"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." -Albert Camus
Training the mind to counter FEAR is like taming a wild mustang: falling off or failing at first is as human as breathing. Learning to walk, ride a bike, or fly a plane all involve some degree of failure before the skill sets in. To denounce and stigmatize this failure, to avoid it, only results in complacency and pre-maturity.
For the first 25 years of my life, I was never truly afraid of anything. My mindset was selfish and non-purposeful. My parents provided security; I had anything I wanted at my demand, and was never really moved to consider my purpose in life. Drinking, drugs, partying and womanizing was enough for me. The night I caught my case, I was still living with the belief that I was untouchable. During the better part of the next five years fighting my case out on bond, I cleaned up, obtained my Associates Degree, was accepted into an architecture program at Illinois Institute of Technology and became an apprentice architect at a firm. And then I was rerouted, sentenced to five years in prison. Boom.
Now a three-and-a-half year felon, my eyelids have been peeled back. I've been burned down to rock bottom and felt the coldest conditions imaginable. Through it all, my transformation of mind, body, and spirit has evolved beyond imagination. My purpose is now defined, and entirely divorced from my old selfish ambitions.
Since this chapter began, I've gained an awareness of how constructive I'm capable of being. I'm now helping others to see how we might be remembered for our problem-solving instead of problem-causing. I've found success due to my unwavering belief in training through peer education courses, addressing the psychology that leads to criminal behavior, and encouraging confidence in my community, in their ability to translate their skills and succeed in the world upon their release. Too often, ex-felons aren't given another chance to succeed, but it is my belief that our communities must provide accessible avenues for rehabilitation if we are to have a shot and succeed like we know that we can.
To quote Mother Theresa, "To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it." My goal is to spend my remaining 18 months investing in others who want to succeed, which I hope will lead to less crime and more growth for humanity as a whole.
Brian Ruiz is a former architecture student at Chicago’s IIT and apprentice architect, currently serving 5 years in an Illinois correctional facility. He is a peer educator and facilitator for several programs and plans to be active in public speaking upon his release.