Fear Not – That Mountain Can Be Removed
by Michell Spoden
Is what we think and act on who we really are or just a distorted view of ourselves? What we think is what limits us or brings us to success; it’s like climbing a mountain without proper training and equipment. It is said that as you climb a mountain, there are dangerous snakes at certain points but after a certain altitude they can no longer live. That altitude is known as the life line which is between eleven and fourteen thousand feet. Today you can reach high and come to be inspired by the author Damian Lee, a 37-year-old, business to business Collections Specialist.
Michell: Please share a bit about your book.
Damian: My book The 7 Keys to Strolling through Hell Smiling, Holding a Glass of Ice Water is a work created to help people find inspiration and hope when there seems to be no hope left. I wrote this book to educate the youth and all others about the dangers of making decisions that could lead them to a prison cell. This is a work based on isolated personal experiences of mine during my recently passed 10-year stint inside what is commonly referred to as “The Belly of the Beast” – the Federal prison system. I took isolated experiences, any one of which could have ended up in a catastrophe for me, and showed the lessons I learned from them. These lessons are called “Keys”. And these “Keys” can be used to assist anyone who is facing tough times in their lives. There is something of value in The 7 Keys… for everyone. Something to motivate people to move beyond troubled times and to educate them on how to move through these times and something to show them how to keep smiling through it all. You may call it a powerful work of inspiration, motivation, and education.
Damian: Well, “Stinking Thinking”, the types of regular thought patterns that often lead people to prison or worse, became a part of my life very early, due to the types of people I wanted to be respected by at that time. Such thinking led me to prison at the young age of 17 years. This “Thinking” was only nurtured during about six and a half years in what was the state equivalent prison system for D.C. offenders at that time, the Lorton Prison Complex. I came home “mad at the world,” “Stink in’ think in’” governing my life. And naturally, I wound up back in prison less than three years later. It was at this time, when I found myself faced with yet another, longer, sentence in a maximum security United States Penitentiary that I woke up, so to speak. I took a course created by an ex-felon by the name of Gordan Graham, called “Breaking Barriers and I locked onto the theme: “If the results of my actions aren’t meeting my needs over time, something has got to change.” This theme helped me to realize that I was the one to blame for my recurring incarcerations. These were the results, not of some outer force but results of something I was doing. I learned that what was leading me to the prison rut in my case was the way that I was thinking. I learned that I had been a victim of “Stinking Thinking” for quite some time and I chose to change the thinking which kept leading me back to this personal Hell.
Michell: When you were first in prison, what was it like? Were you approached by leaders in the spiritual realm such as Christians, Muslims Etc.? If so, what were your thoughts about them?
Damian: The first time I was in prison, I was young, angry, impressionable, immature… The list goes on. The place was very predatory, aggressive, corrupt, and filthy. Unfortunately, I allowed such an environment to shape me. I also believe that we draw the types of energy we project to us, and at that time I wasn’t ready to be approached by spiritual leaders. I was projecting the wrong kind of energy. Sure, there were the occasional guys who attempt to convert everyone they met to their particular religious beliefs but I saw and yet I didn’t see them. At that time in my life, years 18-23, I saw them as being afraid and weak.
Michell: When you were in jail did you ever think there was a way out of the hell you were in? What was a typical day for you?
Damian: The second time I was incarcerated, I was twenty-six years old and from almost day one, I’d decided that prison was not going to be the life for me. I knew my way out was my release date. Most of the people who surrounded me had release dates at least thirty years away, or no release dates at all. So, I saw my ten-year release date as my light at the end of the tunnel. I rejected the normal gambling, chillin’ with the ‘home boys’, selling drugs and tobacco, etc., and instead I read books that I could learn positive skills and thought patterns from. I studied with religious groups, participated in self-help programs and events put together by religious and spiritual groups. I associated with spiritual leaders, learning from them. I associated with the inmate teachers of Adult Continuing Education courses. I played chess and stayed away from the ‘dummy box’ (the television set). I fought towards my light at the end of the tunnel, which was my release date.
Michell: How did the Streets doesn’t love you back movement impact your life?
Damian: Well, when people go to prison, many of them have to become accustomed to listening to people not quite telling them the truth about what they may or may not be willing to do for them. Very few people, if any, know how to handle the fact that a loved one might be five hundred or more miles away; usually in need of all sorts of basic things and unable to communicate as regularly and as conveniently as others. So, the timing tends to get off a little or a lot. Incarcerated people and free people can grow apart and sometimes this disconnection leads those incarcerated to become bitter with those on the outside. Well, for this reason, when people on the outside consistently keep their word to an inmate, this can become something of a unique phenomenon to the prisoner. The Streets Don’t Love You Back movement helped me to see that there were people who understood the struggle on the outside, willing to give those on the inside not only a chance but also a voice. Those who chose to move away from the activities which led them to prison, anyway. The Streets Don’t Love You Back stayed in contact with me and responded when I got in touch with them. They gave me positive words of encouragement and I saw through their newsletter that people on the outside who could relate to us on the inside, were doing positive things that were having an impact on communities, on society, and on people behind the walls. Rob Boyd always kept his word to me and sometimes that principle alone can be life changing when it comes to one’s perception of people, the world, one’s self.
Michell: Today if you could describe yourself in a parable, what would it be?
Damian: A boy ran five miles and his parents praised his ability, he passed many tests and his teachers adored him. But the boy was attracted to a darkness which he believed to be light and the darkness took him. Only from within the darkness could the boy see that the light had been shining on him all along and it was this understanding that made him strong. He fought the darkness, knowing now what it was. Yet by the time he’d reached the light again, over standing its beauty and power, he was no longer the energetic, naïve but blessed boy. He’d become a driven, determined, and still blessed man.
Michell: Please share with us who are some of the great inspirations for you today in your life? And why?
Damian: Well, my brother is a great inspiration to me because I remember that he was always intelligent, always on the right track and taking school seriously. He never went astray when it came to falling victim to the street life, he took what came to him such as ridicule, taunting from others and the inability to afford the types of clothing that he wanted but he never stopped. Ultimately, he was granted a full scholarship to one of the most prestigious art colleges in the country, went on to work for Ralph Lauren, and now enjoys the fruits of owning his own business with his wife. He’s got me by about two years. He’s my only brother and he’s a serious inspiration to me today, as I was once one of the ones whom ridiculed him my “Stinking Thinking”. He inspires me because he never stopped and I truly believe that if we don’t stop, we cannot lose. I’ve worked now at three different factories since I was released in June of 2013. I am working toward entrepreneurial financial independence, but I remember what I was doing when I was younger. What inspires me on a regular basis are all the hard working young men and women, working their butts off in these factories to make a living, instead of resorting to the fast life of crime. I see the determination in their eyes, in their actions and I encourage them. Their drive and inspire actions and ethics inspire me.
Michell: Do you consider yourself a humanitarian?
Damian: I was raised from the age of seven years old by my paternal grandparents. They showed me love and made sure I had everything I needed, although not much of what I wanted. They did their best to instill positive principles into me and I commend them for that. I started out caring, trusting, and so on. But the environment I was raised in and the so many things that didn’t seem right to me as a younger individual led me to put effort into not caring but into becoming extremely selfish as many others around me who’d done the same. I had moments of caring actions and of doing things for others spontaneously and even consistently. But that wasn’t what one could expect from me on a regular basis say eleven years ago. But going to prison for a second time, maturing, losing my freedom and my loved ones let me know that it’s not all about me. I know now that I’ll be fine period. But there are many people who need help and motivation and inspiration. Many people who don’t believe in themselves or in positive things to come. I now attempt to lead by example and I enjoy volunteering for the Share Center, which assists in feeding the homeless, job placement for ex-offenders, clothing, AA meetings, etc. If anyone is interested in helping or contributing you can contact them at The Share Center of Lexington 572 Georgetown St. Lexington, KY 40508 and their phone number is 859-270-9402. I enjoy being a part of The Streets Don’t Love You Back Movement. I enjoy saying things to make people smile or to make them feel better. I enjoy doing things to the best of my ability and making people say ‘Wow, if he can do it I can do it.’ It’s not all about me anymore.
Michell: What are your future goals as of now?
Damian: My future goals are to become financially independent to the point of being able to travel regularly and assist troubled youth in reaching their full potential. Also being capable of partnering up with good people and organizations and making substantial impacts on ex-felons. To be able to reach great quantities of people on a regular basis and to change their minds about their possibilities. To touch them through my story and teach them from experience. To watch them grow. To feed people who may not have eaten if the organization I am working with was not in place. To assist people in gaining employment and living their lives in spite of their pasts and to see people light up when they see me coming. Because they’ll know I’m coming to help, to uplift, not to tear down. DON’T STOP!
Michell: On behalf of myself and Recovering the Self, we would like to wish you the very best in your entire endeavors.
About the Interviewer
Michell Spoden is the author of Stricken Yet Crowned and is also pursuing a transitional housing project for woman with an agricultural aspect. She has a degree in Business Science Administration and is finishing her bachelor’s in Project Management.