Leaving Hate Behind

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| This is the 423rd story of Our Life Logs |


So, what do you want to know?

I was born in 1982, grew up in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, and was raised by a mother who lived and breathed drugs. Our home wasn’t stable. We moved more times than I’d like to remember. My siblings and I accompanied our mother to a lot of clubs and drug deals (you know, places where kids have no business in being). If we weren’t with mom, we didn’t really know where she was. She’d leave us alone at home for days at a time, only to stumble home late at night.

To me, this was all ordinary. But looking back, there were a lot of things that I thought were ordinary when they weren’t. Like my explosive anger.

When I was 10 years old, I tried to stab my brother in the stomach with a kitchen knife in pure Michael Myers Halloween fashion (most definitely not an ordinary thing to do). After that, I was sent to a doctor. But even they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. No one could.

At age 12, the doctors decided to prescribe me a massive dose of methamphetamine to balance out my unchecked rage. My dosage was so ungodly high that they should have just called it “crystal meth in pill form.” What’s more is that it didn’t control my psychosis—it heightened it. I experienced more homicidal tendencies than I ever had. But by that point, it was too late. I was already addicted to the stimulant, and I kept wanting more.

By the ripe age of 13, I preferred spending my days getting high on meth or weed. I was popping a bottle’s worth of Adderall a day, and what I didn’t take, I sold. Then I’d go to school angry and crazed, looking for a fight. I left home when I was about 15 so I could find jobs to fund my lifestyle. For the next year, I didn’t frequent school, I got hired and rehired a dozen times, and finally, my uncle took me in.

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Life with my uncle was just as crazed, but at least I wasn’t with my mom. My uncle was a big, bulky biker guy who ran a tattoo shop in Maryland. I liked him. He let me draw up fun designs for him to use. The other thing I liked was that living with him was like attending a 24-hour party. But you couldn’t say no to him. So, during the time living there, I became addicted to cocaine. It heightened my anger and made me an impossible person to be around.

It wasn’t until I became a licensed tattoo artist at 18 that I calmed down a bit. When I focused on tracing lines of ink across my client’s skin, I could focus less on the rage boiling inside me; if only for a moment.

By the age of 24, I was married with a son on the way. At that point, the rage lessened, but there were spikes when I became the crude, aggressive person again. But those spikes were dangerous. It wasn’t until I nearly put my hands around my wife’s throat after I couldn’t bear the news that she’d been cheating that I realized something had to change. As I heard the cries of my son and the buzz of tension in the air, I thought to myself, what’s happening to me? Who am I becoming?

My wife and I got divorced and I decided to get clean. I thought that maybe if I took the drugs away, the anger would go away too. I soon found out that drugs will always have a hand in your life as long as you are around addicts.

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A few years passed sober from all the hard drugs I’d denounced and I became a father to another child. I’d softened even more so and decided to visit my mom so she could meet her grandkids. She made me believe we were grabbing food from a nearby gas station but she was really using me as her driver for a drug deal.

It just so happened the guy she was buying from was an undercover cop.

I couldn’t even begin to describe the rage I felt that day. My kids were in the backseat and had to watch their old man get arrested for drugs that weren’t even mine. I knew I was going to lose my kids for this. I would lose everything. I could feel my fury spin inside me like a raging tornado and I didn’t care to stop it. It was like no matter what I tried, I couldn’t control this monster inside me that wanted to hurt anyone and anything that ticked me off. So, I let it embrace me and I took my 10-year sentence with a blind bitterness.

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Prison was a world full of angry directionless men like me, sitting through the same mindless bullshit. I wound up making friends with a couple of guys, including a Crip gang member (funny thing about him, he was actually a super chill guy who liked to play chess).

One day while I was assessing my next move on our chessboard, we heard yelling from a nearby cell. An inmate with liver cancer was getting harassed and extorted by two “tough guys.” I could feel the heat of my anger rising to my face and neck. I hated guys like this—low-lives who stole from decent people. I jumped up from my chair and came at them full-force, beating them until they got the message to leave the guy alone. Little did I know that my little outburst had an audience member who would change my life in prison. A big muscular man, who we’ll call Shove, approached me and shoved a folder in my hands. He said, “Read this. We’ll talk later.”

Normally, I didn’t let anyone tell me what to do, but my curiosity got the best of me. I waited until I was alone in my room to look inside. It was an Aryan Ethics introductory packet. I started paging through it and found a flyer about a group called the Hammerskins. It said their mission was to uplift the community and to protect women, children, and the elderly. It said that its members only harm those violating the ethics, and were not to hurt another out of greed or personal reasons. And that we were not allowed to use weapons. Most importantly, the Hammerskins insisted that they were not a hate group. They were for justice.

Their mantra sounded a lot like mine, and to be supported by like-minded people was inviting. That night, I decided to join the Hammerskins. I had no idea how much I’d come to regret that choice.

After I was sworn in, I felt good. I had a purpose for all the anger I held inside. I could use it on bad people. At the time, I thought it was awesome.

In groups, we’d go up to a child predator or a killer and tell them that we were going to beat the shit out of them if they didn’t pay up. When they found enough money, we let them go in fear. When their pockets were empty, we’d engage as promised. There was no guilt in walking away from those bloody pulps. We thought we had some moral high ground, using our fists for good.

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During that time in prison, I was given access to doctors who could give me a diagnosis: borderline personality disorder (BPD). They explained the symptoms; impulsive and destructive behavior, extreme mood swings, explosive anger. It all fit. It was all me. Finally, I had an explanation as to why I was so angry all the time, why I couldn’t explain how the smallest things set me off.

At the time, the term, “BPD,” was good enough for me to justify my actions. I told myself what I wanted to hear. I was putting my rage to good use. And for a while, that was comforting.

After a couple years in the Hammerskins, the Elders (leaders) started asking me to go after fellow brothers who’d broken the bylaws. That’s when I became hesitant. I wasn’t allowed to ask questions or know what they did. I wasn’t allowed to see the proof or their crimes. I was only to do as told, and that didn’t sit well.

And then it happened. One of our guys shivved another inmate with a sharp handmade object. He was bleeding profusely and was thought to be dead. Hammerskins weren’t supposed to use any weapons but their fists. With that, I realized that I had gotten myself into something much worse than a group that enforces consequences. We were deadly. I was disgusted with myself.

The prison guards took a round of us Hammerskins down to the Hole since they couldn’t determine which of us did it. The guards yelled at me, saying that I was a danger to society. All I could do was stare back. They insisted that my crimes were all out of hate, and as much as I didn’t want to believe it, they were right.  I looked back on all the things I’d done with the Hammerskins and I realized it was all done in hate. Justice wasn’t our motive. And who was I to dish out this justice in the first place?

I started to hate myself and notice all the hypocrisies of the Hammerskins. We used our own selfish vendettas to work up violence around us. We tried to be vigilantes within the prison, but never stopped to wonder or care if the person sharing the prison with us was trying to turn their life around. We never gave them a chance. Anger had to stop controlling my life. I spent my remaining years in prison denouncing the Hammerskins. I would become a new man. I’d get help for my mental illness. I would actually protect the people I had sworn to protect in the Hammerskins without any of the strings attached.

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When I was released in August 2017, I had spent nearly a decade behind bars. I wound up bouncing around a bit and moved to Alabama before settling in Georgia in mid-2019. I decided to get into tattooing again after realizing that it was something that kept me happy. And while I haven’t found a shop yet, I am doing freelance work and teaching art classes in the community to help kids find coping skills I wish I had kept with growing up. The new me is within reach.

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Working on a tattoo for a client.

I wish I hadn’t wasted my time in prison inciting hate when I could have been getting certifications and help. I wish I hadn’t let anger run my life into the ground. But I can’t change what has already been done. I can only strive to be better. Living with BPD, I know anger will always be a part of who I am, but I’m no longer latching onto excuses to be angry. We have to get to the root of our problems and choose to better. That is my goal every single day.

 

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This is the story of Steven Phillips

Steve currently resides in Georgia where he is working to rebuild his life free of hate and less anger-ridden. To protect his privacy, Steve has changed his last name. From as early as 10 years old, Steven dealt with uncontrollable rage that he did not know the source of. He was prescribed methamphetamine at 13 which only made his psychotic tendencies worse and he became addicted. The lasting rage eventually landed him in jail where he was introduced to a hate group that led him to believe he was taking care of the scum of society. It wasn’t until an inmate was mortally wounded that Steven realized how much anger and hate had been running his life, and he chose to make a change. In 2016, Steven moved to Alabama and opened a tattoo shop but the business failed after he was mugged and left with a shattered skull and no cheekbone. After that, he determined that instead of beating people like this, he should be helping them and start working in his community to help. These days, Steven mostly stays home. To help with his anger, he tries to control, as he calls it, his “fuck it” switch. Steven hopes to do more for his community in the future and open a new tattoo shop.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on August 17, 2019.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |

 

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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