By: Bishop Toris Young
America. Home of the brave. Land of the free. Society of redemption. These are the principles that, in theory, we idealize and symbolize in our salute to the Statue Of Liberty, Old Glory. We posture to be a national community that "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." We have a tendency to remarry "ex-spouses or forgive "ex"-friends or book reservations on 'Ex"pedia" in the (re)pursuit of life, liberty and happiness...but when it comes to our returning citizen population Opps...I'm sorry I mean "ex"-"offender" (or is it "ex-cons"?).
The actual practices of those ideas are about as imbalanced as a playground see-saw. We say we believe in and support redemption, but only when it benefits our own interests; interests like when we are in desperate need to be forgiven or need to be the recipient of redemption ourselves, and in some cases to advance our personal agenda and platforms.
Relatively recently I was the subject of un-justifiable criticism in a local New Orleans publication filled with fake news. I won't dignify an articulation of the article's content, or the vitriol comments that were made by social media trolls and white supremacy. What I will share with you is that the few words in the lead-in for the story identified me as an "ex-pastor" far from truth and fact "fake news" it is stories of such that resonate with people, and have given rise to what U.S. President Donald Trump has branded our news media, all because a few bad actors who continue to promote their self interest and or political, social, and racial views, driving what is publish, and care less about the content being misleading or filled with false statements.
Granted, it is factually true. In 2005, I like hundreds of thousands of other people affected by the worst national disaster in American history hurricane Katrina and used the same practice that most are all other's. But I stood before a United States court judge and plead guilty to crimes that involved fraud and thief of government funds, keep in mind the same government honored me for my work and my business success (American Spirit Award),for my leadership and help after the storm providing help to millions of people in cities around the country who was displaced by this massive storm. What Satan meant to harm me, God allowed me to Maximize My Destiny Driven Life, However, what often fails to get mentioned in public narratives of the 'ex" is that individuals like myself earned dual degrees, wrote five books, sent two kids to private school, pastor of some 4,000 people since incarceration and continue to lead a thriving congregation and fellowships while incarcerated (If God Be For You Who Can Be Against You)... These things are conspicuously omitted, that rather than capitalizing off the criminal enterprising resources that were richly trying to recruit me. I used my time to facilitate workshops, developed curriculums, drafted best-selling books, prepared other's for future release, mission support for United States Air Force Squadron Officers College "Maxwell Air Force Base", U. S. Forestry,, Buffalo New York Workforce Development Center Trainer, and demonstrated "model behavior" while there. It gets lost in the attempt to draw readers into a salacious story that the Bishop Toris T. Young, Vaclav Havel, "Chef Jeff" Jeff Henderson, Glenn E. Martin, Congressman Chaka Fattah, Congressman William J. Jefferson, Shon Hopwood, Martha Stewart, Rodney White, Gov. Edwin Edwards, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Mayor Joe Ganim's, Mayor Bill Campbell, Brian Banks, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of the world only became fraternal members of change agents because we perpetuated a resolute vision to re-deposit back into the areas of life that we had previously bankrupted. That we have consulted for the White House, been sought-after thought leaders in our respective subject matter areas, won national awards for service, been re(elected or appointed into public office(s), appeared in reputable periodicals, or make regular appearances on national television. All of those accomplishments yield to the marginalized notion of "ex" offenders being untrustworthy, unscrupulous, unsavory, and outright unqualified for "pursuits" we undertake!
The Death/Suicide: PTSD (Prison Traumatic Stress Disorder)
When I found myself re-involved in the criminal justice system as a defendant, the notion that I had 'failed", the concept that I had proven the doubters and haters right and given cynics ammunition to assault the progress in justice reform that I had undertaken left me deflated.
Later that day that I was indicted and charged, I found myself driving aimlessly through the city, ignoring texts and calls from more people who just wanted to be nosey than who had my best interest at heart, I watched how the facebook shares of the article was circulating by "family" and "friends." I read the disheartening comments from people who looked like me, came from the community that I came from, and many who I have helped over the years. I even had a Dear John conversation with (who I thought was) a trusted confidant that dropped me like a hot potato. After purchasing a few bottles of over-the-counter sleep aids, I drove with a cloudy mind and misty eyes to a remote location, drafted goodbye texts to significant others, and collapsed so far under the weight of melancholy and failure, I found myself on the floor of my Escalade's back seat (I climbed in the back; for some reason I wanted to be comfortable when I died).
How did I end up here? I tortured myself in thought, as Notorious B.I.G.'s Suicidal Thoughts exacerbated my feelings. How could you be stupid enough to allow a private transaction/matter to get so out of hand that it is the center of public attention? This matter in the norm would have been a civil issue, however when politic's and hater's and corruption is working against you, justice treat you different than all other's. I began to recall the prison traumatic stressors of years of stand-up counts, strip searches, monitored phone calls, screened mail, jailhouse politics, shake-downs, and other indignities episodes of Orange is the New Black can never accurately depict. Is this what I (re)subjected myself to? It felt like real life Looney Tunes anvil had fallen from 50 stories onto my head to render me lifeless; as if a correctional boogie man was hauntingly this close behind me, eager to drag me back into the nightmare I thought I was awoke from.
On that leaf-littered carpet, I wasn't a father, I wasn't a pastor, I wasn't a bishop, I wasn't a son. I wasn't a brother, I wasn't a friend, I wasn't a spouse, I wasn't a leader, I wasn't a award-winning pastor, award-winning author, international writer, life coach or anything. I was the "convict" 29515034 who (stereo-typically) "conned" people into believing he was changed, only to be right back in a current position where there was no "ex" about it.
In a quit, small voice that became resounding louder in the ensuing weeks and months more sensible than the ideation B.I.G. was reinforcing, I heard God speak to my spirit, you are my servant, your history is not your destiny! "Maximize Your Destiny Driven Life" In other words, a aberration of judgment and the making of a permanent decision in a temporary situation should and would not define the sum total of my life. My story couldn't end the way people appeared to be writing me off. While I had to accept and acknowledge my contributions to what landed me in such a head-scratching space, I also had to accept and acknowledge my contributions to land me in the space to create space for criticism to begin with my ingenuity, passion, faith, and distinct understanding that those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power!
You see, the perspicuous trait about the so-called "ex"-offender is that s/he has the resiliency of a spring in a ballpoint pen. We are cut from a different cloth, not because the more than 70,000,000 of us in the United States of America are "criminals"...but we refuse to allow the trauma from our prison experience(s) to relegate us down to the disorder of an "ex."