Tuesday, December 31, 2019


A Condensed History of Nearly Everything, As According to Devin McCrary

Several months ago, at the behest of one of the most unrelentingly and belligerently encouraging people I know -- he's awesome, though -- and in a quest for challenge and self-development, I joined Twin Speaks Toastmasters Club. This impressive group transforms the visiting room in Twin Rivers Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex into the secret clubhouse of determined, enterprising people. The secret handshake? A buddy's trademarked overenthusiastic high five, which seems to somehow transfer his infectious energy into your very bones, leaving a buzzing positivity for WEEKS. Being habitually nervous and self-conscious, I was hesitant at first to participate, but as I saw more, it became impossible to ignore one glaringly obvious and unlikely fact: some of the most compassionate people I've ever met were in that room.

As the weeks passed and I integrated into the group I realized it was exactly what I never would have expected, in my previously somewhat sheltered and naive life, to find in prison: a healthy, supportive, thriving community of individuals striving together for greatness. Not merely to survive, not to get over on people, not for personal material gain -- for greatness.

Or that's what I see; I doubt very much that more than a very few Toastmasters would describe what they do as "striving for greatness," but that's what it is.

I saw these people pursuing their goals and making dreams reality. In prison. I saw these people learning and implementing healthier habits and communication skills than I ever had. In prison. I found these people striving with more passion and unconstrained hope than most people. While in prison. I didn't know -- and still don't understand entirely -- what fuels them, but whatever it is, their drive is contagious.

In an unrelated decision I joined Defy Ventures Washington, a program focused on the development of entrepreneurial skills and success in the professional sphere through critical self-reflection and the development of positive self-regard. Completely unsurprisingly -- in hindsight -- I found the same core of people from Toastmasters within Defy. Of course that may have some small amount to do with the Defy sponsor also being a Toastmasters sponsor with precisely zero qualms against the shameless promotion of a good cause, but probably not. Nahhh, that's not it. *super duper sarcasm*

Anyway. I keep hearing about this website, HumanMe.org -- I seriously love that name -- where several of the most impressive people I met post blogs, and I'm really interested. Even so, it takes me probably a month and a half to ask the website’s owner if I can post, and she immediately responds with enthusiasm and encouragement. Woo!

Well...yay! BUT. Now I have a problem. I have to actually write something -- not so yay. (As it turns out you have to actually write something before you can post it. Who knew, right!?) So I sit down to produce what will obviously be a dazzling first post, aaaaand.... nothing. I got nothing. I'm rifling through my Bottomless Bag of Bafflement and Wonder (patent pending) and I get nothing. I've been thinking about this post for a week! I had so many great ideas! And now? Nothing. Blech, stage fright.

I have a contingency plan, though, so I pull out my notebook -- I spent nearly a decade affiliated with a Cross Country team either as an athlete or coach, and I've also spent nearly half my life struggling with my mental health (mainly depression), so I want to draw on these experiences to write a book about maintaining mental and emotional health through exercise, specifically endurance running, so I've been keeping notes. Unfortunately, one of the unavoidable facts about exercise is that WE have to do it -- we can't hire someone else to do it for us. Which means that it requires motivation. (Again, blech; clearly I was the funny coach, with such a persistently negative attitude as that, hah!) But to get to the point -- very circuitously; welcome to my brain -- because of that pesky motivation requirement this notebook contains many of my existential musings, some of which might have made a good topic for my first post. It was foolproof!

Except apparently not. Instead, when I opened that notebook I just stared blankly at the page. It was early afternoon and the sun was shining through the window within the narrow range of angles which might illuminate the texture of the page and I'm just fascinated. There was a dreamlike quality to the page which sent me tumbling into the convoluted catacombs of memory, and I was struck by the fact that the last time I stopped and appreciated the details of such minutiae as the texture of a page was nearly ten years ago, during one of the happiest, and very brief, times of my life.

How insane is that?

I'm in prison and I'm finding links back to a time in my life which was pure happiness. Currently, my life is in complete shambles and the people I love most in the world won't even speak to me, and I'm finding links to perhaps the happiest time of my life, to the last time I was really trying to challenge myself and my place in the world. The last time I felt hopeful.

Hope.

I mean that's probably a pretty good indication that I'm doing something right, isn't it?

So hello. My name is Devin McCrary and I'm an inmate at MCC-TRU. The most descriptively accurate and simple statement which could be said about my life is that it has thus far been dominated and defined by loneliness -- literally my first memory is being ditched while playing hide-and-seek with my siblings when I was three; when I was "it" and I counted down and opened my eyes, it probably took me a whole twenty minutes to figure out that they had left me alone on the abandoned beach we were playing on.

Largely due to an unfilled need for love and connection, two fundamental human needs, I developed an extremely poor sense of self-worth when I was very young and began having suicidal thoughts when I was twelve. It wasn't that my family didn't love me -- they did -- but when my dad died following years of emotional hardship and turmoil in the family, my older siblings all dealt with the resulting emotional trauma in their own way and with each others' support -- they were all within a year in age to one another and there was a significant gap between them and "the annoying little brother" -- and my mum withdrew as well, most likely trying to protect me from whatever she was feeling -- and failing; kids are perceptive little jerks; you really can't hide as much as you want to think you can from them -- the effect was that I felt isolated and as though I couldn't ask for help (low self-worth is pretty debilitating).

That feeling of loneliness developed, due largely to the many self-defeating habits I had developed by then, into a mounting and crippling sense of self-loathing which persisted, almost without respite, until recently.

It's more complicated than that, of course, and looking back, I made some impressively, spectacularly awful decisions, but that statement captures the essence of it.

Besides, that loooong chain of poor decisions started long before I was even twelve years old and beginning to have those suicidal thoughts, and they just built and built -- although I wish I'd broken the chain earlier, ultimately I'm willing to forgive myself and work from where I am now.

I began coaching with my old high school Cross Country team when I was twenty-two, and while I am certain the sense of purpose I found in coaching literally saved my life from suicide, it was also a source of opportunities for connection, which became my downfall. When I was twenty-five, I started sleeping with a seventeen-year-old girl on the team, which eventually resulted in several charges of Sexual Misconduct in the First Degree (which I have been repeatedly told by other inmates isn't a real charge -- oh really? Cuz I have a criminal history now that says otherwise). I was sentenced to sixty months' confinement, equal to the statutory maximum for the offense.

Now I am twenty-eight years old and I am serving that five year sentence, but as mentioned previously, I have hope now. Not for the first time, but perhaps for the first time not based on a relationship I have with another person -- the first time not based on codependency.

I'm making a concerted, focused effort to change the course of my life. I decided shortly after I was arrested that I would not waste my life while in prison -- they can tell me where I reside and for how long, but they cannot tell me what to do in that place and time.

I will not waste a single day -- I will be productive every single day.

I plan on returning to school when I get out in just under two year to finish my Bachelor of the Arts in English Language and Literature and my Bachelor of the Sciences in Exercise Science with a Minor in Studio Art -- have you ever heard of a more eclectic combination of fields of study? Honestly I love learning, and if I could spend the rest of my life in an educational environment earning every degree on the planet, I very likely would. Unfortunately that's not an option, so, while I don't have a firm idea of what I'll end up doing, I want to get back in running shape and run a four-minute mile I want to become a TEDx speaker I want to become a published author in multiple genres and these are just my goals within three years.

I want to continue learning throughout my entire life and, though I don't know how yet, I want to use that knowledge to give back and lift people up.

A personal purpose statement I developed within Defy states: As an unrelentingly compassionate and enterprising force, I cultivate an environment of inclusion, personal development, and achievement by empowering people with the skills to create connections and transcend limitations.

I don't have many long-term goals at this point I'm only recently embracing a new journey. But I feel pretty good about the goals I do have. Because I spent most of my life on the verge of committing suicide, it is a preposterously momentous and monumental thing for me to even write down goals.

For literally the first time in my life, I feel like I'm headed in the right direction. I have confidence, and though I know there are jungles and swamps and mountains and chasms and worse ahead of me on my path, it is a path of my own choosing, and here I am powerful.

Here, my potential is unbound.

With resoluteness, Devin McCrary

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