TJ’s Letter – Thomas Rucker

Sometimes it is painful to relive the past but sometimes you must relive the past in order to heal from it. Allow my voice to speak on behalf of us who society has turned their back on or no longer sees.

Many are unaware of the struggles in our very own communities. My hope is to have my words be a conduit that will bridge a gap between two worlds. I am realistic, I know this story isn’t for everyone, but for those that it reaches and impacts, thank you. You will never know what it means to be seen or heard, for noticing that we all have that common thread of being human.

The state of Colorado placed me in a category by assigning me a #109429 that has held me captive as a statistic for too long. I cannot make an argument or give excuses for the poor choices I have made but allow me to paint a picture with a brush that drips with pain, addiction, and growth in every stroke. As any good artist will tell you, it’s not always about the mistakes in the canvass, but those perfect imperfections the naked eye doesn’t see.

Growing up, I thought my childhood was like any other kids’, but I was exposed to behaviors no kid should learn from their parents. With no positive examples or rules set, I fell into an older crowd. With learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia, and anger problems, I was struggling in school, which led to suspensions and expulsions. They say the sins of the father run deep into his children, which terrifies me for some of the conduct I’ve displayed in my past. Until I redirected my moral compass, I didn’t understand how true this statement is. Sadly, as a boy and into my teens, I was led to believe that women would either use me or abuse me, which led me from one unfulfilled relationship to another. Healthy peers were caught on episodes of Full House and that 70’s show. I had no concept of what good qualities were. With so much time to improve and work on myself, I began reflecting on the direction I wanted my life to go in and I work daily on being the best version of myself. I began reflecting on the direction I wanted my life to go in and work daily on being the best version of myself.

I was asked “what do you want people to know about you?” Pondering this question led me to come up with a two-word response: the truth. This is the enigma to that question, that each of us carries pain, we all have scars, some stemming from our childhoods. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because someone has scars, chips, or cracks from being stretched to the point of breaking that they are broken. It is unrealistic to believe that someone can be defined by their poor choices from our past, but we can be refined for a greater purpose/ I never thought of the ramifications my actions caused those I hurt; the peoples lives my poor choices impacts are things I’ve carried through years of incarceration. At 22, I was thrown to the wolves in a level 3 prison yard known as “gladiator school” for all the violence. Each of us is taught about instincts like fight or flight but until one is thrown into a boiling pot, known as prison, we really don’t know the extent of that phrase. To provide a better understanding allow me to paraphrase Damon West’s theory: A boiling pot of water is a perfect representation of a prison atmosphere. Boiling water like prison, is hot, and the heat and pressure will forever change anything you put into it. Imagine putting three things into the pot, a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean. If you put a carrot into the boiling water, what happens? It turns soft, carrots get beaten, robbed, raped, or even killed, no one wants to be a carrot in prison. When you put an egg into the water, what happens? It becomes hard, the outer shell may protect it physically but from the heat and pressure of
prison, but on the inside the egg is just as hard. The egg gets tattooed, fights, or worse becomes institutionalized. I was led to believe that being an egg was my only option. Last but most important, the coffee bean. What happens when you put a coffee bean into boiling water? The coffee bean, the smallest of the three, turned the water into coffee. This is vital because the coffee bean has the power to change the atmosphere inside the pot. Over the duration of my adult life, I have been a prisoner of war. This war is raging in our community and sadly it has consumed the lives of so many. The war on drugs is very real. I take accountability for the crimes and bad examples I set, which have cost me valuable years of my life. I am living, breathing proof that crime does not pay. Today, I have rediscovered myself through art. A craft that is therapeutic and rewarding in many ways. This paradoxical shift in my thinking did not come after numerous heartfelt sessions with a therapist, but with the desire to break the mold of being seen as more than a file or case number. My name is TJ, and although I share this story from a cold, lonely jail cell. I have never felt freer.

Now I am determined to make an impact and reestablish my place in the world by helping others break their own chains that have them bound. To reach those living within their own mental prisons. Let me ask, when did it become okay to be so judgmental or disregard the pain we see in another’s eyes? Can anyone tell me how we have become so judgmental, or disregard how we have become so blind to the greatest gift in the universe? I shared with the one person to fully see me how this one thing is the common threat that ties all of us together. The very fiber of human poetry, something we all aspire to have; love. To give, to receive, but under no circumstances to ever take for granted. I can confidently stand before you and take solace being a perfect imperfection. What is so hard to accept is society says a drug addict. Convict, or outcast are unredeemable. This admittance and placing myself for all to see and read is not easy for me, being this vulnerable scares me, but not as bad as not shedding light on this subject. It fuels my desire for success. Please do not feel sorry for me but challenge yourself to see the humanness in another that may be so lost in their struggle. Sometimes all they need to hear is an encouraging word. Doing so may be entertaining an angel. Recently I was challenged by my unicorn, my beautiful creature that took the time to see me through my scars as the coffee bean I am. This person had the courage to show me mercy which gave me the strength to dig deep, and clean wounds infected with so much pain. Addressing the root problem of years of unresolved grief taught me to forgive, heal, and reinvent myself by changing the narrative in my story. I am choosing to write a new chapter in my life, we will call knowing my worth and acting accordingly. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to mature and grow from this process. I am motivated to do the unexpected, serve my purpose in being useful to others. Sometimes people never get the credit they deserve for working tirelessly in a field behind the scenes that believes someone like me is unredeemable. Life was spoken into me by asking me to tell my story and by doing a piece of art that coincides my struggle. I call it “Vicious cycle”. The love of money fed my demons that stretched my heart thin in prison. I am learning not to focus all my energy into the future that is unknown, but to stay present in the moment and never forget where I come from, so I will always remember where I am going. As I write this, I know I am far from the man I want to be, but reflecting back I am no longer the boy I was. This proves hope and love still exist. Like I said this story is not for everyone, but it is my story.

Forever living my truth,
TJ Rucker


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