That’s what happened to me after I snooped and discovered a letter under silky slips and scented soaps in my mother’s dresser drawer when I was twelve. I was born a heroin-addicted baby in a Federal Prison in West Virginia, it said. I lived there for over a year with my first mother.
Famous for housing Billie Holiday, Tokyo Rose, and later, Martha Stewart, the prison is always on my radar even without the more recent media attention that M. Stewart brought. In my mind, they all lived in My House.
My world spun out of control soon after I unearthed that secret, and I headed down a slippery slope into the life of a thrill-seeking outlaw- rule breaking, lawlessness, drugs and drug smuggling.
I was born a heroin-addicted baby, in a federal prison where I lived for over a year with my first mother. After a journey through foster care and into adoption, I struggled with my mixed-race identity, not black, not white, as much as I did with my birthplace. It was the 1960’s, a world without in betweens. After Race on forms, instead of checking the Other box, I wrote: hundred yard dash.
I was adopted into a liberal Jewish family in Seattle with out-of-the-mainstream academic white parents. My father, a Milton scholar, and my mother, a James Joyce literary specialist. Their friends voted for Dick Gregory for President. The contrasts drove me further into drugs, violence and crime.
My drug-running outlaw life caught up with me one day when two California Highway Patrol flag me down on Route 101 between San Diego and Los Angeles. The rhythm of the ribbed road rocked underneath my convertible MG Midget and James Brown rasped on my radio. I was on a fast track back to prison when a final FBI investigation into my criminal activities shocked me onto a road of recovery and reconciliation.
My roots still haunted me and I knew the only way I could settle inside would be to return to my roots and visit the Alderson Prison in West Virginia, where I was born. I was invited for a private tour, and immersed myself into what would be the most profound experience of my life. The return to my birthplace transformed me.
I felt moved to speak inside prisons and tell my story of discovery and recovery – recovery from my outlaw life and drug addictions, discovery of my integrated self.
In my search to reconcile my roots, my outlaw trail led me to know that sometimes it takes going to the margins of life to find a center.
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