Dr. Al Dirschberger offers insight while serving his sentence inside a state prison.
GOOD MORNING FACILITY, IT IS TIME FOR YOUR MASTER COUNT.
On the count! Sitting or standing, sitting or standing.
As the day begins with the daily wake up call to all inmates, it has a resemblance of the movie “Groundhog Day” to everyone incarcerated at the Altona Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
However, to twenty-seven-year-old Gordo, as what he is called while incarcerated since no one uses the name on their birth certificate, it is one day closer to being released. He will be returning to society and his family in thirty-four days.
This morning he contemplates where he has come from, the journey to-date and what his future will look like. As so many inmates do on a regular basis is to reflect on what has happened to them and a process of planning out a successful future that involves not returning to jail.
Gordo is the second oldest of eight (nine) children, four brothers and four sisters. He was born in Puerto Rico in 1992 and moved to Brooklyn when he was five years old. He was raised by his single mother who had a high school diploma, cleaned restaurants during the day and was a waitress in the evening. He was not close to his father while he was growing up.
Gordo’s entered into the life of drugs and sex at the age of thirteen. He started smoking marijuana and having sex, losing his virginity at an early age in life. While exploring his sexual desires at such an early age he impregnated one of his sexual partners. Afraid to tell his mother, both he and his female partner decided to abort the pregnancy.
Shortly after entering the world of drugs and sex, Gordo dropped out of school at the age of sixteen (fifteen). The school he was attending informed him he was making no progress toward a degree and stipulated they did not want him as a student, therefore making his decision easy.
At age sixteen, with no education and with a job as a dishwasher making very little money, Gordo entered the fast-paced world of selling drugs. It also coincided with the first time he was shot. After getting into a fight and beating up another individual, that person came back to settle the score ending up shooting Gordo in his left leg. Although not a serious injury, it opened his eyes to the dangers of the lifestyle he was entering.
By the time Gordo was eighteen he was selling heroin, cocaine, marijuana and pills to make money. He was living the fast life. Drugs, women, alcohol, cars, motorcycles, nothing was off limits. If he wanted something, all he had to do was sell more drugs and purchase what he desired.
His lifestyle changed in 2012 when he was twenty years old. He met __________ who was eight years older and started a serious relationship. He decided to give up the fast life, stop selling drugs and moved to Philadelphia with her. However, everything fell apart in six months. He lost possession of his cars, motorcycles and ability to purchase anything he wanted. Without his drug money, he was unable to maintain the lifestyle he was accustomed to as well as his partner who he recognized was using him for his money.
As he transitioned back to New York, he met a wonderful individual who eventually he would fall in love with and have children of his own. She already had a child, a __________, and he fell in love with __________ immediately. He started raising __________ as if __________ was his own child. Not only did he love her and __________, he fell in love with the concept of having a family.
In order to provide for his new family, he had to engage in what he only knew how to do to make enough money; and that was selling drugs. For the next four years life was great. He had all the money in the world – everything he wanted. He had become very materialistic. However, he was blinded by the lifestyle.
Gordo’s lifestyle was starting to get out of control. He was smoking weed, using drugs and drinking heavily. He was having sex with strippers and any women he met in bars. The lifestyle made him blind to what was important to him – his family.
On August 4, 2017 Gordo’s world came crashing down. The lifestyle he was living was about to change dramatically. He was shot in the hand, losing his knuckle on his pinky and damaging the nerves in his ring finger. This incident led to the changes that would eventually incarcerate him for two years. He was charged with attempted criminal possession, a D felony.
As he tries to get through the mornings which seem to move slowly, especially as he gets closer to his release date, he thinks about his days being incarcerated. He thinks about the individuals he has encountered , what he has missed while incarcerated, and where he wants to move upon his release.
He has met gays, strays, killers, rapists, drug dealers, embezzlers, but doesn’t pass judgement over anyone. He believes we are all human and some just made mistakes. For him he knows this will be his first and last time in prison. It has been two years since he began serving his sentence. He is wiser, sixty-seven pounds lighter, and has no drugs in his system.
He knows what is most important to him – his children. He is going home and plans to be the father figure he never had. He has already secured a job working in a warehouse making $29.50 per hour and will also work as a sales associate in a sporting goods store.
The question remains as to whether he will be able to reconcile with his children’s mother. On Valentine’s Day he found out she was in a relationship with one of his friends. He has forgiven her due to all the mistakes he had made. However, there are relationship issues that need to be resolved. Either way, together or not, his children will have their father back in their lives at one hundred percent.
Sure, it will be easy to get back into the fast-criminal life of selling drugs. However, Gordo knows that is not what he wants for his family. A mistake id one thing, but not taking care of his children, as he puts it, is unforgiveable.
He has lived through a system that he feels is built to make you fail. The programs are outdated and obsolete, the officers hate their jobs, yet they get to go home every day, you get treated poorly like you are the scum of the earth, but in the long run, when he gets to go home all that matters is the love of his family and friends.
However, one looks at is, we are all criminals. Some of us get caught and the rest of us don’t. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, the future is determined by you.
IT IS TIME TO RUN YOUR 12:00 COUNT.
On the count! Sitting or standing.
As the officer completes his count of all inmates, he proclaims to everyone, “the count is correct”. This signifies the beginning of the process for signing up for your 30-minute time slot on the phone as well as getting ready for afternoon programs.
For twenty-eight-year-old Brezz, it alerts him that he has a little time before he has to attend his GED classes. As he begins to mentally prepare himself for over two hours of intense educational instruction, he reflects on all the progress he has made since being incarcerated. The following week he will take the state exam and hope he has done enough to pass it this time, completing a major milestone in his life – obtaining his GED. One step closer to his goal of returning to society with a plan to success without returning to prison.
Brezz is a six-foot tall white male of Italian descent. He is currently single but engaged to be married. He is the father of three beautiful girls, ages thirteen, eleven and ten. He is also the father of a three-year-old boy. As he thinks about his children, it is clear to him that he wants to provide for them so they do not have to live through the hardships he had growing up. That will be a challenge since he has four children with three different women and will be a convicted felon once he is released from prison. However, his children are his focus these days.
Brezz is no stranger to prison life and its effects on a family. His father has been in and out of prison his entire life. His father lacked an education and could not maintain a consistent job, therefore gravitating toward the criminal life. His father’s incarceration left little for a marriage of anything associated with fatherhood. The parenting task fell on the shoulders of his mother. Although she never graduated from college, she tried her best to provide for the needs of her five children. Having three girls and two boys proved to be difficult – she had her hands full.
His mother tried her best to provide day-to-day needs, but time were always lean. During the roughest part with little to no food, she would lower herself to prostitution to earn money. Although she was able to earn enough money to provide basic needs for her children, that life introduced her to many unsavory individuals who took advantage of her, being physically and emotionally abusive.
For Brezz, school became a safe haven, not for the education but rather for the safety of the environment, the social aspects, and the most important part of the day; food. School sometimes provided the only meal for him that day. He was never one to put any effort into his academics which would continue a cycle his father started. School provided other more important aspects in his life.
As time progressed and Brezz was becoming older, his needs and wants grew also. To accommodate those urges, at age eleven, he started selling marijuana. For an eleven-year-old, it changed his life, putting him on the path to become a criminal. The luxuries of life were at his fingertips. He had money, food, new clothes, electronics, and he became very popular. Everyone wanted to be his friend. What eleven-year-old would not bask in that lifestyle, especially when you were growing up with nothing. He felt rich and wanted. No responsibility, no stress, no accountability, and no idea it was about to come to an end.
It all fell apart when he was thirteen years old. On a sunny day in July, he encountered his first contact with the law. He was arrested for selling four ounces of marijuana and possession of a handgun. Being a minor, these charges ended up placing him in the New York State Division of Youth Services for the next four years. He bounced around from program to program and agency to agency due to his acting out behavior and refusal to comply with the program.
As he grew up in “the System” he was able to manage himself in programs, participating enough to have him return home to his mother. As he was preparing himself to return to society, a major disappointment cam from a place he never thought would come. From his mother.
Although she loved her son, she realized she was not capable to provide the necessary supervision and support Brezz needed. She knew her lifestyle was not conducive for Brezz to return home. She informed the state that returning home for him was not a viable option. Therefore, he was forced to step down to a lower level of care, into a foster home. While in the foster home, it provided him the day to day needs, but lacked in the supervision needs. Brezz was able to reenter into his previous lifestyle. This time as an adult, not a minor.
While in the foster home, he met an eighteen-year-old woman of Spanish heritage. Their relationship intensified and he found himself moving in to live with her. As their relationship progressed, he found himself in a conversation that rocked his world. He was informed that at the age of sixteen he was about to become a father. As anyone could imagine, mixed emotions filled him daily, ranging from being elated to total fear. How was he going to support a family at such a young age was a constant worry?
No formal education, no work experience would only get jobs that paid very little money. Therefore, he was fully invested into his former lifestyle which he knew would provide all the needs for himself and his family; selling drugs. To increase his income, he had to move from selling marijuana to a more desirable pleasure, crack-cocaine. The white powder not only was in demand, but yielded a higher profit. As his disposable income increased, so did his lifestyle. He was living the high life, travelling from small town to small town selling drugs, partying, making large profits, spending it on all the luxuries he wanted for himself and family. Fancy clothes, fast cars, latest and greatest electronics all were within his grasp.
Even with his fast lifestyle, he managed to support his family and expand it when he was eighteen. He and Beatriz had another baby girl. Unfortunately, his relationship with his children’s mother was becoming toxic due to his lifestyle. They eventually decided it was better to separate and go their own ways. As he contemplated his next move, he decided a move to Florida where there was sun, fun and women along with an active drug-selling environment.
While living in the sunshine state, he lived the extravagant lifestyle he craved for the next year. Missing his two little girls, he decided to return to New York and spend time with them in the Bronx and visiting his mother in Albany, New York. While visiting his mother he met ___________ and began a relationship that ended up with his third child, another baby girl. Although he was home spending time with his family, his drug selling habits did not cease.
Brezz was only back in New York for a little over two months when he had his second encounter with the law which mirrored his first encounter. Hew was arrested and convicted for selling drugs and possession of a firearm. This led to his first time being incarcerated in the adult system. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years, doing every day of his sentence locked-up.
On March 3, 2015 upon his release from prison he decided to move back to Florida. His sister had taken up residency and he decided he would live her and get his life under control. While living with her, he met Samantha who was ten years older than him. She was well-off financially and supported him with two hundred dollars a week allowance. It wasn’t long before he was back to the fast lifestyle he craved. Cars, alcohol, drugs, and women – a lot of women.
Although Samantha was supporting him financially, he was not faithful to her. He used her for her money and connections. Not only was he constantly partying, he was having sexual relationships with a lot of her friends and anyone who would get high with him. His lifestyle let to his fourth child, however not with Samantha. He just used her as long as he could for the money, sex, drugs, but led to a split in their relationship.
With things falling apart in Florida, four children to support, he decided to separate himself from the situation down south that was stressing him and returned home to New York. Needing to make money, he again returned to selling drugs, the only thing he knew how to do that brings in enough financial support for him and his children. For the third time, he reinvented himself, beginning new relationships and making a lot of money.
With a new girlfriend, new cars, clothes and everything going well, it once again came crashing down around him. He was again arrested and convicted of selling drugs and sentenced to six years of incarceration starting April 14, 2018. As he entered prison once again, he found himself reflecting on all his poor choices and made a renewed commitment to make it his last time incarcerated. This time he had a stable person in his life who was totally supporting him. Megan had been a friend of one of his ex-girlfriends, but she has turned out to be his biggest supporter and new romantic involvement. Jail life was not easy for anyone, especially someone who has been a repeat offender. Having someone who loves and supports him has made it easier to commit to changing.
In his years placed in the Division of Youth Services and incarceration in prison, all Brezz did was search for the next high. It was easy since drugs are easily accessible in the State Penitentiary System. One can purchase pretty much any kind of drug one wants, bu the cost is high. Prices are inflated and you risk being caught and charged with another crime which would extend your stay of incarceration.
In addition to his drug habit, he allowed his temper to get the best of him which incarcerated early in his life. He was disciplined for getting tattoos, dirty urines, fighting, and cutting another individual in 2013. He knew this time around he needed to make changes to break the cycle of incarceration. He was going into his incarceration with goals rather than just doing time. With a stable relationship, four children to support, and a long life ahead of him, change for the better was needed.
Brezz is now one test away from acquiring his GED. Megan and he have decided to enter into marriage and instead of chasing his next high he is searching for vocational skills that will allow him to acquire a good paying job and eventually open his own business. His desire for the fast life continues, however he plans of making money the legal way this time.
Prison life changes a person. He was seen and participated in fights and cuttings. He has witnessed events where inmates were seriously harmed. He has been disciplined, threatened and forced to defend himself. However, he has made lifelong friends. Yes, they are criminals also. But individuals who are committed to being productive citizens. He is now living his motto “I cannot change the past, but can change the future”.