Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had, redemption songs
–Bob Marley and the Wailers, Redemption Song
“How about legal stuff? Have you broken any laws?”
“You mean besides all the substance abuse we just talked about a minute ago?”
From my intake interview at the psychologist office, an hour and forty minutes. Objective laundry-list questions: “What year did your mother die? How old is your son?” Open-ended probing questions: “What brings you in today? Tell me about your anxiety attacks.” It wrung me out. I felt violated.
What brought me in? I want to learn to accept my Tourette tics. Tourette Syndrome—I’ve had it forever and it isn’t going away. The tics embarrass me, impact my self-esteem. If I live to be ninety like my dad, I’ll still scrunch up my eyes. I’ll still make grunting noises. Imagine Abe Simpson standing next to me, balancing, but shaky with his walker, asking questions in his high-pitched voice: “Why do you make that sound?” I blush, but my skin is so mottled with age spots Abe can’t tell. The word I repeat in my head all day long: Loser, loser, loser… I’ve got to get past this.
What brought me in? I want to break my obsession with blogging. It’s a great hobby. I get to be creative. I work though my problems as I write. I make friends all over the world. BUT… I stress and obsess. I’m never satisfied with my statistical performance, page views, likes, conversations. I enjoy writing. I enjoy what I write. But I don’t enjoy what comes next. Clicking the refresh button, repeatedly, for days, always disgusted with the result. Blogging is like sticking my finger in a mouse trap, over and over. I always know it’s going to hurt.
This morning I read a blog post my friend Nancy wrote for her company’s website. She works at the social justice nonprofit where I used to manage finances. She wrote about Dave’s Killer Bread. If you haven’t tried it, please do. It’s way better than the competing loaves on the adjoining shelves. Dave, once incarcerated (strike that, many times incarcerated) hires people who have, as my therapist said to me, broken laws. Lots of laws, lots of felonies. They call it ‘second chance employment.’ It’s hard for people with a prior felony to get a job.
In my state, if you want to work at a nonprofit, you need to apply for background checks. Three of them. They cost over fifty dollars. Some companies reimburse employees for these, others don’t. Then your would-be employer gets to read your ‘rap sheet.’ If you broke the law and got caught, the employer will know. And in most cases, you won’t get the job.
Dave’s Killer Bread interviews felons, known felons. They won’t hire you just because you’re a felon, but being a felon doesn’t block your ability to get a job—it’s not a deal-breaker. Besides an appropriate skill set, they look for a life plan and remorse. If they think you’re done with the behaviors that got you arrested, they won’t hold it against you. The world needs more of this—forgiveness, a second chance, an opportunity for redemption.
On Dave’s website, they profile fourteen employees. Each has written a first-person account of their life. These men and women have rap sheets pages-long. All of their stories begin with messed up childhoods, usually growing up around a lot of drug abuse. Their entry into the illegal activities that landed them in jail happened long before they became adults. For a raging liberal like me, it’s hard to hold a child responsible for adult crimes. It’s also hard to withhold empathy from an adult who never learned basic skills as a child. These employees have all worked their way into supervisory positions. And they are all, in the eyes of most other employers, unemployable.
At lunch today, I read some of these stories. Really, it seemed quite similar to reading blog posts on WordPress, except you can’t hit like or leave a comment. But like so many great blog stories, these are all about redemption. I love stories of redemption. With my history of substance abuse, I often feel like I need to be redeemed. As I read these stories, Bob Marley’s Redemption Song pushed its way into my consciousness. These songs of freedom…
My favorite lyric from a Bob Marley song is emancipate yourself from mental slavery.* It’s quite popular. Walk into any head shop or hippie clothing store that also sells bumper stickers and you’ll find this phrase printed on one. I used to have it on the tailgate of my old sticker-covered beater pickup truck. This lyric is from Redemption Song, and it’s been in my head all night.
I’m sure this earworm is a leftover from my lunchtime reading binge, but mental slavery is the perfect description for what I’m trying to correct in therapy. These thoughts, these obsessions control me. They trap me and tie me down. They agitate me and monopolize the voices shouting in my head. If I can’t break away from these omnipresent thoughts, I’ll never be free.
About the therapist: He came highly recommended. He seems organized and directed. He wants me to set an agenda for every meeting. So far, I like his approach. It seems like he has a plan. As an added bonus, he’s only two blocks from my work. I’m certain, more to follow.
* This lyric was not written by Bob Marley. It’s a quote from Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican activist. In the 1920s Garvey organized the black nationalist movement in America. In one year, he gained almost one million followers.
Why can’t I do that?