Light in my Shadow

Mindful Drawing Can Keep You Out of Prison

This benefit is hard to write because it brings up shame for old me’s actions – but this is not who I am now. My past literally feels like another lifetime to me. My mindful drawing practice is what I fully credit for keeping me out of prison.
If my life had played out differently, I quite likely should have gone to prison, perhaps more than once. I have a criminal record and I’ve been arrested several times.
Every crime I have ever committed, was driven by my addictions.
In around 2006 I got caught receiving government benefits while I was working. I’d been doing it for so long it honestly never occurred to me to stop. I was charged with defrauding the government (for around $15,000) and now – over 10 years later I’m still paying it back. Every cent I ever received from both incomes, was spent on drugs, alcohol and gambling.
I got slapped with a federal conviction, but my mental health record attested to my dysfunctional PTSD from childhood trauma and addiction issues. And this report, combined with positive character references, resulted in me receiving a community based order.

I remember being so grateful I could put this serious incident behind me.

But I was still heavily caught in the grip of addiction and I breached my CBO because I just didn’t have the mental stability to fulfill it. I was living in huge squat at the time with 15 of my friends.

We had no power, no hot water, no showers – our home was a red brick shell of a massive old leather factory. We created art, became active in causes that mattered, partied and got drunk and high.
I honestly don’t know why I didn’t turn up to fulfill my CBO – I did in the beginning, but somewhere along the way I just stopped turning up. I was charged with ‘Breaching a Community Based Order’ and it was serious. For the second time in my life I thought I was going to prison.
Again I collected psychiatrist reports, character references and my Dad wrote the judge a letter detailing the way I’d been raised after my parents divorced. Because of my wacky upbringing and messy mental state, the judge again showed me compassion. I got a big massive fine that I can’t honestly even recall paying off.

For most of my life I stole my food from the supermarket.

I slipped bottles of wine in my handbag whenever I could. I stole makeup, tools, books – it all just went right into my big handbag. And shamefully, I got really good at it.
I used to take out payday loans and never pay them back. I never stole directly from people, but I did from businesses (which does not make it okay). I’ve been arrested trying to take stolen electrical goods to pawn shops more than once.
I had a well-practiced, disgustingly awful skill for finding receipts, then stealing everything expensive that was on the receipt, getting a refund and spending the money straight on my addictions.
I’ve had wacky experiences that involved ever-increasingly elaborate ways to get refunds from supermarkets, and I hated it. It caused me great stress. But I was stuck in a cycle and this was just my life.

I never thought about whether it was right or wrong.

I had no self-awareness back then – I was stuck in survival mode and I’d been doing it since I left home at 14 so I had no other life to compare it to. It was normal to me.

There’s a middle bit here where my life actually started looking good.

These few years were special to me. My addictions were still there, but now I had friends that I considered family. The same guys I’d lived with at the squat, but we were older now, and our community had grown larger.
For a few years here I had a beautiful share house, and I created two big community gardens from scratch. Me – I did this, and I still got so surprised how all my hard work actually got somewhere. Everything I ever dreamed of, was happening.

And then my actions took it all away.

My Dad’s suicide in 2014 triggered a rapid downhill slide for me. My addictions increased because it was the only way I knew how to cope. I don’t have huge recollection of the two years that followed, but what I do know is I spent money from my community gardens that was not mine to spend. I always intended to pay it back and it grew to a point where I never could.
Honestly, I don’t even know how it happened. It felt like one minute I was normal, next I was stuck with my worst nightmare. You can read about it in my post rock bottom.
My mental health gradually declined and I reached a point in November 2016, where I couldn’t go on. I left everything I cared about, handed myself into the police and got arrested. I was interviewed, we went through my bank statements and for the first time I saw how much I’d spent. And I knew it was serious, like prison-serious.

From here I moved into my sisters house.

I sat at rock bottom, horrified at what my life had become. For six months I expected to go to prison. But I’d already decided that prison was preferable to the hell I was already living in my mind and heart.
I did all the things I was supposed to do – I saw psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors – no one could help me with my addictions. I often got so triggered by ‘opening the vault’ I relapsed straight after.

I was diagnosed with PTSD from developmental trauma, Substance Abuse Disorder and Gambling Affected disorder and my inner world, was excruciatingly bleak. I felt dead inside which is a really scary feeling.
Six months later the sergeant called me. They said they very rarely do this but they were dropping my case.
They let me off for several reasons: because I’d handed myself in (which apparently doesn’t often happen) and I was genuinely remorseful. They let me off because my bank statements showed I never spent a cent on anything other than my addictions. And my old workplace didn’t want to prosecute me – they loved me. They still do.
Everyone who’s trust I’d destroyed and let down just wanted me to get well – including the police. Even now, 3 years later, every time I think of the compassion I was shown, I cry with gratitude. I know how lucky I am for this to turn out the way it did.

My life would be completely different now if I had have gone to prison.

I wouldn’t be writing this and you be wouldn’t be reading it. I would still have my decades of trauma and I’d still be an addict because my root causes would still be there. In fact I’m pretty sure I’d be WORSE. I would have continued to do anything I needed to do to support my addiction which means I would have stayed on the path to prison.
Addiction is not fun. It’s bloody sad. It’s a powerful program that self-sabotages us, hurts those who love us and it often destroys lives.
Many people who are caught in the grip of addiction go to prison, and many get stuck in the cycle of re-offending. They never break free.

If you know my story, you'll know I accidentally taught myself mindful drawing.

I drew every day, in a very particular way, on the floor at my sister’s house, and it gradually rewired my brain and I learned put the brakes on my dysfunctional programs for the first time. With consistent practice it activated every one of the 50 benefits I talk about in the benefits section.

Changing my programs created a different future for me - one that keeps me out of prison.

Addiction will never be a threat again, because the root cause is gone. Now I live the high I was looking for my whole life. The program of separation and suffering is gone.
It is more than possible to stop being stuck in the prison system. There is NO SUCH THING as too broken. It is more than possible to upgrade the program that causes people to harm themselves and others, and it is absolutely possible to retrain your brain to function differently.

I am the example that it works.
These days, I am an asset to my community rather than a liability. I’m able to help with my experience rather than be ashamed of it. And what happened to me, is repeatable. All that is required is the person to want to help themselves and to do the work.
These people stuck in the prison system are our brothers and sisters. They are our sons and daughters, our dads, mums and friends. They are suffering human beings who took a wrong turn in life like I did – and they’re at the crossroads of throwing the rest of their life away, or having another chance at life.
Once you get into that cycle of incarceration many get out worse than they went in and the damaging cycle is perpetuated. This is not only an individual problem, it’s a family problem, a societal problem and a global problem.

Repairing the root causes of addiction is what heals our communities.

This is what makes our streets safer and stops people from re-offending. Repairing the root cause is what saves lives.
This is how we create healthy, whole humans instead of locking away damaged people in pain because we don’t know what else to do with them.

Every one of these people are FULL OF POTENTIAL.
In the next few years – when the time is right – my vision includes taking my mindful drawing program to the prison system. I know many incarcerated women and men cry into their pillows at night because they have lost everything. I know how it feels to KNOW YOU CREATED IT YOURSELF.
There are many people in prison who genuinely want to learn to use the tools to help themselves. They’ve got the time. Many of them have the will. It’s very important to me because these people are my people. They are all of our people. Healing ourselves is how we make something positive come from an awful situation.
Healing ourselves is how we heal our world.
out of prison