Staying the night in a cold, dirty concrete room isn’t the way anyone wants to spend Christmas, but that’s just what I did six years ago. The room was packed with loud drunks shouting for no apparent reason. Those who were lucky enough to find a spot to sleep would lose it while relieving themselves in the toilet shared by 30 people.
Attempting to sleep away and forget the mistakes I had made earlier that night was damn near impossible because the temperature was so low my body shot into hypothermia every time my skin touched the concrete floor. The thought that kept running through my head was, “Why didn’t I just stay home?” It was Christmas Eve, late in the evening, and all my stops to visit family members were done. The perfect time to call it a night. Instead, a friend and I felt it necessary to go out for drinks.
A couple more bad decisions later, and there weren’t any more beautiful Christmas lights in my peripherals but reds and blues. You can guess what happened. My friend and I got a free ride to downtown Fort Worth in the car with the cool siren and lights.
“Shut the hell up,” a police officer yelled at the correctional facilities’ other guests as we walked in.
It’s funny how movies portray county jails. Often you see a large room, steel bars that you could openly speak through to police, and a nice bench for sitting. But here there was a metal door with a thick plastic window so damaged you couldn’t see through it. There was no place to sit besides the concrete floor. The room was filled with people and reeked of alcohol and vomit.
Had I made the mature decision and gone home hours earlier, I would have been lying down on a soft bed in a warm room. A pleasant aroma would have lingered around after my nightly hot shower. With soap. And a toilet not dripping with urine and vomit. Small luxuries I didn’t realize were so important. The night was horrible but only the beginning of the problems to come. Bond, community service, and legal fees haunted my future. Not how I planned to end the holidays.
Though the situation was awful, it was recoverable. More than I could say for friends and family. Growing up in the southern part of the city, I saw worse things happen to nearly everyone around me. Especially between 2011 and 2012, when I had turned 21. I watched as friends and relatives struggled to pay bills, received prison sentences, or were killed over senseless violence.
Realizing where I could be, I decided this wasn’t the end of the world but a chance to get my shit together. Christmas in a smelly jail and a night sleeping on a hard, ice-cold floor wasn’t anything compared to years in prison –– or worse. My issue now was figuring out where I was going. I was four years out of high school and still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.
In the whirlwind of problems surrounding me, I began to read and study up on politics and international crises, especially the Arab Spring, a series of citizen uprisings and protests against corrupt governments in the Middle East –– events no one around me ever paid attention to. Everyone seemed to be suffocating from their own problems. I don’t blame them. For me, however, studying events around the world interested me due to how little I knew about them. I became impassioned and angered when seeing the problems people everywhere were facing.
My soul searching led me to journalism. It was the journalists who brought attention to hard times, war, poverty, famine, and they are who shed light on atrocities committed by the powerful all over the world. Prior to this realization, I never knew much about anything outside of South Forth Worth. I decided to become an ink-stained reporter fighting for truth in a murky world.
I continued to work and pay off my debts from my wild night and trip to the slammer and enrolled in community college.
This Christmas will mark six years since that night in jail. Things have changed tremendously. I’ve enjoyed accomplishments big and small, from taking a simple plane ride –– something that many people might consider common but something rare for everyone around me –– to leaving the country to volunteer in Africa.
More importantly this Christmas, I have a beautiful family: a wife, a daughter, and a newborn son to carry my name. I also will receive my bachelor’s degree, a first for my family. It’s in journalism. And I promise not to make any more unscheduled trips downtown. Instead I’ll be thankful for having the chance to make things right.