She would wake up early in the morning on the weekend, pack some snacks for the road, get in her car and drive. Sometimes she’d drive two hours, sometimes four hours, and sometimes twelve hours. She’d arrive at the Youth Authority, and later the State Prison, and wait another forty-five minutes in line with other people waiting to see their imprisoned loved ones. She did this most weekends for twenty-five years. She is my mom.
We were allowed to visit in a small room for about two hours, and then she would make the long (sometimes brutally long) drive home. She never complained. I was her oldest child and from the day I ran away from home at age nine, her heart was broken. To see me in Juvenile Hall at age eleven and moved to the Youth Authority at age thirteen where I would stay for the next eight years, tore my mother up. But that didn’t stop her from visiting religiously and showing her love and support.
I took these visits for granted. I always knew she would come and I expected it. When people are caught up in their addiction and self-centered behavior, like I was at the time, they don’t consider the efforts and needs of other people. Occasionally my mom would bring my brother or sister and it was nice to see them, but I didn’t ever consider the fact that they were forfeiting their weekend day to come support me, I felt entitled to this as an acknowledgment of my horrible situation.
Looking back, I think of all the people who were locked up and who never had visitors. Nobody ever came to support them or show them they were loved and cared for. In truth, however, even the people who did have regular visitors, like myself, still had an attitude of, “You don’t know what I’ve been through. You have no idea what it’s like in here. You have your freedom and you don’t understand.” That selfishness runs rampant within the walls of a prison.
I was killing my mother with my selfish behavior and criminal activity. But she never gave up on me. Her visits were out of love and she would travel whatever distance she had to, just to come and see me. I can appreciate that now. I can appreciate that because now I’m clean and sober, I’m caring and considerate, and I’m appreciative. She is better now because I am better now.
After twenty-five years behind bars, I finally grew up. Once I surrendered to the process of getting sober, I got responsible. I stopped committing crimes and stopped going back to prison. And I finally stopped expecting a pat on the back every time I did something that every adult should do. Addicts, alcoholics, and convicts feel entitled to “rewards” for getting a job, a driver’s license, a place to live. If we ran out of a burning building we’d want a parade in our honor! But these are realistic responsibilities of any grown adult living their life. In recovery we learn how to accomplish these things and feel a positive sense of self-esteem as a result—on the inside.
There are a lot of people who support us addicts, alcoholics, and convicts. That support goes largely unappreciated. These people, sometimes family members or loved-ones and sometimes people who have been through it before, never give up hope. Until we make a decision to get clean and sober, we can’t see the hope they see, and we can’t feel the love they feel because we don’t feel it for ourselves. I will be forever grateful to my mother for all she’s done for me. I would never have felt that way when I was still using, drinking, and active in criminal behavior.
In recovery, I’ve gained a second family. This fellowship has provided me with a family that is also supportive and caring. My brothers and sisters in recovery have walked along the same path; while not always the exact path, we have walked on common ground and can relate to each other.
So, to my mom, dad, brother, sister, and my new family in the recovery community, I love you so much and thank you so much for never giving up on me. Even in my newfound sobriety, I’m no saint. Thank you for my life today.
Dan Sanfellipo received his education in the California State Penal system. He is an international competitor in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and has dedicated his life to helping people find freedom from poverty, restriction, stigma, addiction, despair, and prison. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen VanDenBerg worked in the corporate world for 31 years. She is the founder and publisher of Recovery Illustrated magazine, and brings together the writings of people in recovery who share messages of hope, inspiration, information, and encouragement to benefit our community.