen in life don’t change the “core you” unless you let them.
I don’t think that I deliberately set off down a path to self-destruction, but once I got myself into a little bit of trouble, I let my circumstances be an excuse to let me continue down the wrong path. I saw the look on my old man’s face and I thought, “This hurts you huh? Good.” I spent so much time feeling sorry for myself that I never even realized that it wasn’t my dad or the move that ruined me. It was me.
In the first part of this book, I talked about finding your hope and building momentum, but when I was sent to the hole and then transferred to FCI Englewood, my hopes were challenged, my momentum was taken, and my path was nowhere in sight. For the first time in years, I was hearing that little voice again, questioning my path and my ability to continue my journey. My power, my hopes, and my future were being taken from me. I was facing another five years in one of the worst prisons in the U.S. and for the first time in years, I started to notice who was dealing drugs inside and how I could get them.
Those situations, the really tough ones that seem to take away all hope and often come up on you in a blink of an eye, are tests, and tests are meant to be hard. I had to choose to pass that test. I had to look desperate times in the face and say, “I am not the person I once was and no matter how difficult life becomes, I will no longer choose that easy path because nothing in life that is worthwhile is ever easy.” If I had let my power be taken, if I had gone back to serving dead time, if I had turned back to drugs, the Troy Evans released from FCI Englewood three months later would have been a different person altogether. In those three months, I could have thrown it all away.
On the other hand, if I could only have chosen the better path when I was a kid, I could have been a pro ball player. I’d be able to travel to Australia and New Zealand. (Ex-cons are not allowed in those countries.) I could take my son hunting. (I’m not allowed to own a firearm). I would have had my entire life to fill with all of the successes that I could muster rather than losing 22 ½ years to drugs and prison time.
You too will be tested. There will be times when you will lose your path. There will be times when you make a choice and find yourself on the wrong path, and there will be times, when you lose your path due to circumstances out of your control. When that happens, you will be tempted to lose hope. You may find yourself slipping into a spiral of self-loathing or cynicism. This is a test, and like any good test, it will be hard.
I cannot give you a map to move forward when you lose your path, but a map does exist. It is the one that you will draw as you travel. It may not be able to tell you how to move forward, but it can tell you where you’ve been. My advice is, if and when you do lose your way, there is never any shame in starting over. In fact, that is often the best way to get back on the path. Go back to the point that you last knew you were on the right track and start again. I had to start the permission process all over again at FCI Englewood. I even had to redo several of my assignments. But, while I was retracing my steps to get back on the right path, I was choosing to pass my test. The same will be true for you. There is no such thing as absolute failure unless you choose it by giving up. Choose to succeed.

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About the Author- Troy Evans is a professional speaker and author who resides in Phoenix, AZ with his wife Pam and his dog Archibald. Troy travels the country delivering keynote presentations, and since his release from prison has taken the corporate and association pl^tforms by storm. Overcoming adversity, adapting to change and pushing yourself to realize your full potential- other speaker’s talk about these issues, Troy has walked them.
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