January 9th, 2008 16:18 EST
From Hole to Whole
From Hole to Whole
On March 20, 1992 I was convicted of five armed bank robberies, over a six-month crime spree when I was 28 years old. I was sentenced to 157 months, thirteen years and one month behind the razor wire of a Federal Correctional Institution in Florence, Colorado. The same complex that would later hold Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Looking back at that time in my life, I can directly link my crimes and incarceration to the decision I made as a teenager, and in particular my decision to experiment with drugs. To sum it all up- drugs eventually became more important than anything or anyone else in my life, and bank robbery became a means in which I could feed my habit for another 30-60 days or the police were going to show up and I was going to make them doing something I did not have the guts to do myself- suicide by police Â" is what they call that today.
During my five month trial period is where I first experienced an awakening Â", and this transformation was fueled by three things. The first being the dead time Â" in prison, which literally hangs in the air. I would sit in the common areas and would watch guys play cards, play dominoes, and watch TV for 12, 14, sometimes 16 hours a day. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Some of these guys doing this for 5, 10, 15 years at a time. I could not fathom spending all of those years in that fashion. The second thing that fueled this awakening was my seven-year-old son Eric. I found that not only was possible, but that I had the responsibility to influence my far off son in a positive way. And the third thing that fueled my awakening was something my Dad used to say when I was a kid, something that I lost track of during my teens and early twenties, but something that I came to believe in and rely on during those years of incarceration. What my Dad used to say is this- anything in this life that is worthwhile, really worthwhile, is never easy. Â" And you see I had always taken the easy road. The easy road is the drug use, the lying, the stealing, and the cheating. Anyone can take that road- it does not take a special individual to travel that path.
So I have this awakening. For me it is going to be education. Education is what I am going to use as a tool to make a very negative situation as positive as I possibly could. But first I have a decision to make as well as some obstacles that only prison can put before you. The time comes during my trial when I have to decide if I want to take the plea agreement that the prosecution has offered. My options are pleading to the 157 months or waiting for the outcome of a Supreme Court decision that would directly affect my sentence computation. My attorney tells me to wait for the Supreme Court outcome, that she has sources that say they are leaning towards a favorable outcome that would cut my time dramatically. She gives me three days to think about it. Each of those three nights I am awakened by a strong feeling that tells me to take the plea agreement in front of me at that moment. I at that time had no idea where it was coming from, but I knew it was very strong and very clear. I informed my attorney of my decision, and against her recommendation was sentenced to the 157 months. Four weeks later I discovered that the Supreme Court ruling would have resulted in my being sentenced to 53 years, one month. The judge in my case would not have had a choice, he would have been mandated my mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Upon finally arriving at FCI Florence, I faced my next obstacle. Within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, gangs run the prisons. The Aryan Brotherhood, The Mexican Mafia, The Bloods, The Crips, they dictate what happens behind the razor wire of a federal prison. Being designated to this facility meant that I was thirty miles from my hometown of Colorado Springs. This was not the norm. Most of the guys I was locked up with were from all over the country- New York, Chicago, L.A. Because I was so close to home I received visits every weekend, either a family member or a friend would come. Once again this was not the norm. Most of the guys were lucky if they received one visit a year, very lucky. When these gang members discovered the frequency of my visits they approached me and told me I was going to smuggle drugs into the institutions through the visiting room, using my family and friends as mules, and they told me that I was going to do this or that they were going to kill me. I had several small altercations with them, and then finally the day came when I had to make a decision. Three of them came into my cell carrying with them what they kill each other with in prison. The first is carrying an everyday toothbrush, but this brush has one end filed down to a sharp point and the other end wrapped in duct tape to use as a handle. The second is carrying a pork chop bone, yes; you read right a pork chop bone. They take the long end of the bone and file down on concrete and the large section of the bone fits nicely in the palm of your hand as a handle. The third is carrying a 16-penny nail driven through a piece of broom handle. They come in carrying these things and tell me that it is time to make a decision, was I going to do it or not. Was I scared? I was terrified, and the first thought that came to my mind was that I would do whatever they wanted, just please put those things away. But then something stronger than my fear overcame me. I thought about my son, and how he was committed to me no matter where I was. And I thought about my family and how I had always sacrificed them and put my needs first. While today I may know where the strength came from, at the time I had no idea- but from somewhere inside of me came the words I am not going to do it, you are going to have to do what you came to do. Â" What happened next? I now know that things happen for a reason- the jingle of keys can be heard coming down the corridor, a guard is on the way. When they hear this they take their shanks and throw them under my mattress. You are only allowed to have two inmates in a cell at one time so when he gets to my cell he stops and puts his head in and asks, Evans, what are these guys doing in here? Â" Nothing I say, we are just visiting. He orders them out, and five minutes later I took their shanks back to them and handed them over saying I think you guys forgot something Â". They never bothered me again. Whether it was because I did not tell the guard what they were doing in my cell that day, or whether it was because they could see in my eye that they were going to have to finish the job they came to do, that I was not longer going to take that easy road, whatever the reason I was never bothered again.
July 16, 1997, fast-forward 4.5 years. I have been locked up four and one-half years up to this date and there is really nothing special about this day, just going about my everyday prison routine when again a guard sticks his head in my cell and tells me that my counselor wants to see me immediately. I shuffle down to my counselor`s office and am told to shut the door and sit down. He informs me that he just received a phone call concerning me from a guy in Auburn, Alabama, a scholarship committee chairman with a national association, and that they are interested in helping me with my schooling. And then it all came back to me, you see the prior six months to the day I was called into my counselors office I spent every free minute I had- 14, 16, sometimes 18 hours a day sitting at my tiny little prison desk in my tiny little prison cell, filling out applications, writing essays, begging, pleading, and selling myself to absolutely every private scholarship available that I even remotely qualified for. But I was a con, a felon; no one wanted to take a chance on me. Each day at mail call I received a stack of rejection letters- thanks but no thanks. I was two years into my first degree and it was beginning to look like my dream, my dream of turning a very negative situation into as positive a situation as I possibly could was just not going to happen. One week after been called to my counselors office I received a letter and a check from that association for one class. It stated in the letter that although I did not meet the selection criteria in any way, shape or form, they were so impressed with what I was attempting to do that they were going to award me a special stipend. I took that one class and sent them my report card. They then sent me a check for two classes and once again I sent them my report card. It snowballed to the point that they were funding entire semesters, and the end result of their help was me walking out those gates of prison with two college degrees, both earned with a 4.0 GPA and placement on the Deans and Presidents List.
Things were moving along wonderfully. I was making my family very proud, and my son showed a renewed interest in his own education- it became something he and I could share, a competition between us. I was not out there throwing a baseball with my boy, but I was doing something with him. Things were going very good when a new warden came to FCI Florence.
He immediately took a dislike to me. He did not like the fact that I was given extra computer time, extra library time, and he in particular did not like the fact that I was being allowed to receive videotapes through the mail which allowed me to complete my courses via correspondence. He informed me that all of these things were coming to an end immediately. I turned to the National Speakers Association, and its members who happened to be very well politically connected. Over the next six weeks, 28 Congressman and Senators wrote and called this warden demanding to know why I was not being allowed to complete my second degree. He did not like this. He was not used to answering to anyone but these were people he had to answer to, and he really did not like the fact that one of his inmates stirred up this whole hornets nest. So he put me under investigation, called me a risk to the security of the institution and threw me in the hole Â".
The hole Â" is a 6x9 foot cell, and in this small are is a steel bunk bed, a stainless steel toilet connect to a stainless steel sink and a stainless steel shower. You shared these accommodations with one other individual. You had no idea what time of day or night it was; the only way you could gauge this was by your feedings, which came to you through a slot in the steel door that flops open. The people I am in the hole Â" with are the troublemakers of the institution, and many of them mentally probably should not even have been in a traditional prison setting. They kick and beat on the doors all day and night, scream and yell obscenities 24/7 and in general created an environment where you got very little sleep, if any at all. While in the hole Â" I read the same book seven times, which was all I had to do. Sixty days I am in this setting. I`m getting skinny and pale, and my strength is being severely tested as I approach the two-month mark. Up to that point I had believed that things happened for a reason, that I could learn from whatever situation came my way. But I have to tell you that as this 60th day comes I am losing my faith quickly. I ask myself why is this happening to me? All I`m trying to do is get an education. All I`m trying to do is better myself; give myself a chance to succeed when released. Why is this happening? And then the only thing that could have made the situation any worse happens. They inform me that they are transferring me to FCI Englewood.
FCI Englewood is the oldest and nastiest prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Built in 1939, it looks live something out of a mid-evil movie. Upon arriving at my new home, I discover the conditions are even worse due to one of the housing units being closed for asbestos removal. When I enter the housing unit I have been assigned to I see that I will be sharing a cubicle with seven other individuals. In Florence it was hard to find one individual you could be compatible with in a small cell, how was I going to find seven? Once again I am asking myself why is this happening to me? I could not imagine spending the next five years in these conditions. Well, things do happen for a reason. I was at FCI Englewood for three months when I hear my name over the intercom, Evans #24291-013 report to the records office immediately. Â" When I arrive at the records office I am told to shut the door and sit down. I would later discover that FCI Englewood is the only institution in the entire Federal Bureau of Prisons, the ONLY one that has this policy- they automatically review the sentence computation of every inmate that is transferred into their facility, via another facility. The lady tells me that she just got off the phone with the regional office, they had reviewed my sentence computation and there had been a mistake. I should not have been sentenced to thirteen years, I should have been sentenced to eight and that I was going home in ten days.
If that warden had not taken a dislike to me, if I had not been thrown in the hole Â" and if I had not been transferred to FCI Englewood, I would still be sitting in federal prison today. As I write this, I was released a little over four years ago. Things happen for a reason.
Looking back at the doors that were opened to me, the people who took chances on me and the chain of events that unfolded during my incarceration, one thing is perfectly clear: If you are doing the right things, treating others as you would want them to treat you, are fair in your dealings with others and are committed to working hard, I can assure you of one thing: Magical things will happen in your life as well.
Ã‚Â© Troy D. Evans, 2004Troy Evans is a professional speaker and author who resides in Phoenix, Arizona with his dog Archibald. Troy travels the country delivering keynote presentations, and since his release from prison has taken the corporate and association platforms by storm. Overcoming adversity, adapting to change and pushing yourself to realize your full potential. Other speaker`s talk about these issues, Troy has walked them.
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