BACK FROM THE GRAVE Reflections on my life and the search for peace.
Each of our lives is different in many ways while at the same time similar in that we all experience joy, sorrow, and pain. Although many of our individual experiences seem unique "there is nothing new under the sun," as King Solomon would say. So in one way or another we are all searching to find our place in a world that often seems confusing. There is that need to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of joy and peace. It's something we all long for yet often find that we end up falling into the pitfalls of life, and then wonder what went wrong. Why does life have to be this way many ask? Is it our fault, or is it otherâ€™s? What could have been done differently? Could it be that we have put our faith and trust in areas where we shouldn't? Could it be that humans are prone to sin therefore an imperfect world? Why does it have to be like this? We seem to always be searching for life's answers, but often we are grasping at straws, constantly looking in the wrong place, and never being quite satisfied. There have been a lot of questions I have had that have been unanswered for most of my life. Nothing seemed to make sense until God touched my heart and made me realize that only in Him, my Creator, would I find the answers to my questions. So this story is about my search to fill a seemingly unfillable void in my life. To understand who I am and where I came from you first must learn a lot of my past as well as see my thought process. So this is not just a story of my life, but also a reflection on how I feel, think, and see things now compared to when I was younger. There is still much I have to learn, but as I learn to submit to my Creator, through His Son, Jesus Christ, I am slowly beginning to learn the answers to some of my questions, and to understand what has transpired in my life. It's been a life where innocence was lost at a very early age, and where a long search had begun, a search for acceptance, belonging, a search for love and identity yet a search that caused much pain in life for it had no boundaries. But, I can praise God, for without Him I would still be lost and searching for those answers that can only be found through God who created everything. It is my hope that someone who reads this story will maybe see a part of himself or herself in all this and that they too will reach out to the only person who can help them, our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is only through Him can we find reconciliation to God and gain a peace that the secular world can never understand. Don't let others tell you otherwise - there is evidence out there that supports the truth if you only will look. May God through the power of His Holy Spirit touch your heart, and bring you to Him so that you too may see Christianity is not just a religion, but also an actual relationship with our Creator, Jesus Christ.
THE EARLY YEARS
Tep Wright CHAPTER 1
I was born on Feb. 11, 1953, the result of a mistake my mother made while she was a new bride lonely for her husband who was stationed in Germany while in the Air Force â€” the-one-night-stand, I assume. Upon returning home the man she was married to was presented with a pregnant wife, which I'm sure cause a rift in their relationship, but out of the goodness of his heart and for the sake of the baby, he decided to remain married to his unfaithful wife. Back in the early 50's divorce wasn't as common as it is today and everything was swept under the rug. Thus how I came into this world, the mistake, and the child no one wanted. This was something I didn't find out until years later. There is no memory of my parents together. They had two more children, Laurie and Penny, but it wasn't long afterwards that they got divorced. I believe I was around six or seven years old when my parents separated. From what I could gather in later years, my birth had a lot to due with the divorce. I was the reminder of the unfaithful wife, and my parents just couldn't seem to work through this. Evidently there just wasn't any forgiveness over this indiscretion and they ended up going their separate ways. My Dad (not my biological father) left to live with another woman who later became my stepmother, Judy. My mother eventually met and married another man, but he (George) and I just didn't seem to hit it off. We were cordial to each other, but just couldn't develop any bond. It wasn't long before George and my mother were having problems in their marriage. They were always fighting and arguing about something or another. So there wasn't a lot of peace and love in my house. It seemed like I was the center of a lot of fights, while my sisters always seemed to get all the attention. I knew something had to be wrong with me, but I knew not what. I just wanted to be loved, and to feel like part of the family. It was a childhood dream that was beyond my grasp. Living with all this turmoil, I ended up getting beat a lot. My mother had this huge wooden spoon, and her favorite punishment was to strip me naked, and beat me with that spoon causing large welts to swell up on my body. Everyone made me feel like I wasn't any good, so I probably deserved it. Back in those years there wasn't a lot said about child abuse, so I felt like I was on my own. I would even be forced to help her when she wanted to get back at my stepfather for something or another. One time, I had to help her pick up George's favorite console T.V. so we could throw it down the cement steps of our house. I was around 10 or 11 then. Years later, my Dad told me my mother used to hold my hands over a hot stove to teach me not to play with the stove, but that experience is still blocked from my memory, as much of my childhood is. I do remember running away from home a lot. One time my mother even helped me to pack my bags and gave me $10.00 traveling money. We were living in Indiana at that time where the winters get very cold, and after nearly freezing my little fanny off; I went back home begging to be let back in. My mother was so fed up with me one time that she even had me committed to a mental institution. She felt I was crazy and wanted to have me evaluated. The doctors put me on some kind of medication which was supposed to help control my bad behavior, but life never did seem to get better, medication or not. I was just a miserable kid seeking love and attention, and not finding it anywhere. Nothing seemed to go right for me. I sought love and acceptance at home, but never could feel like I belonged. So I ended up being accepted by some of the local kids. Their favorite pass time was "joy riding," so I became a car thief, and was in and out of detention homes before I turned 13. Some of the local cops would even
4 try to frighten me by having me thrown in jail with adults, and then have those guys try to scare me in hopes of teaching me a lesson, but this just instilled more mistrust toward authorities. I learned quickly that the authorities couldn't be trusted either. No matter who I turned to it seemed like no one cared. If it wasn't a beating I was getting, I was being put down in one way or another. I knew the authorities couldn't be trusted. The only thing "the system" wanted to do was lock me up somewhere in hopes of controlling me, never seeming to care about what I wanted, or had to say, just control and conquer. I was a lost kid screaming out for love and getting constant rejection everywhere I seemed to turn. After awhile you eventually learn that others can't be trusted, and once that attitude sets in it's almost impossible for anyone to break through that barrier. The emotional walls that are built around you don't come tumbling down very easily. I don't recall ever going to church much as a kid. There was a brief time spent in a private Lutheran School, but after skipping school and stealing the teacher's car my stay in the private school didn't last long. So Church wasn't something I was familiar with. My family just wasn't into going to church, and even though I had probably heard about God, He just was never real to me. My mom finally had enough of me. The last time I ended up in detention home she told them she no longer wanted me. So, the court gave my Dad custody of me. He had remarried by then, and so, I went to live with him, my stepmother, and her children. So at 13 my new family took me in — a kid who was an emotional wreck, lost in a world he couldn't understand, and who knew the only one he could depend on was himself. My Dad and Stepmother were good people. He worked as an Air Traffic Controller, and was a good provider. My stepmother was the housewife who made extra money selling Teflon dishes and cosmetics to other ladies she knew. Sadly for them, they had their hands full in trying to manage me. I ended up terrorizing my stepsisters and stepbrother, didn't care about school, wouldn't trust anyone, and ended up running away from them too. I had gotten into trouble with the law again, was sent to reform school at the age of 14 or 15, and that is when, upon the advice of the Judge, my Dad ended up telling me the truth about my birth. In retrospect, everything seemed to fall in place. I now knew why I never felt like I belonged. My Dad tried his best, as did my stepmother, but they were too busy with their own kids to really concentrate on me, so after a few more years of living with them I decided to drop out of high school and join the Army. I needed to get away, and by doing so maybe my search for the meaning of life would finally start unfolding for me. It's not like I was accomplishing any thing at home. Due to my Dad’s job we moved around a lot from California, Michigan, and Oklahoma and back to California so I was always the new kid in school, never having the time to establish a lot of close friends. In later years I envied those who had developed those close childhood friendships that remained a part of their lives for years, something I never had. I had no roots, no idea who I was, so maybe the Army could help, or so I thought.
IN THE ARMY NOW
Tep Wright CHAPTER 2
My parents had no big objections to me joining the Army. They did try to convince me to finish school. My Dad even told me that he'd buy me a used car if I'd complete my education, but I turned the offer down for I was too unhappy at home, and wanted to get away. So at 17 I quit school in the 10th grade, and joined the Army with the agreement that I wouldn't actually start until I turned 18. The Army wasn't bad. There were a lot of people always yelling at me, which I was used to, and we had to do a lot of exercises, which I wasn't used to, but I soon adapted. Heck, after awhile I even started to feel proud for the first time in my life. I was a fair shot with a gun, started to take pride in the uniform and what it stood for, and was as happy, as I had ever been. I signed up for petroleum school to learn a trade - figured I'd always have a job if I could learn a lot about fuel, but after school I got my orders for Vietnam, and off I went towards another adventure in life. I was scared, but was learning to not let my fears get the best of me. I'd manage, for I was a survivor. So, at 18 I was sent to Vietnam. Vietnam, sadly, was probably the best experience I have ever had in my life, or so I thought at that time. Upon my entry I soon found out that there were no openings for what I had been trained for and found myself having to perform various other duties. My duties varied from working in the motor pool, (had no experience with cars except for stealing them) to setting up mines around the perimeter line, and finally to being a door-gunner on a helicopter. Vietnam was a power trip for you could get away with almost anything. Life was cheap, and one soon learned to not be appalled by violence. Drugs were everywhere, as well as cheap women. There were passes to the village so you could go to the bars, massage parlors, and even opium dens. You never knew what to expect in the village, so it wasn't surprising, when walking down some street, if some kid younger than yourself didnâ€™t try to sell you his sister, who was just a few steps behind him. In Vietnam you could get anything you wanted, and it gave me a sense of power. This was where I belonged, and wanted to stay. The criminal behavior had, long ago, started to develop within me so it wasn't long before I found a way to sneak in & off base in order to live in the village. I had met several different Vietnamese women in the bars, and if you were willing to provide the money for a house and food they would treat you like a king. Many Vietnamese women would try to make the G.I. fall in love with them in hopes of being able to return to the States with them. It was all a game and most of us knew that. So, I ended up living in the village with different women, doing drugs, and just enjoying this new adventure. I had plenty of money since everything was cheap, and was having the time of my life. All I had to do was be back on base during role call, and do whatever duty that was required of me which mainly just required flying around in a helicopter, getting shot at once in a while, and shooting back at targets I couldn't see. I ended up shooting at a lot of bushes and rocks, but it still gave me that sense of power over life and death. I was young, had money in my pocket, different women, and drugs to escape the realties of my miserable life which, at that time, you couldn't have told me I was miserable, for I was having the time of my life. Surrounded by misery and death I became calloused, yet proud. I was the survivor who cared for no one. All I cared about was myself, and the excitement I could get out of life. I was slowly sinking into the pits of hell and not even realizing what was happening to me. I was young, wild and searching for some sort of happiness, yet that void just couldn't seem to be filled. No matter what I did
6 Â Â there always seemed to be something missing, but I knew not what. I lived a wild life in Vietnam, a wild kid who was having a good time, and wearing a mask to hide the fear and loneliness. Upon my return to the States in 1972, I soon found out that no one cared about the Vietnam Vets. I was even considered a troublemaker since I had earlier gotten caught living in the village. I never was the hero type in â€˜Nam, just did whatever I was told, lived in the village illegally and tried to have a good time. Anyway, I had enough of the Army and society, and decided to go AWOL Running away was easy for me for it was something I had learned early in life. So I ended up on the run for about a year. Moving from city to city, I had to learn to survive on the streets, the "fast lane." No more stealing cars for me, I was graduating to breaking into houses, con scams, credit cards, to even armed robbery. With the exception of sexual crimes there weren't many that I hadn't committed. I was the master liar, the master manipulator. I learned it all, and boy, was Satan happy. All I cared about was me - the quick buck, the good time, and trying to ignore the void that was in my life. This was my element; this was where I felt accepted. I eventually got tired of being on the run. Got tired of living under false names and not being able to get serious with any of the women I met. So, I decided to turn myself in. I spent 90 days in the Stockade before being discharged. This was in 1973, and it was also the first few times I can remember talking about God. A friend and I had gotten hold of some L.S.D., and while we were hallucinating we got into a conversation about God. We probably didn't make any sense to anyone else, but I do remember our conclusion; God was this Supreme Being that no one really knew, so we called Him "TRUTH," and told ourselves that one day maybe we would find the truth about this unknown being, and until then it just wasn't something to be concerned about. Everyone had his or her own ideas, but no one could prove anything. All the other opinions where just concepts people had. I was discharged in December of 1973, and off to another adventure, but one that would cause me to sink even lower into the pit of hell.
CHAPTER 3 By March of 1974 I was in prison for a crime I had committed while on the run, thus my first time in an adult prison. I had a 2-year sentence for several bad checks I had written while on the run. While in prison I was still very rebellious, and due to some escapes and an assault on a guard I ended up getting my sentence converted from a misdemeanor to a felony. I was out of prison in 1976, and it was shortly afterwards that I met my first wife, Sharon. She was 19,1 was a wild 23. Sharon was the first woman that I ever learned to love so after just a couple of months of living together we decided to get married, but the wild rebellious side of me was still rampant, and unbeknownst to me, this relationship was soon to come to an end. Sharon had tried to get me to go to church with her, but after going one time while high on pot, she never asked again. I didn't need the Christian lifestyle, nor did I need a God who had never done anything for me. All I needed were my own wits, for that is how I had learned to get by in life. I had survived on my own since I was a kid, and knew that ultimately the only person I could depend on was me, for life had already taught me that hard lesson. I worked a couple of odd jobs, but working wasn't for me. I wasn't satisfied with what I could earn, and wanted to get ahead a lot quicker than some ole dumb job would allow me, but even more than that, I just loved the excitement of living outside the law. Years later I read a quote that described something very profound to me: "Life with no adventure is bound to be dull, but a life where adventure holds no boundaries is sure to be short," and that was a lesson which would take me many years to learn. Anyway, on the surface I seemed like a nice guy. I was raised to be polite, but there was still a wildness to me no one could cure. I longed for adventure and excitement. As long as I did what I wanted to, I was in control. I had survived a rough childhood by burying the past in a distant memory, survived Vietnam and even a couple of years in prison so I was smarter now. I was free, my own man, and didn't care for anyone except myself. I had gotten more involved with drugs and luckily for me I had never become addicted to alcohol or hard drugs. My drug use was more just an experience to find myself, or maybe even to lose myself, but in either case I had to fill a void that was in my life and nothing I seemed to do accomplished it. So I learned to ignore those longings in my life and just decided to enjoy life the best way I could by doing whatever I wanted. I'd manage somehow - I always had before. Even in my illusional state of freedom I was still living in my own prison, but just couldn't see it at that time. I was too busy having fun and enjoying life, never concerned about tomorrow or the harm I was causing others, as well as the harm to myself. Many people don't realize the prison that they are stuck in themselves. They are caught up in their own pride, and even their own goodness, as well as different addictions. This sort of reminds me of the biblical story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. One guy thought he had it together. This guy was thankful to God that he wasn't like the tax collector, and he wanted God to know, compared to the tax collector, just how good he was. Whereas, the tax collector knew that compared to the perfection of God he wasn't even close to meeting God's perfect standard. He couldn't even look up at God. All he could do was ask for mercy. Don't many of us, at times, think we are better than the next person? We tend to look down at those who have less then we do, who are not as smart as we are, or who are fat and not as attractive as we are. Regardless of reasons, we are caught up in our own pride, and in a prison that takes away from our freedom to be able to
8 Â Â love our fellow man unconditionally as God intended us to do. It's always easier to look at the faults of the next man than it is at our own. We think we are free when in reality we are not. Yes, I was confused about a lot of things in life, and was caught up in the criminal lifestyle, but like all people without God in their life, I was still caught up in the bondage of sin. Maybe a different type of bondage than others, but bondage just the same. I eventually got caught up in an armed robbery that turned bad, and ended up killing a man. Once again I ran, for running away was all I knew. So, off to California I went with plans to make it to Canada to start a new life. Those plans naturally failed for I got caught, and was extradited back to North Carolina to faces charges of 2nd degree murder & armed robbery. Isn't it sad how many of us want to run away from our problems, from ourselves, only to find that those problems always catch up with us? We can't run from our responsibilities, and especially from our God. The Creator sees everything even when we don't see Him, yet we still run. Running away had become a pattern in my life. If I wasn't running away from home, it was from the law, and most of the time I now know I was running away from myself, and from my Creator. It's easy to run from problems, but running away never solves anything for when we run we eventually always run right back to the very thing we were running away from. I know now that it is best to face problems head on instead of running away from them, but that is a lesson, which took many years to learn, and even now I am still sometimes tempted to run from things I don't want to face. Facing problems or personality traits that are harmful is never easy. God can help us if we seek His help, but we must first be honest with ourselves, realizing that we are sinners, and in desperate need of God's forgiveness. Until we can face who we are (sinners in the sight of God), and seek His help we will continually be running from our problems, and always headed in the wrong direction. So as for me, I'd prefer to picture myself as the tax collector instead of the Pharisee who was self-righteous, and relying on himself instead of relying on his Creator. After all, the One who created everything is the One who has all the answers, not the imperfect system we all seem to count on.
A RUINED LIFE
Tep Wright CHAPTER 4
I was arrested in January of 1977, and later received a 60-year sentence. This was to be the last year I was to walk free for many more years to come. Not wanting to see Sharon waste her life waiting for me, she and I agreed to get a divorce. My life was now over, so nothing else really mattered, or at least that was the attitude I had then. I was full of hate for myself, my family who had disowned me, and for Society in general. Once again, I knew I could depend on no on except myself, and since I considered myself to be strong mentally I knew I would survive. I used to tell people that when you lose it all, no friends, no loved ones, no family, you have no one but yourself to depend on. The strength to survive is inside each of us. All you have to do is reach deep down inside yourself, and tap into it. You either do it or die. How wrong I was! I was 24 and scared when I went to Central Prison. When driving up to the prison it seemed like a dark cloud of doom was hanging over the place, and it reminded me of a dungeon. I had heard all the stories about "The Walls," and knew I had to be strong. I told myself that the first person who crossed me I would make an example of to let others know not to mess with me. In prison, especially when I first came in years ago, the strong survive and the weak perish. Compassion and mercy are seen as signs of weakness, and you soon learn to hide those traits out of fear of being seen as weak. From many experiences of my past I knew the authorities couldn't be trusted, and in prison you soon learn the importance of being true to your own kind, or else be labeled as a "snitch." Being considered the "convict" was one's goal and identity. Back in those years there was a distinction between the term, "inmate" and "convict." The inmate was considered weak whereas the convict was considered the stronger, more reliable guy. You didn't break the code of ethics that you learned on the streets for those same ethics were about the same in prison; mind your own business, don't snitch, don't tell the police anything, and always stand your ground. We called it the "Convict Code." It didn't matter if you robbed another inmate or whatever else. As long as you didn't involve "The Man" it was okay. People on the outside really have no idea what prison is like. Prison is not a place of rehabilitation, a place where you can easily change for the better. Prison is a school for criminals where you learn to become more calloused, and where the attitude of "us against them" becomes all too prevailing. If you want to survive, you had better learn quickly, or else you'll break. The predators who prey on the weak will single you out, and they will break you by any means necessary. So regardless of the violence you are surrounded by you quickly learn to swallow the fear, or else get run over by the stronger inmates - those who no longer care, the ones who have seemingly lost their sense of compassion and mercy. Your life becomes a "dog-eat-dog world," and you soon learn that lesson. It's a lesson that causes more emotional walls to become built around you, walls that become even harder to break down. Within less than 60 days of my incarceration I was involved in my first assault on another inmate with a homemade knife, the first time in my life where I had used a knife on another human being. The reason for the assault was another inmate tried to rip me off for some money, and I felt I had to prove something in order for others to know that I wasn't a weakling. I couldn't let the fear control me because this was my home, and I sought acceptance, maybe even death. I really didn't care either way for my life was over, and nothing else really mattered. All that mattered to me was survival by any means necessary. Between the years of 1977 -1982 1 had
10 Â Â gotten involved in three assaults with a homemade knife, and in one case I was sent back to court to receive another eight years. With the exception of maybe four months, I had spent all those years on solitary confinement, and my last stop was in a place called "I & J," the worst lock up unit Central Prison had to offer for those who were considered uncontrollable.
I & J was the place where the officials hoped to break those they
considered violent. I had already been to a couple of different lock up units, but I & J was something beyond my previous experiences. I am almost 6'2 in height, and could reach up and put the palm of my hand on the ceiling. I could stretch out from head to toe and touch both walls in judging the width of the cell, and could barely get my hand outside the bars of my cell. We'd get 45 minutes a day outside for recreation, and two showers a week. In the summer the heat got so bad you'd lay in bed at night and sweat, and during the winter you'd have to sleep with your clothes on just to keep warm. During the day one would many times have to stay bundled up in a blanket to stay warm. There was a T.V. outside the bars attached to the wall that we could watch during certain hours, but that diversion didn't always help the feelings of confinement and tension. You would often hear guys scream out (including myself) just to relieve the tension that would often build up from being confined in such a small cell. Some guys would even cut themselves with razor blades just so they could get outside of the cell to be escorted, handcuffed, to the hospital to receive some stitches. I know many guys whose arms are scarred from elbow to wrist from self-mutilation. We were all experts on hate, of voids not filled, and wearing a mask to hide the pain. Don't we all, whether in prison or not, often wear masks of one kind or another throughout our life to hide who we really are? We want to be liked and accepted so we act in response to how others feel we should be. We often don't want to admit our own shortcomings for in doing so we have to admit that we are not much different from others. We hide from ourselves because in many ways we are afraid to see who we really are, which is a reality that we don't want to face. We have this image of who we think we should be, and then try hard to project that image to others. Some hide behind anger, and some behind the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams, but we all, at one time or another in our lives, try to find out who we are, and our purpose in this world: a search for identity. We are wrapped up too much in self and our own image, thinking we have the answers, and not willing to take our own mask off. We all wear them at times. Life is the ultimate challenge to feel good about who we are, and what we do. The main difference between many others and me is that I sank lower then most. I embraced my anger, my pain, and was searching for something that seemed beyond my grasp, without realizing it I listened to the evil around me, and embraced it, for it was all I knew. Love had never been a big part of my world, and in many ways I was still that little boy looking for love while wearing a mask to hide the pain and loneliness. I & J was an awful but enlightening experience. Sometimes it's good to have a lot of time to yourself for it gives you a chance to look inside yourself - that is if you are willing to face what you see. As I said earlier, we were allowed to watch T.V. during certain hours, and what especially struck me as odd was that many a hardened man, the worst that hit the prison system, could sometimes be heard crying during a sad movie. We would make jokes about it, and often lie if someone said they heard you crying. Most of us didn't want to admit those emotions. Why the tears? Was it the pain of lost innocence we were reminded of? Society had deemed many of us as subhuman, the scum of the world who had no feelings or compassion for others, so could it have been that we were still portraying human traits when not having to hide behind the mask of the hardened convict? Was there still hope for us? Many of us didn't want to admit our own weaknesses, nor our faults, for in
11 Â Â doing so you'd have to lay the blame on your own shoulders. The problem in criminal thinking is that blame is often laid on others instead of facing the problems within, but don't many in Society do that, even those who are not considered criminals? Those of us on I & J were considered the "hardened convicts" who lived by violence, and we would kill to protect that image. It was all we had in a world gone mad. It was what protected us, but even though there were many people who wouldn't agree, there was still that longing for something better in many of us. We just didn't know how to change, or who to turn to. It's not easy to change in a world where kindness, compassion, and fair play are considered weakness, and where trusting others is not something easily done. I spent almost two and a half years on I & J and during that time I told myself that there had to be another way. The Warden told me that if I used a knife on another inmate again that I could look for a longer stretch next time, so I knew I had to change if I wanted to survive. I couldn't do all my time on lock up. I had known several guys who had spent over 10 years in this environment, and could see how it affected their minds, and I couldn't let that happen to me. So, I decided to tone down on the violence, and only go to "extreme measures" if I had no other choice. I no longer had to prove any thing. I had built up a reputation for using a knife, a reputation I would regret many times over the years, but also one that had saved me a lot of grief when confronted with problem inmates. Vietnam and prison had taught me that life was cheap so it was really no big deal if I had to hurt another human being, I just didn't want to spend the rest of my time on lock up.
BEING SMARTER NOW
Tep Wright CHAPTER 5
When I got off I & J in 1982, and went back into the general prison population, I had decided to tone down on the violence. I was still focused on surviving by any means I could, so my next obsession was to make money, and just have a good time. I starting operating poker games, selling drugs I had gotten from other inmates who had gotten them from guards wanting to make some "easy money," and just did whatever I could to make a "fast buck." Most inmates have to work or go to school in prison so I went to work in the print shop, but after a short time I later got a job in the hospital. Years ago the inmates used to do a lot of the work in the hospital such as xrays, working in the lab, helping the doctor during operations, ward attendants, and clerks, and janitorial work. I had started as a janitor, then ward attendant, clerk, and later in the lab doing urinalysis, drawing blood from inmates, and a variety of other things involving basic lab work. But, although I was learning different skills, and working a lot, my main focus was just making money, getting high, minding my own business, and surviving in a world gone mad. A world where you better be careful about trusting anyone. A world I was already familiar with. During my years at Central Prison, I had seen or had known inmates who were stabbed, killed, raped, and robbed. You had to be strong to survive for there were many who looked for weakness in others. You learned to either carry a knife, or at least have one close by for you never knew what would happen next. You could mind your business, but that in of itself wasn't a guarantee to avoid trouble for there where those who looked for trouble. Many guys just lost hope, and some just ended up on mental health, no longer able to function without mind-controlling drugs that the prison gave out like candy. I had a 60-year sentence, and was considered by many a "short-timer," which is someone with a small sentence. When you give a man several hundred years, or a couple life sentences he usually feels like he has no future left, and quits caring. The hatred and bitterness starts to fester inside, and regardless whether it stems from an unjust sentence or anger at oneself for committing a crime those emotions still grow. Sometimes, with no outlet, those emotions explode. So to have any type of life one has to make the best of the life he has in prison, and that involves money and respect. I wonder how many people on the outside world are focused on material things and gaining respect by any means they can? They are just getting ahead in a materialistic world where most things can be justified as long as it isn't some sort of hideous crime. Cutting corners, even if it is a little dishonest, is okay. The prison system doesn't pay an inmate much for working. The pay scale ranges from 40 cents to $1.00 a day, that isnâ€™t enough to buy the necessities a person needs. Unless an inmate has support from family and friends he either has to learn to do without a lot of things, or learn to hustle. The only other choice is to sell sexual favors for money, and to most that is unacceptable. So money becomes survival and power. Isn't that also like the outside world to some degree, too? As many do, I focused on making money and having a good time. I didn't have any family who would help. I had met a woman, Anice, who I later married. She tried to help some, but was only able to do so much. Besides, I had become obsessed with money, with survival, and no matter what I had it was never enough. From Central Prison to other prison camps, hustling was all I wanted to do; it was all I knew. I was my own man and was trying to enjoy what life I did have the only way I knew how, gambling, getting high, and sulking in my own misery. I had met different prison chaplains during this time, but they
13 Â Â couldn't reach me. I may have been respectful, but I often told them that this Christianity thing wasn't for me. Christians in prison were weak, I told myself. Many times inmates used the church to meet others on the outside to gain some contacts in hopes of getting other people involved in helping them to make parole. A lot of us called this, "Jumping on the bandwagon." It was a scam to many guys, and I could see that clearly. I was the conartist/manipulator myself. As the saying goes, "it's hard to con a con." Other guys who were going to church were just considered weak, as the church was a crutch to hide behind for those who were afraid to stand on their own in a harsh world. So I wasn't impressed with the church, and just wouldn't listen, really listen, to others about God. I didn't need their God for He was not real to me. Besides, I would survive as I always had, and would change if and when I wanted to. The first time I attended church was shortly after my wife, Anice, left me. We had been together for 10 years, and I had learned to trust her more than most, which is something I told myself I would never do again. I had become emotionally dependant on her, so when she left my whole world fell in. I wanted to go back to the violent attitude, but told myself I wouldn't do that again. I wouldn't let anyone destroy me, and would make it out of prison even if I had no one, but I was still lonely. I had gotten used to having someone in my life again, and that is when another inmate talked me into going to church with him. I met some prison volunteers who seemed like nice people, so I figured I had nothing to lose by getting involved with them. Maybe their friendship would help me to fill that void still inside of me. I wonder how many people go to church for the wrong reasons? Going to church is a good way to meet people, and one thing for sure most people who go to church don't end up in trouble with the law, so I figured I had nothing to lose by attending Church. As always, I had it all figured out again. It wasn't long before I seemed to fit in with everyone else. I had my doubts of course, but had repeated the words the preacher told me to repeat in order to be saved and know God. Couldn't really tell any difference, but everyone told me to just have faith and believe. I tried to do just that, but would always ask, "How does one get this faith, and know what you believe in is really true?" Just believe, is what I was always told, but I never did get over my doubts. Christianity was still just a concept, and one I'd check out in hopes that this religion would fill the void inside, but it wasn't long before I found Christians to be the most judgmental people I had ever met. Christianity just seemed like a bunch of rules you had to obey to get to Heaven, and I soon found out that I couldn't meet those standards. So, after getting fed up with a lot of judgmental attitudes and the frustrations of not seeming good enough, I just gave up, and quit going to Church. My attitude did change to some degree. Those who went to Church were well-meaning people who needed a crutch to make it through life, but it just wasn't for me. I didn't seem to get anything out of it. I was expecting too much, thinking if all this were true that God would change me right then. So when I didn't get what I wanted, giving up on God was easy. Beside, some of the people in Church scared me. People would pray over me and try to rebuke the Devil. They'd try to make me speak, in what they called, "tongues," and when I didn't do that I was given the impression that the Holy Spirit wasn't in me. None of it made sense, and since I couldn't seem to feel like they did, I figured Christianity wasn't for me.
Tep Wright CHAPTER 6
After giving up on the Church, and being transferred to Craggy Prison, I ended up going to a computer class. I had never been around a computer before so maybe this might be interesting. School wasn't exactly something I was very good at but it beat going to work. Unexpectedly, I found myself interested in computers, and after graduating was hired as a teacher's assistant. I took several college courses in computers to gain a little more knowledge, and before I knew it had reached a point where I could actually teach the subject myself. I liked helping other inmates, working with different teachers and helping the prison staff on projects they would give me. I was starting to feel good about myself, but was still engaged in a lot of illegal activities such as hustling, and getting high on pot. During this time, I met several teachers, and had established a good bond with them, but I was lonely for outside contact, and still had a big void inside. I wasn't wanting to get romantically involved with any more women while in prison, but met a fantastic and down-to-earth woman I was to later marry, my now 3rd wife, Bonnie. Bonnie and I fast became friends. Through her I had met some other people on the outside, and soon found my circle of friends widening, which is something I never had with Anice. I knew Bonnie was a Christian, but she couldn't really talk about her faith with me because I just wasn't interested. I did start to go back to church again, but mainly just to meet other people. In prison one tends to get tired of looking at the same faces day after day, year after year, and going to church was one way to change that fact. With the exception of still being in prison, everything seemed to be going okay for me. I was married, had a good home to get out to, establishing friendships on the outside world, and had a lot of respect from my peers. I was the "oldtimer" in prison who was showing others that regardless of how long one had been incarcerated it is never too late to learn, but was still living a double life, involved in old habits, and justifying all my actions as I had always done. Life was still about me, and what I wanted. After about three and a half years of working as a tutor I ended up getting burnt out. I needed a change and was transferred to a smaller camp called Avery. My plans were to get away from the larger prisons, and maybe gain some peace and quiet by being at a smaller unit. Nothing I could do seemed to fill that void so maybe this change would accomplish that, or so I thought. Avery is a small prison unit located in a valley surrounded by the mountains. In some ways Avery didn't even seem like a prison. There were about 75 inmates there, and a good church with a lot of prison volunteers who came to spread the Gospel. I had never before seen so many volunteers at one prison. The volunteers at Avery were unlike any I had every known before. They weren't as judgmental as many of the other volunteers I had met. You could tell that they really cared. While prison volunteers serve a vital purpose in prison there are many who act like they are just looking to put another feather in their cap by saving the heathens in prison. These people are, in most cases, easy to spot by those of us who have been incarcerated a long time, but there are some who really do care whether you believe the way they do or not. They don't try to hit you in the head with their bibles and these people are truly a blessing to those of us who are incarcerated. Since I had some computer skills it wasn't long before I was working for the chaplain, and helping the volunteers when they came in for fellowship, bible study, or other activities. So I found myself in church again, but still not really getting anything out of it. I remember one time the chaplain asked me if I really believed that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and out of respect to him my response was, "I want to, but
15 Â Â how can I know that I know that I know?" I was beginning to think that you had to believe all this from childhood, and in a sense become brainwashed in order to accept Christianity as an adult. I even said as much. I wanted to believe in something beyond me, but just couldn't seem to get that faith so desperately needed. Maybe I was just afraid, or could it be that I just wasn't ready to accept something beyond what I could see or touch? Only God knew the answer to that question. I have always been one who couldn't believe in something unless I could see it, feel it or touch it. Believing in the supernatural just wasn't something that I have ever done before. I believe a lot of people have problems believing in anything that is beyond them as well. Every day we see the beauty of the creation before us, but often don't really think about how everything got here. We are too concerned about our own selfish desires, and unwilling to take the time to see what is actually before our very own eyes, which of course described me exactly. Anyway, I just couldn't grasp what the chaplain was trying to tell me. I hated to answer his question, but thought too much of him to lie. So regardless whether I went to church or not I still didn't have the spirit of God living inside of me. I wasn't ready, and God knew it! I eventually transferred back to Craggy. I missed my old life style of getting high constantly and hustling. Being at Avery Prison was a good experience, but it was just too small of a camp for me, and besides that, the volunteers were getting to me. I thought a lot of the people I met, but they reminded me of the outside world too much. We would have cookouts, and a variety of other volunteer-sponsored activities. It reminded me of a world that I had never really known before. I was starting to feel human again, and the more I felt that way the more I longed for a better life beyond my grasp. Nothing I seemed to get involved in brought me any satisfaction. I still had a void that couldn't seem to be filled. So I felt I needed to go back to the only life style I had known - the fast lane in prison.
LESSONS TO LEARN
Tep Wright CHAPTER 7
When I came back to Craggy it wasn't long till I was back into everything again. Getting high, gambling, running poker games, loaning money, and whatever else I could do to keep myself busy where I didn't have to think about my life, and what was missing. I was still going to church once in a while, and several volunteers and preachers I had known here at Craggy for years were still patiently trying to encourage me. They'd tell me to trust God, but how could I trust someone I had never truly believed in before? But the more I seemed to get into, the more miserable I felt. The enjoyment I used to get from these activities just didn't seem to give me any happiness anymore, and the strength I had always prided myself on was finally giving out. I remember going to church on a Sunday night, and for reasons I couldn't explain then I just started crying. I couldn't control the tears that were flowing. One of the chaplains came over to me and put his arm around me saying; "Tep, I believe God can finally reach you now," which is about all I remember about that service. Later that evening I was looking at some religious books on the bookshelf in my dorm, but just told myself that I didn't need this religious stuff, I'd pull myself together as I always have done in the past. I tried to watch T.V., but couldn't seem to get interested in the program. I kept noticing a certain book on the shelf. It seemed to be calling out to me. The more I tried to ignore it the more it seemed to attract my attention. So after everyone started to go to bed I grabbed that book off the shelf, and decided to read it. The book was titled "How to Be Born Again," by Billy Graham. I don't think I have ever read a book before that made so much sense to me. I was reading answers to questions that I have had most of my life. I couldn't put that book down, and the next night, Dec. 13, 1998 to be exact, I got down on my knees by my bed and asked God to come into my life. My prayer wasn't the typical prayer that other's always told me to pray, it was from my heart. I told God that I had all kind of doubts, but if He was truly real just give me some peace. That whole week I kept reading, and God put me on an incredible journey of discovery, one I will never forget. He showed me who I was and never before had I felt so ashamed. I could almost visualize Christ hanging from that Cross, and the more I cried out the more I felt His forgiveness and love. Never before had I felt such peace come over me. The next day God even lead me to a book showing me historical evidence that Jesus Christ actually walked the face of the earth, which was something I had always thought of as a myth. I was so ashamed, and down on my knees I went again saying; "Lord, I'm so sorry I have doubted your existence. I wouldn't really listen to others due to lack of trust, but God, I now know that was no excuse. I could have checked out this information for myself, and I'm so sorry." After that prayer I was on cloud nine. Friends of mine didn't know how to react to this sudden change. After God showed me who I was I told myself never again could I look down on another man, and in prison (just like on the outside) we tend to put others down because of their appearance, type of crime, and a variety of other reasons, but how could I do that now when I wasn't better off then anyone else in Godâ€™s sight? All the burdens I seemed to carry inside were now gone. I was a new man who felt more loved and accepted than I had ever felt before. It was great! I had to tell others. It didn't matter if it was a guard or another inmate, I'd tell them all that for the first time in my life I now knew Jesus Christ is real, and that you could find this peace yourself, if only you would turn to Him with a sincere heart.
17 Â Â There is a large softball field here at Craggy, and one of the things I would do upon my conversion was to just walk around the field, listen to gospel music, and praise God. I never used to even like gospel music, but the words made sense to me now. I think I cried in joy for a whole week. Others probably thought I was crazy, but I didn't care, for I knew God had forgiven me, and loved me unconditionally. I had finally found that perfect love I had been looking for all my life. Although I had read a little bit in the Bible in the past, I really didn't know much about God's word, all I knew was that Jesus Christ was real and that He loved me. Here I was in prison, no family, and possibly years to go before I could gain my freedom, but I was the happiest I had ever been. I was on cloud nine, and it was like no other high I had ever experienced before. I remember something Billy Graham said in his book "How to Be Born Again" about faith, facts and feelings. At that time I was running on just feelings, an emotional high, and figured I'd stay in this state, but God had to show me that faith is not about feelings. Before my conversion I had tried to transfer to a camp called Marion so that I could get away from the larger dorms and have the privacy of a cell. I was burnt out, and needed another change. My request was denied, but after coming to the Lord, God paved the way for me to be transferred to the camp that just a few months earlier had denied me. So within a few weeks after my conversion I found myself at Marion, and in a single cell. When God wants something to happen nothing can stand in His way! The privacy helped me a lot to read my bible, a bible my wife had given to me that had been collecting dust. I couldn't seem to get enough of God's word, and was soon in contact with a Christian brother who helped me to know where to start and how to read God's word. I didn't know anything. Didn't know what Grace was, Salvation, Justification, Redemption or anything else. All I knew was that God had touched my heart, and there was much I wanted to learn. I learned about church history, and the Reformation, and was shocked to see what man had done in the name of God. I studied a little on theologies, and the different doctrines that so many people want to argue over, and tried to even understand a little bit about the different denominations. The more I read the more saddened I became over how mankind had distorted God's truth, and the more confused I became. It seemed like everyone was making their own traditions and pet beliefs their god instead of Christ Himself. Throughout all this, I cried, prayed, and asked God to help me to understand. I didn't have a good formal education so a lot of this was not easy for me, but knowing God was the most important thing in my life, I needed to understand. The next thing I knew, the bottom fell out. I just didn't have those "feelings" like I had at first. They were slowly evaporating and I didn't know why. Was it something I had done? I was spending hours reading, I prayed, went to church, and did all that I knew was right. Was something wrong with me? I knew God was real, knew Jesus Christ died for my sins and that through Him I had forgiveness, so what was wrong? Why were the feelings gone? The road now seemed difficult and impossible, and that scared me. Don't many of us expect God to just change us right there on the spot? Old habits are instantly gone, and then we sort of go through life floating on a cloud where nothing seems to bother us anymore. In Criminal Thinking one thing that is taught is that criminals want what is called "instant gratification," we want what we want right now, and don't want to have to struggle for it. Doesn't that sound like many of us, whether we are criminals or not? And, doesn't that sound like many Christians as well? We want God to do everything while we sit back, and just expect to feel good all the time. No more problems, no more struggles, for God will take care of everything. It sounds good but that is far from the truth, which is something that God was, and still is, showing me.
18 Â Â CHAPTER 8 Unexpectedly, I was transferred to a private prison called Mt. View that had just opened up. I was in my comfort zone at Marion and didn't want to leave, but God had other plans. Mt. View was nothing like I expected it to be. Upon first arriving at Mt. View I noticed two things, there was no established church, and a lot of guys I used to get high and gamble with were there. When an inmate has been in prison as long as I have they are in a league of their own and many guys expect the "old-timers" to act a certain way. Being a Christian is not something many guys expect out of those who have been incarcerated a long time. Usually the longer a man stays in prison the more anger, bitterness, and hatred he ends up feeling inside. After a while incarceration no longer serves a purpose except vengeance, and that is when it becomes more detrimental then anything else. As I had often told others before, I'm glad that God touched my heart later in life for now no inmate can accuse me of being weak or using the church to get out of prison. My past spoke for itself, and if I were going to use the church for selfish gains I would have done so many years ago. So I could now look anyone in the eye and tell him or her that Jesus Christ is real with no fear of reprisal or being accused as a phony. I had learned a lot now, and others could no longer get me to believe the way they wanted. I don't think I became puffed up, for the more I learned, the more I realized just how much I didn't know. If anything, I developed a constant fear of others misleading me in false doctrine, and became afraid to listen to others. Don't many of us, out of pride, feel that we have to do everything ourselves? We listen to others but don't really take in what they are trying to tell us because we think we know what is best in our own life? As a newborn Christian I was doing just that, letting my old nature interfere with many things that God was trying to show me through others, and all because of pride, wanting to be the master of my own life instead of letting God. I had gained a lot of head knowledge, and knew God's spirit was within me, but I was (still am) just a baby who wanted to walk on his own. I still didn't know how to apply a lot of what I had learned to myself, and was still groping in the dark not truly allowing God to help me, not realizing that He was there all the time waiting for me to give up, and let Him help. Once again I started trying to do things my way - not God's way and as always ran into a ditch. Often we think we know what is best, and then wonder what went wrong when things don't go according to plan. It's time to let go and let God control our life for He is the only one who can see the larger picture of life, and ultimately know what is best for us. I stayed at Mt. View almost a year before being sent back to Craggy. By then I had started to pull myself together again only to just recently learn that I was still trying to do everything in the flesh - my way, not God's. I am just now beginning to understand a little, and the main thing God has shown me is that when we take our eyes off Christ, and put them on ourselves, we will fail. It hurts our pride to admit failure; to realize we can't do anything to earn God's love, for it takes away our need to be the master in our own lives. We want to be our own god, and not let God be the Lord over our life. Praise God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, for without Him we would have no hope. It's not always easy for me to admit that I don't have the answers any more, and that I'm not the man I thought I was, but slowly and painfully, God is showing me just how much I do need Him in my life for it is only in Him will I ever find any peace. I also know now that faith is not about feeling good all the time. Many people have let their feelings become their god instead of God himself. Christianity is, also, not an instant change of habits either. Yes, when
19 Â Â we become "born again" we are new creatures in Christ for we are alive spiritually whereas before we were dead, but we will always have to struggle with sin because, like it or not, we were born in sin, and therefore have a sinful nature. God knew this, which is why Jesus came to earth. Jesus Christ had to pay the price God required in order that those who believe in Him could be reconciled back to the Creator. It would be great if I could feel good all the time and had no more problems. I'd like to float on cloud nine all the time like I did when God first touched my heart, but without strife, struggles, and failures, how would I learn to become more dependant upon God? I don't always "feel" like the Christian, but the difference is that I now know in my heart I am a sinner by nature as well as deed, and that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I also know because God says so! It is He who will help me to change, to become that person He intended for me to be, and regardless of my failures He in His tender Mercy still loves me, and will not abandon me. That, my friend, is the perfect love we all need. It is only through that "Perfect Love" will there be any peace found. God made all of us to crave love, we write books about it, make movies that portray it, we search our whole lives for it, but no matter what we do or no matter who we meet, without Him, we will never find that perfect love. We need to realize that mankind is imperfect, and whatever this world can offer will be imperfect too. By realizing these things we only have one choice then, and that is to look up. When we finally look up, we will find that God was there all the time waiting for us to come home where we belong. My life has not been one of much happiness and peace, it's been hard and lonely, but I can truly praise God for the life that He gave me. Without Christ I would have never even been born, would never have known anything at all, good or bad. I've made a mess out of most of my life. The road to wisdom I've not traveled far, but my search is now over. It is over because God, through His Holy Spirit, has touched my heart and shown me the light, His light of truth. When you can know that you have eternal life then the hardships of this life are just a short moment in time compared to the joy you will have once you are with Christ. I still don't understand a lot of things, still have to learn to be more submissive to my God for I grew up being rebellious, but God will never forsake me. He is changing me, and these things I know for sure! I've been dead most of my life. I might have been walking, but nevertheless inside was still dead spiritually. I don't deserve His love nor can I earn it, but now, thanks be to my Savior, Jesus Christ, I have been brought back to life - back from the grave! The End and A New Beginning!
Looking back, I now regret not continuing this story after getting out of prison for time may now be short. So here are the highlights of the rest of my story:
I got out of prison May of 2005.
After several odd jobs
(Waffle House Cook, etc), I was hired by the VA Medical Center as a Housekeeper in Asheville NC where I worked for a little over 18 months. Bonnie and I are still together and always will be, but now I am retired from the VA due to liver cancer.
I decided that since there is no cure for what I have that quality of life is more important to
me than longevity.
So I am just trusting in God, and regardless of how short my time out here has been, I have
been blessed and trust that God will not leave me nor let me cease to exist. Iâ€™ll just be in a better world and a better person. I hope all who read this will realize that there is a God and that Jesus Christ is the only Way. God has given me the faith, strength and courage to just trust in Him no matter what happens. Enjoy this life that God has given you. Trust and believe in God and that this life is just the beginning, so do not be afraid. Be conscious of all that you do in life, never stay in the mud if and when you fall, and know that God loves you in spite of yourself.
A NOTE OF THANKS Tep Wright I don't always know how to show my appreciation to others for I grew up to be somewhat aloof, but there are many people who have touched my life, from teachers, preachers, and prison volunteers that deserve my heartfelt gratitude. This list is actually too long for this page, but I do want to thank the following:
For being my mate in life, and for helping me to learn to trust & love again.
For helping me to realize that I could learn, and for your friendship.
For being a friend, and a shoulder when I needed one.
Mr. Ramsey -
For introducing me to my wife, encouraging me to learn, and being my friend.
For being there when everyone else had abandoned me.
For encouraging me to write my story, and for listening with compassion.
For encouraging me to read the whole Bible, and not just bits and pieces.
To all the preachers and volunteers who have patiently worked with me over the years, especially those at Avery and Craggy Prison. And most of all to God for His Grace and Mercy!