REFLECTIVE INSIGHT: A STORY OF TRANSFORMATION AND REDEMPTION

“I was not born to be alone. I came here for a purpose; to love, live, laugh, and to be loved, appreciated, and respected. I have the power to manifest intimate and meaningful relationships with others.”

The Early Years in Watts

Los Angeles, California in 1960

On May 10, 1960, a child was born through an unplanned pregnancy of Yolande and John Hutchison. They named their baby Edwin J. Hutchison. I was raised by my mother and father in the early 1960s, along with my two older brothers Wendell (10 years older), Andre (8 years older), and my sister, Jeannine (2 years younger) in the Watts section of Los Angeles, CA. My parents came from New Orleans to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, seeking to escape the oppression and racism that existed in the Deep South. From 1960 to 1966, I grew up with a family all around me. My Aunt Dora lived next door, and I had many other extended family members with whom I interacted in my early childhood days. Despite those close relationships, for reasons unknown, I always felt alone.

Relocating to the West Side

In 1967, the City of Los Angeles exercised its “eminent domain policy” to purchase an entire section of Watts in order to build the I-105 Freeway which exists now in Los Angeles. As a result, the Hutchison clan relocated to the “Westside” of Los Angeles. For many years, I lived in the View Park section of the Baldwin Hills District of Los Angeles, which was known as “the Black Beverly Hills.”

My parents both worked very hard to provide me and my siblings with educational and cultural opportunities, and my childhood was filled with many varied experiences that shaped my beliefs and assumptions about the world around me. I went camping and on vacations, visited museums, went to musical plays, parks and beaches, and visited my family members in Sacramento. I spent summers with my grandparents and cousins in New Orleans. I was educated by Jesuits in Catholic schools from the 1st grade until the 9th grade and finally graduated from Fairfax Senior High School (West Hollywood) in 1977, at the age of 17.

I was always a bright, inquisitive child, who loved astronomy, was adventurous, playful, loved being in nature, playing the game of chess, and spending evenings at the beach watching the sunset.

Early Feelings of Being Alone

During these formative years of my life, I often had complex feelings about the manner in which my parents raised me. On the positive side, I never felt like my parents were ever abusive towards me, but I would be spanked when I misbehaved like all the other kids I knew growing up in the 1960s. That was simply the norm back in those days.

I ate dinner with my parents and siblings most nights, and went on vacations and positive outings in the city with them. However, I often recalled feeling neglected and unloved by my family. As noted above, my parents had me accidentally when my older brothers were ten and eight years older than me. As a result, in childhood, this left me feeling like “the forgotten one” of the family.

I spent a lot of my time playing alone and feeling that my parents preferred to buy me things to keep me entertained rather than to talk or interact with me. This may have been due to the fact that my parents were functional alcoholics who had a bar in the den of the house and would often have parties at home. It was during these social events my parents would either leave me alone in my room and/or in the care of others while they partied and went on vacations for days at a time.

Early Childhood Sexual Abuse

At the age of seven, I was left in the care of a babysitter who was the daughter of one of my mother’s friends, and I was sexually abused by this girl. She would pull my pants down and sit on top of me or put my penis in her mouth. These acts of sexual abuse went on for three years and went undetected by my mother. I felt confused and ashamed about the abuse, and felt like I could not discuss these events with my parents as I seldom had any meaningful conversations with them. I didn’t really know them.

Over time, I developed resentments towards my parents for not protecting me from these unwanted sexual experiences, and at the age of 15, I started to abuse multiple mind-altering substances like high-grade marijuana, alcohol, and powder cocaine to escape my feelings. I used these drugs with my peers to feel accepted by them and to numb myself from all the negative emotional experiences associated with years of sexual abuse by a babysitter who my mother brought into my young, innocent life.

Early Successes

I was considered a “bright” student throughout my high school years and I earned above-average grades. I did not suffer from any learning disorders or have special educational needs. I also didn’t have any negative behavioral problems throughout my schooling nor was I drawn to any antisocial street gangs which were festering within the streets of L.A. I successfully graduated Fairfax Senior High School in 1977 and completed two years of college-level computer science courses.

U.S. Military Experiences / Early Substance Abuse

On December 12, 1979, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and received training as a Hospital Corpsman at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. Upon completion, I was stationed on the USS Thomaston (LSD-28). The ship’s homeport was at the 32nd Street Naval base outside of National City, CA, south of San Diego. My tasks included supporting the five other Corpsman assigned to the ship with daily medical needs and duties involving the ship’s crew of 250 enlisted men and 50 officers.

I went overseas on naval operations and visited ports-of-call such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Subic Bay (Philippines), Perth (Australia), and Bangkok, just to name a few. However, during my naval career, the culture associated with the Navy’s high consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs contributed to an increase in my already developed substance abuse problems. This substance abuse problem also contributed to my second traumatic experience involving sexual abuse.

Sexual Abuse and Torture by White Sailors in the U.S. Navy

While on naval maneuvers off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, I purchased marijuana on consignment from a white sailor who outranked me, and when I was unable to pay this drug debt, I was lured to the lower bowels of the ship, taken into a secluded compartment, and was attacked by three white sailors. I was knocked unconscious and awoke to find out that I was a victim of sexual assault with a broomstick in my anus. This trauma took me back in time to earlier unwanted sexual assault by my babysitter, and those same feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and distrust of authority were further stoked by this awful incident.

I was told by these whites sailors that if I reported this assault, they would “throw me overboard at night.” Shortly thereafter, upon arrival at Subic Bay in the Philippines, I went AWOL (i.e., absent without leave) for three weeks and went to Manila. I was later arrested by Shore Patrol (Navy military police) when I was involved in a bar fight while drunk. It was determined that I was AWOL and subsequently returned back to the USS Thomaston, where I went before the Captain of the ship for NJP (i.e., non-judicial punishment).

When confronted by these superior officers about the actions I took, I offered no explanations as to my AWOL status, and was placed in the ship’s brig for a sentence of “three days of bread and water,” which was literal in every sense of the word. When released from that form of physical torture, I fled the ship again when it was docked in Hong Kong, where I stayed with a friend on Lamma Island for six months. Because I was an African American who stood head and shoulders above the local population, it didn’t take long before the local police realized I was not local on this island of Chinese and British nationals. Again, I was taken into custody, and again, and the Shore Patrol came to retrieve me and I was returned back to a ship that was en route to Thailand. I was flown to Bangkok ahead of the ship’s arrival, and as soon as I cleared customs, I eluded the Navy personnel awaiting me, and I went AWOL in Bangkok out of fear of being murdered at sea.

This pattern reflects how I processed stressful situations that arose throughout my life. I would either physically run or mentally escape via drugs and alcohol. Subsequently, after going AWOL five times in a year, the Navy decided to release me from active duty with a “General Discharge” on May 5, 1981, and I returned back to Los Angeles, CA.

Life as a Civilian and Married Man

Life in Los Angeles actually started off very well for me upon my return. I met my best friend and future wife, Athena, and we lived together in Fullerton, CA in an upscale area of Orange County southeast of Los Angeles. I was gainfully employed as a Dialysis Technician and quickly worked my way up to the position of Chief Dialysis Technician at two hospitals, one in Orange, CA, and the other in Inglewood, CA. Athena and I married and she had my son, Jacques, and two years later, my daughter, Jenevieve, was born. However, the demons and traumas of my past resurfaced — alcohol and drugs. I began to experience what could be best described as “a fear of success,” as with my newly found successes in life came with something I was not mentally ready for — RESPONSIBILITY. I was a twenty-something Black man, handsome, intelligent, with a doting wife, beautiful kids, and living the American Dream,; yet I walked around fearful that at any given moment the “trapdoor of life” would open underneath me.

The Demons Called Drugs and Alcohol Led to Criminality

Even with my successes and money, I was internally unhappy and increasingly began engaging in risky behavior and would spend time with other drug users about two or three times per week. As substance abuse problems worsened, I started to engage in even more reckless and violent behavior. My first arrest was in November of 1984 for impulsively stealing a cassette tape from a store while high on cocaine. I received three years probation for trespassing for that crime. In March of 1988, I was arrested for slapping my wife when she confronted me about my belligerent behavior while drinking alcohol. I was given two years of summary probation for that crime against my wife. Caught in a cycle of addiction, in 1990, a drug-using associate suggested that I should participate in a robbery with him. I eventually agreed to do so as I wanted to have more money for my cocaine usage that would not be financially visible to my wife.

I was now in too deep, and in a span of six months, I participated in at least nine armed robberies of businesses located in the City of Long Beach. I became addicted to the “rush” and thrill of doing robberies and the instant gratification of having a large amount of cash at my disposal. The drugs I used helped me to deal with my feelings of chronic depression and deep sense of sadness, as I had given up all hope of ever being able to deeply connect to others. My substance abuse made me feel unable to actualize the fullness of my many gifts and my true potential in the world.

Nine months later, I was sitting in the Los Angeles County Jail about to be sentenced to an eight-year prison term for committing multiple armed robberies. However, the 4 years that I spent behind bars on my first prison term were at low-level prison environments which did not scare or intimidate me. Although I witnessed dorm fights, stabbings, assaults, and other acts of violence, I managed to not become a victim, and continued to abuse inmate-manufactured alcohol and marijuana while incarcerated, with the intent of returning to using crack cocaine upon my release.

In 1994, I was paroled from Soledad in Salinas, CA, and did a geographical relocation to Monterey, CA with a woman I met while incarcerated, thinking the “change of scenery” would do me some good. I also made the decision to divorce Athena in the same year even though she visited me and brought my children to see me on overnight “family visits.” I was still engaging in my addictions and behavior, which that only served to further isolate me from others. I left my relationship with my wife and kids during this time of conflict and challenge, rather than staying and working towards a deeper understanding and the possible formation of a long term bond with my wife and kids.

Spiraling Out of Control

After paroling in Monterey, CA, I quickly returned to my substance-abusing patterns, which led to three parole revocations for “absconding” (i.e., running on parole to avoid drug testing) in 1996, 1997, and 1998. I left the woman I had been seeing and, in 1996, returned back to Los Angeles and began a new romantic relationship with a woman who engaged in substance abuse with me. I had a new apartment in Hollywood, CA, and was able to get a good job at Paramount Pictures. Later I became employed at Boeing Aerospace Corporation as a computer technician from 1996 until 1998. Due to the parole violations revolving around my continued drug and alcohol usage, I was terminated from both jobs. I was arrested in 1996 several times for possession and purchase of cocaine, but the charges in both cases were dismissed.

The End of Life as I Knew It

On February 27, 1999, I had been unemployed for 6 months due to my most recent parole violation. I had been up for three straight days smoking crack cocaine and drinking alcohol. I didn’t know how to cope with all the losses, anxiety, and anger I felt. I lost my apartment in Lakewood, CA, my job at Boeing, and I was living in and out of various motels, and was only making limited attempts to find work. I sank deeper into my addictions, feeling sorry for myself. Again, that feeling of a “fear of failure” crept into my psyche and I had unrealistic plans of getting unstuck and finding a way out of my current circumstances.

In this state of being, after getting high on crack cocaine for the past 72 hours, I was without cash and left the crack house at 9:00 pm having no real plan as to my next move. It was then that my criminal thinking kicked in. I was cold, hungry, and in a state of desperation. I thought, “Hey, I could sure use five or six hundred dollars right now” and being that I had committed robberies in the past, it would be fairly easy to walk into a restaurant and pretend to have a gun to rob the place. I didn’t care about other people’s boundaries or their well being at this point in time. I only cared about my own selfish needs and desires. All I wanted to do now was to get some more money, to get off the streets, and continue getting high.

The Decision That Changed My Life Forever

I walked past a Taco Bell and saw a lone employee at the counter. I paused, looked around, then went back and entered the store. The employee, R. Taylor asked me what I would like to order. Pretending to have a gun in my jacket pocket, I said in a low menacing voice, “Open the cash register and give me all the cash and you won’t get shot.” Shock and fear were clearly evident upon R. Taylor’s face. The poor man didn’t know if he was going home that night. Although I felt tremendous shame looking at R. Taylor’s trembling hands as he handed over the money, my addictions overwhelmed any sense of “right and wrong behavior”. I walked out of the store, ran across the boulevard, went down a back alley, and disappeared into the night like a ghost.

A Victim of California’s Three Strikes Draconian Laws

On April 7, 1999, I was identified and arrested for this crime and on January 28, 2000, I was sentenced in the Long Beach Superior Court to a prison term of Thirty (30) years to life, under the State of California’s Three Strike Law, for the offense of Second Degree Robbery without a weapon, or inflicting any physical injuries, in a non-violent offense. That was the moment that changed my life forever. Life as I knew it was now a fantasy and prison was now my reality, forever. I died many times on the outside, but this prison sentence was a death sentence in slow motion.

Life’s door slammed in my face, and I entered the black hole of the CDCR. Hearing the sentence of 30 years to life physically made me sick, numb, and compressed my rib into my lungs as I took my last breath of life. As a result, I began a sentence that totaled 21 years, 9 days, and 8 hours of that sentence.

But that’s another story, so stay tuned for that one.

Next Blog Topic: The reality of prison life compared to what I expected

Originally published at https://colibridigitalmarketing.com on June 26, 2020.

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