NYSDOC saved my life or at least allowed me to take a second look dow the road I was traveling.
Prison life was inevitable. I spent many years living as a street addict in NY State and this life led me to my experience with Shock Incarceration. I was always a prisoner. In the NYS Department of Corrections, there is a program for non-violent felons that resembles US Marine Style boot-camp training. There are several facilities that offer Shock Incarceration and I was sent to the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility (lSOO(, in Brocton NY. Most of the inmates I was doing my time at the facility were sent to this facility for crimes dealing with drugs and or alcohol.
To say the least, the system considered us all to have substance abuse disorders and felt that our lives could be salvaged with strenuous physical labor and exercise, the structure of a full day, an evening routine and schedule and constant, intensified supervision.
Living on the streets while sleeping in abandoned buildings, cars, and on the streets, themselves; I split my time between Manhattan and Utica NY. Shooting heroin was much easier than dealing with the traumatic events of my childhood.
We all know a life of addiction most often leads to a life of crime. I tried hard to live by a code that meant never getting involved in committing felonies. Because I was young and naïve I didn’t know that I actually committed a couple of felonies each day. Every time I copped (purchased) drugs I had enough in my possession to be charged with a felony. Besides, I was constantly buying drugs for other addicts and NYS considers this to be a crime equivalent to a drug-sale which is also a felony and it is called steering. Even if I was to point out a drug dealer to another user I could be charged with the crime Steering.
From the ages of sixteen to twenty-eight I had spent many months in county correctional facilities spanning about 13 counties, including Riker’s Island which is a correctional facility for the 5 boro’s of NYC. Avid fans of Law and Order are familiar with Riker’s Island. On December of 1994, I was picked up by the Utica Drug Task Force and charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd degree, a felony. Welcome to the big leagues!
When I wasn’t in a prison for the body. I was in a prison in my mind just like Neo in The Matrix. However, my mental prison was caused by an addiction to heroin, a needle, and a spoon.
I was not scared of going to prison nor was I worried about missing my family because I had been estranged from them for ten years. I was worried about how I would afford heroin in prison. How would I live without heroin? What would I do? Before I was sent to prison I decided to try living sober. I knew I could be sent to Shock because my crime was a non-violent drug crime.
Shock-camp was created for criminals like myself.
Alternatives to traditional incarceration, a program devised to condition and shape substance abusers into productive young men.
I was sent to Lakeview Shock in the Spring of 1995 and I started the program three months after. Once I was transferred to LSIF it didn’t take long for me to begin the treatment, I was transferred from the dorms awaiting platoons to the Bear Platoon quickly. One of the CO’s (corrections officers also called DI-drill instructors) of the platoon immediately coined my new name Ink Boy because of all my tattoos.
Trouble found me several times my first few days because I was taking unapproved cigarette breaks. I was told that I would get special attention for this behavior. Each time I was caught the DI made me get in a plank position for over five minutes. My physical health was horrible and I thought my arms and legs would explode from all the physical exercise.
Upon my completion of the program, which I thought would never happen, I noticed that I had indeed changed. I thought differently. I carried myself with more certainty and power, and I had not thought of using heroin in several months. Unfortunately, I never dealt with the traumatic events of my past which were the reasons I did heroin for so many years.
Because I didn’t deal with anger or resentment my recovery was not successful. It was easy to substitute my drug addiction with an obsession to work. For 10 years I managed to live life with this obsession to work before an accident brought a couple of shots of morphine (and addiction) back into my life.
Struggling for two more years before the inevitable relapse.
The slip immediately devastated my world and I found myself a homeless street junkie in less than a year. Eventually I managed to pull myself out of active addiction while living on the streets without going back to prison.
I am now in recovery and I work as a Substance Abuse Counselor and writer. I have had several patients who were also sent Lakeview Shock incarceration. Working with these patients has caused me to reflect upon my experiences in the shock program.
The shock incarceration program was a positive force in my life. Shock allowed me to prove to myself that I can live a life without heroin.
Admittedly, it didn’t work on my emotional or mental state but the key take away from the program for me would have to be that I developed a life-long habit that drives me to be physically active, especially developing a desire to run daily. The program taught me the five steps of the decision-making process, teamwork, accountability, and time management.
Once our six-month program began, so did our intense physical training. We trained as if we were in Fort Bragg or any other military basic training installation. The day begins with the platoon being woken up by harsh banging on garbage pails. Immediately we must get out of bed stand, for a count, prepare for physical exercise (P.E.), and get back into formation. Did I mention we have about 3 minutes to do this? We immediately raced out the door and into another formation. Now we jog over to exercise with the rest of the camp. The first two weeks were spent preparing us to exercise each morning with the rest of the platoons.
Once released from shock, I noticed that running each day had become a habit. A positive habit that I still crave each day. Running gives me a chance to push myself harder, to challenge my body and mind, and to give myself a daily commune with nature. Running lets me know that I am still alive, focused, and determined to carry on. There are many benefits to running beside it just being Good Clean Fun!
If I cannot make it to the gym I will do body weight exercises performed as Tabata routines. I believe this is a benefit from shock camp. When I do bodyweight workouts I always structure the workout as if it was a boot camp training.
In Shock incarceration, our days consisted of running, bodyweight exercise and more running. When we were not training physically we were training mentally by:
- learning the program rules and regulations
- the history of the program
- the traditions of the program and what was expected of us as a platoon.
We were disconnected from the outside world for the next six months because our goals were to become responsible young men. With responsibility, we would learn that our addictions could be managed with surrender and acceptance, that we do have choices other than leading a criminal lifestyle, and most importantly we were responsible for our lives and how we chose to live.
The other and bigger shared goal was to be paroled to community supervision 6-months of our start in the program no matter what the minimum amount of time our sentence stated be served.
On the training field, our platoon learned to work as a team; a well-oiled machine. Our movements and cadence were synchronized. We were taught that we were only as strong as our weakest link. We believed this and found ways to perfect our performances together. The first two weeks of our training taught us teamwork, perseverance, and pride. These characteristics are vital to the success of a platoon to graduate from the Shock Incarceration program and within my everyday life in business and employment.
We were taught teamwork. I didn’t think that the group I was living with would ever function as a team but in two weeks we were training and running in time with one another. When we were on the streets each of us was in the habit of functioning independently, and yet the determination of getting back home or on the streets was a great factor in motivating us to cooperate.
I became accountable for my actions although I still had problems with smoking when I was not supposed too. Several times I was caught smoking and I had to pay for this infraction with physical labor or extra strenuous exercise. A few times I was not caught in the act but the end results of my smoking where I was not supposed to be where I found it. The whole platoon was held accountable for my actions and I knew that they were upset.
Accountability, acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude were new character traits I left the NYS prison system with and for helping me use these characteristics daily in all of my dealings I am grateful.
The CO’s did not know it was me who had smoked but I could not see my platoon punished for my irresponsible behaviors so I confessed. I told our DI that I was responsible for the cigarette butts he had found. The platoon was no longer punished and I dealt with what I had coming to me for disobeying the rules of the shock program.
Each day we were only allotted a minimal amount of time to shower, shave, use the restroom, get dressed, and be ready to get to the field for the day’s platoon formation and then to the mess hall. The facility was literally run just like armed forces basic training camp. We learned to eat fast, not to stay around and BS with each other, and to get on with our daily roles. I am still punctual and accountable in all my dealings.
Lastly, I learned the five steps of decision making. I use this often in my early life, I used the process to decide but I rarely evaluated and decided which result would be best for me. I always just chose what I wanted at that time. The five steps of decision making are as follows and they are painted all over the walls of the Lakeview Shock Incarceration facility:
- See the situation clearly
- Know what you want
- Expand your possibilities
- Evaluate and decide
I still follow the 5 steps to decision making whenever I have a difficult decision to make. The process works and it only takes seconds to implement and it is worth it. The process has saved me from creating more work for myself, having to apologize for making rash decisions, and getting into arguments or physical altercations.
I had tried to avoid going to shock at first; I refused it but eventually, I smartened up and agreed to go into the program. Once I began I was grateful for my decision. The program changed me for the better. Shock has taught me that I am accountable and responsible for the life I live. I had chosen how to act without consideration of consequence for most of my life. Through Shock Incarceration I learned how to evaluate my decisions and to make better judgments. I learned to enjoy physical exercise and running. Most importantly I learned how to live without shooting heroin every day to escape from my pain.