About a year into my conviction I was set in my routine and was familiar with the faces I saw– there weren’t that many.  The guard that I had the most interaction with was Jorge Castillo.

He was a hard-working young guy, loved cars, especially Mustangs. He had two kids and was going to school at night to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering. To him this was just a job. He did a stint in Iraq but got hurt. I guess they think being a soldier qualifies you to being a prison guard but I think the mindset required for each are vastly different. That’s neither here nor there but I liked Jorge. He was fair. If you showed him respect he showed it back and that’s all you can pretty much ask for from a man.

He would actually ask me questions about how life was as a cop and ask about my family, my childhood… let me tell you how rare that is. Once you are a convict no one gives a shit about you. As far as they are concerned you are a wild animal that should be caged up and forgotten. People don’t care that you have your own personal history, successes and failures. No one cares about the nuisance that landed you in prison, all they see is the headlines and usually the headlines paint you as a monster. So having that interaction with Jorge was key. It made me feel somewhat human.

Jorge was a devout Catholic and we talked a lot about religion. He was very interested in how our personal journey affected us and shapes who we are. Through our conversations I realized that my life can be broken down into six distinct phases. So when I look back, the Ehrich Lowe from 10 years ago is completely non-existent. I have even met people who I knew back then and I’m completely unrecognizable to them as far as my personality goes. These are the phases of my life:

  1. Childhood (1 to 12) – Just me, mom and Logan. I know my mom didn’t have much and we moved around a lot but looking back it was the perfect childhood. I miss it.
  2. Life after Logan (13 to 20). My older brother, Logan, died in a boating accident on my uncle’s shrimp boat when I was 13. That changed everything for me. That was the loss of innocence.
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    Me and Logan. We used to take family trips up to Shenandoah and my mom would do photo shoots. 

     

  3. The cancer years (20 – 27). My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She smoked a hell of a lot. I don’t think I ever saw her without a cigarette. The woman was always stressed but she still managed to make it fun for everyone around her. I was afraid to venture too far away from home because I didn’t want to miss out on any time from her in case she suddenly passed away. She was finally given a clean bill of health when I was 27. Over dinner one night she told me that she felt bad because she had let me down. At this point I was already two years in as a police officer. She felt like I could do more with myself but I was comfortable. It was a steady job plus everyone respects the blue. Maybe it was a power thing but I loved putting on that uniform.
  4. Homicide (29 – 34). I worked my way up to homicide and it was something I was naturally good at.  It’s not as fancy and glamorous as you see in movies or tv. It’s a lot of reading and going through paperwork. It’s a meticulous job. You have to pay attention to detail and you have to be fearless. I’d say our department probably cleared about 50 to 60% of our cases. My years as a homicide officer altered the way I see the world.
  5. Prison life (34 – 41). Basically everything I learned as a police officer was challenged when I was in prison.  I thought the world was blue and gray but found out it was more like a rainbow with various shades in between.
  6. Of course there’s the present– the person I was in each stage of my previous life has been transformed, now I’m here. A functional update of my previous versions but drastically different at the same time.

Anyway so I got comfortable with Jorge and looked forward to our talks then all of a sudden LCI switched things ups. They put guards on rotation every 6 months to a year so the guards don’t get too familiar with prisoners.  I never saw Jorge again. The guy that replaced him was a real fucking hard ass, Juniper Moseley.

What the fuck kinda name is Juniper for a guy? Maybe that’s why he was so bitter, one of those guys that got picked on in high school so now he’s taking his aggression out on inmates because we can’t fight back. He’s a real bitch if you don’t already get the picture. Juniper would play mind games. One day he’s super nice and the next day he was a terror. You never knew what to expect, so interacting with him was stressful.

What was frustrating to me is that I wouldn’t give a shit about Juniper in the real world. I can kick his ass. He would be a flea in my world but now I was beholden to his whims, to his abuses. Some of the guys used to joke that you always knew when Juniper got some pussy because he would be chipper and kind as hell to everyone… I can tell you that he didn’t get pussy that often.

About a couple of months into Juniper’s rotation he did a sweep. Basically that means they tossed our cells looking for contraband. He said he found some in my room which was bullshit. I stood up to him and told him he was lying. We had a heated exchange and I pretty much told him off. I challenged him to get the warden down here and I’ll prove that the contraband wasn’t mine. Juniper backed down, which in prison culture is the worst thing you can do. If you come out swinging you better land your punches or your currency is done. Juniper knew this.

The next morning when I was taking a shower… all of a sudden I realized the shower area was eerily empty, then I heard a growl and turned around and two fucking guard dogs attacked me.  They bit my arms, legs, clawed into my stomach. I think I killed or at least severely hurt one of the dogs before Juniper and his guys came and pulled the dogs off me. I spent the next three weeks in the infirmary. After that I would have nightmares of being attacked and my sleep deteriorated. When I was released from the infirmary they took me straight to the hole for having contraband. 16 days. Do you know the damage solitary can have on your mind?

After I got out of solitary they sent me straight to get in my exercise time. The sun pierced my eye and it felt like someone jabbing sharp sticks in my eye balls. It took awhile to adjust. I didn’t have energy to do anything rigorous so I was just walking around in the exercise cage then I saw a man walk up. He just stood there and stared at him.  I was on high alert. I thought maybe this was someone Juniper had sent. I looked at the man and said, ‘What?’ The man just turned and walked away. That was that. I didn’t see him again… at least for a while.

The next time I saw the man we just had an incident in D block. Remember I told you the story of the inmate that clogged his toilet and caused flooding. Anyway after police cleared it out they put those of us on D block on the clean up crew to sweep out the water. My job was to take the buckets that were full of water and dump them out on the side of the property where there was a small drain. While I was doing this I saw the same man again, leaning up against the wall where the drain was. He looked at me and I got these goose bump on my neck. I could feel his eyes not just looking at me but looking inside me. It felt like his spirit went inside me and was probing my soul. I can’t describe it adequately but I just froze. I felt like he had taken over my body for a few seconds. Then I heard him whisper to me and I’ll never forget what he said. He told me, ‘your purity has saved you,’ and he walked off. I just stood there for a moment. Emotions were bubbling inside me and I couldn’t control them.  I’m not pure that’s for damn sure. So what the fuck did he mean? Normally I would just say he’s a fucking crazy hack like most of the assholes at LCI… but because I knew something deeper happened I wanted more answers.

Being in D block I didn’t get much personal interaction so there was no one I could ask to tell me who the man was. About four months later. I woke up in the middle of the night just vomiting. I spit up blood and I thought my insides were going to fall out of my mouth. After a few hours the guards finally took me to the infirmary. They gave me aspirin and antibiotics and I went to sleep. The next morning I woke up and the man was sitting right next to me.  This time his stare wasn’t as probing but I was uncomfortable because I remember how he made me feel last time. So I asked him who he was and what he meant by my purity has saved me.

He told me he was a counselor of sorts. He did some time in prison years ago but now his mission was to help other men overcome their personal struggles. He introduced himself to me as RJ Reeder. He said he saw something special in me and just wanted to get to know me. So I asked him again to answer me and tell me what he meant when he said my purity had saved me. He looked at me a smiled and told me I wasn’t ready for the answer to that question.  He got up and left.

A few weeks later RJ showed up at my cell and told me that he received approval from the prison to evaluate me. Why? Well after my whole vomiting episode, at the infirmary, they took a blood test and found traces of hydrochloric acid. The doctors believe I tried to commit suicide. Truth is I had thought of ending it all several times. I’ve been very honest and open about that but where the hell am I going to get hydrochloric acid from on death row. I had no friends coming to see me. I had no alliances. I knew it was Juniper Moseley but I had no proof.

The policy at the prison is to have a psych eval after there’s been an attempted suicide. The funny thing is the prison can’t understand why we’d want to kill ourselves yet they house us in conditions that force us to really contemplate that exact fate. My file was given to some other doctor but I guess RJ convinced the doctor to hand my case over to him.

For the next 8 weeks I met with RJ once a week for about an hour. He would come to my cell and we’d talk about politics and religion. I found out that he was half Cherokee and was kind of a tree hugger. He always talked about the earth as if it was a real person. I thought that was off-putting at first.

The very first day we met he brought me four books.

  1. The Little World of Don Camillo – by Giovanni Guareschi
  2. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train – Howard Zinn
  3. Nana – by Emile Zola
  4. The Bible

When I saw the Bible I got mad. I wasn’t trying to get preached to. I didn’t care about being saved. I’d been to church as a kid and that shit just didn’t pay off. Look at how fucked up my life turned out. My mother was in church when my brother died… I mean you tell me what kind of merciful God thinks that’s OK. RJ said he wasn’t trying to change me or anything. He himself wasn’t a Christian but he said there was a certain power in the book that seemed to help people focus and think about humanity rather than focusing on their own pain– plus it was a long ass book and would keep me busy for awhile.

Every week after that he’d bring me a new book and I amassed a nice little library. I was never much of a reader but in prison what the hell else are you going to do? So I just started reading and anytime I had a session with RJ we would talk about ideas discussed in the various book and also talk about my views of life, etc. I could tell he had wisdom. I got curious about what landed him in prison and he laughed and said he and his brothers tried to rob a Brinks truck. I was more interested in the fact that he had a brother. It reminded me of Logan. RJ told me his brother’s name was Bunny and they lived together. They had a philosophy of living off the land and connecting with nature. Then he said something really peculiar. He told me, ‘maybe one day you can visit us.’ When he said this I got angry, I’ll admit. I yelled at him and told him that he should stop saying things like that because my appeals were going nowhere.  He apologized, then left me his phone number to call him if I needed anything. That was our last session. I never called him.

Fast forward to when the red phone rang while I was on that bed. I was exonerated. I was processed and they asked me if I had friends or family to call. I had no one. My divorce was already finalized and I hadn’t seen or spoken to Courtney in at least 4 years. It was just me and I realized I knew more people at LCI than I did in the free world. I had RJ’s number so I called him. He told me to stay put.  A few hours later he showed up in a truck with Bunny. The first thing he said to me was, ‘Remember I told you your purity will save you.’

My brain was spinning and I had a thousand questions swirling around but the first thing I asked was ‘How did you know?’ His response was, ‘When I looked at you that first time, I saw our paths were intertwined in the future.’ What the fuck was going on? Who the hell are these people? I was now hesitant because I didn’t believe in premonition and that kind of prophecy shit. I believe my eyes and what I see… at least at the time I did. Against my better judgement I got into the truck anyway and we drove out to where they live, about an hour drive outside of Chesapeake. They have a shack where they raise alligators in the swamp in an area called Possums Creek.

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RJ on the left and Bunny on the right. 

It sounds batshit crazy but it’s true. I’d show you a picture of their property but they haven’t given me the OK. It took awhile before they agreed to even take the pictures I’ve posted on here.

The first few nights… OK the first few months were pure hell. I had nightmare’s practically every night. In the mornings I was always angry.  I kept on expecting the Reeder brothers to tell me that my time with them was up but they never said anything. I asked them about it and all RJ said was, ‘is there someplace you’re in a hurry to be?’ Obviously there wasn’t so I stopped asking. Maybe I didn’t trust them, maybe they have some kind of hidden agenda but till this day I haven’t discovered what it could be.

There was one particular night when I had this horrible nightmare and I guess I was sleep-walking and I went and grabbed a knife and just started cutting myself. RJ held me down and Bunny gave me some kind of concoction that he made. Bunny is sort of an alchemist. He’s the wild one. RJ is very measured and likes to think through things but Bunny lives life with reckless abandon. He loves playing the banjo and singing. Bunny pretty much keeps my spirits high after RJ has knocked me down a bit… I mean that in the best possible way. RJ’s been a mentor but his ways are hard and frustrating at times.

This concoction that Bunny gave me knocked me out and I was asleep for over two days. That’s when RJ told me that I had a darkness in me because of my experiences in prison. Basically he felt I had PTSD and he knew the cure and it was mushrooms. That was my first experience with mushrooms and everything about my life and it’s trajectory has been transformed since.

The very first trip I experienced I was walking in a field, it wasn’t a nice grassy field… it was a field of bodies. I was walking on bodies as far as the eyes could see and I couldn’t understand it. RJ thought maybe the dimensions were speaking to me and telling me what my future would hold. Maybe that’s why I’m working for The Amnesty Project… there are lives to be saved.

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