From this prison cell, I've spent many hours of the last 23 years thinking about my past and the "stupid- mistakes I've made which have led me to prison and, to being sentenced to death. Believe me when I tell you that I've made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions without thinking or caring how these mistakes or stupid choices would eventually affect my life and the lives of others. Believe me when I tell you that when you end up in prison or on death row, you will have nothing but time to think about how you allowed yourself to con and cheat yourself out of life and good times. You will have nothing but time to remember how you could have avoided spending most or all of your remaining life in a prison cell, or waiting to be executed, if you would have thought seriously about what you were doing before you acted and ended up in prison or on death row.  It is my hope that you won't end up like me, thinking about how stupidity hurt you from a prison cell, and that is why I'd like to share one of the
biggest mistakes I've ever made with you. The choice was mine but I didn't think about the affect that my choice might have on me or other people.

    Growing up in my teen years I was in trouble with the law and courts several times. Running away, shoplifting, car theft, breaking and entering, driving without a license, driving while intoxicated, and possession of and distribution of drugs are some of the things I was into. I ended up getting arrested, locked in jail, put into reform school, and spent time grounded or restricted by parents.

    Each time I would end up in trouble with the law, courts or adults I'd tell them and myself I wasn't going to do whatever I was in trouble for again. While I was in trouble and suffering the consequences I'd keep my act together and would stay out of trouble, swearing I had learned my lesson. But, not long after my punishment and the trouble was behind me it wouldn't be long before I was back into getting high or drunk, or getting , mixed up with people who were into steeling or breaking the law in some way.  Skipping school, shoplifting, running away, and doing other things that "I knew" could get me into trouble and locked up again. When I would go back to a lifestyle which I knew could get me into trouble or jail I had plenty of excuses to justify my actions to myself.

    Realistically I was just conning myself with excuses like the following:

1. My friends are doing it and I don't want to be thought of as a wimp or uncool.
2. I'm not going to hurt anyone, I'm just having some harmless fun.

3. So what if I'm getting drunk or high? I'm not hurting anyone and I can handle It.
4. I need to get high and wasted to feel better.

5. I know what I'm doing, I won't get busted, addicted, or overdose.

6. I'm not addicted to drugs or alcohol, I just like the high, I can quit anytime I want, I just don't want to.

7. There is no harm in selling drugs or stolen goods so I can make some money that I need. Besides, I know what I'm doing, I won't get caught.

8. I'm tired of being without, and these people are rich or have insurance so stealing from them or robbing them won't hurt them.
9. I'm not going to school because it's a drag and I know that stuff they are teaching. I'll never need to know the stuff they are trying to teach me. I'm smart enough without the hassle of school.

10. Maybe if I do this someone will pay attention to me and take me seriously.

11. I'm not going to do this (whatever it is) all the time I just want to experiment and see what it's like.
    A lot of people make a lot of different excuses to justify the fact that they are doing something wrong. Sometimes people just do something wrong to see what it's like, and they say well just this one time won't hurt anything or anyone. This is a lie! If it can get you into trouble or cause you to depend on it (like drugs & alcohol), the truth is that it can get you locked up, and there is always a high possibility that something could happen that you don't expect, that could cause yourself or someone else to be seriously hurt. Although I "didn't think about it" I knew then, and now, those excuses were stupid lies that I was telling myself or being told by someone else. I lied to Judges, police, probation officers, teachers, principles, reform school counselors and parents. Yea, I thought I was one slick and cool operator as I conned them all. But what I didn't realize then, but, now know after spending the last 23 years in this prison cell, is that the person I was really conning and cheating the most was myself.
    I believed my stupid excuses and I went on doing what" I knew" could get me into serious trouble and ended up cheating myself out of so much life. I cheated myself instead of doing the right thing or finding a good way to deal with a problem that would benefit me instead of hurt myself. All the years I spent in boys homes, trade school, and jail I cheated myself out of the opportunity to be free and doing the other things that other kids were doing and enjoying. By skipping and dropping out of school in the 8th:, grade, I cheated myself out of an education that I needed in order to get a good job and have a successful career. I didn't think about the future when I quit school, but when I tried to get a job I found out that getting a job required that I know math and many other subjects taught in school that I had not learned. By not thinking of my future and employment I had conned and cheated myself out of having a good job or a successful career.

    Then there was the experimenting and use of drugs and drinking beer, wine, and whiskey. I had plenty of excuses why I needed or wanted them, and after telling myself these lies I began to believe them. I swore I knew my limit, how to control myself and the drug when high, and that I'd never be addicted. Again, I was only conning and cheating myself and I never stopped to really think about it. I stayed high so much that when I did think about it I was high and didn't really think about it seriously. I ended up becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol and had many occasions when I could not recall what I had been doing while high. A large portion of the money I made by employment was spent on supporting my habit. I refused to pay attention to the forgetfulness, the blackouts, the way I would become mean at times, or the sickness of not having drugs or alcohol that I would go through. I also refused to recognize that the reason I jumped from job to job was because of my addiction. There were many signs but I conned and cheated myself with all of my stupid excuses.

Finally a day came when my mind and body was totally burnt out but, when I awoke I started my day with my usual routine. A couple bong hits, a couple shots of whiskey, or beer, and 2 hits of speed. I went out partying with someone and many hours of partying with whiskey and PCP, myself and this other person somehow ended up robbing a store. When we left the store
clerk was dead. I came somewhat to my senses in jail but not knowing what I was there for or anything about the crime we had committed, but, that didn't stop the judge from giving me a life sentence plus one year in prison. I could have received the death penalty.

Another way you Cheat yourself when you keep going back to the same lifestyle that you know is against the law is, before you realize it you've been in trouble more times than you can count and you now have a reputation of the type of person likely to steal, rob, use or sell dope, or whatever you've been continuously doing. When you get this type of criminal reputation you make it easy for someone to accuse you, and if you can't prove that you really didn't do it you may not be believed or trusted. This could very well lead to you're being jailed based on the fact and "circumstantial evidence" that you are a likely suspect because you've done it so many other times. This type of reputation can and will prevent you from getting jobs or certain type of social memberships. These things may not seem so important now when you are between the ages of 10 and 18 years old, but they should because everything you do today can and usually does affect you tomorrow.

    I have learned the hard way going through these things I've spoken of, and have met many people in prison who have also made the same stupid mistakes. Particularly the mistake of waiting to late in life to think about the trouble these mistakes can cause them. Most of us in prison have spent most of our life conning and cheating ourselves and, causing ourselves hassles that were really unnecessary. Well, "I'm thinking about it now!" I've been thinking about it from behind bars for the last 10 years. Each day I miss the legal things I enjoy doing while remembering how many chances I had to get my act together. But, I was a fool! Will you also be a fool?

THE CHOICE IS YOURS! What are you going to do? will you continue to con and cheat yourself until you end up like me, sitting in prison year after year, not knowing if you'll ever see the outside world again or die behind these prison walls? Do you think you are too slick, cool, or such a player that you won't end up in prison wishing you would have given what you were doing more thought? If you do, it's your choice but, be forewarned that these prison walls are full of people who also thought the same thing. Prisons and death rows and even mental institutions are full of people who kept conning and cheating themselves the same way.

    I can only tell you what I know from experiencing and seeing it happen the hard way, the rest is up to you. It is your life and your future. THE CHOICE IS YOURS! Are you going to be spending your future free and happily, or will you be spending it in a prison cell wishing you would have thought things out more maturely and gotten your act together? Knowing how much I regret and have suffered .as each year I sat behind bars getting older and missing so many good things as these prison walls sucked the life out of me, I hope you won't be one of the people I see come here or to any other prison. Please take advantage of the fact that you can know what the real deal is without experiencing it the hard way. If you ever want someone to rap to to help you decide whether you'll be making a serious mistake by doing something, I'd be glad to rap with you. I don't know it all but I do know that "nothing" is worth the life you'll have if you come to prison, and I know it can be avoided simply by thinking before you act. You need only care enough about yourself. Anyone can write to me at the following address:

Joseph P. Payne, Sr.  #127364
Keen Mountain Correctional Center
State Route 629
P. O. Box 860
Oakwood, VA 24631

    Many times you are glad to do a friend a favor, well, do yourself the favor of thinking seriously about where you are going in life and about what kind of life you're living now. Be smart by not letting others convince you of getting into things you know are wrong or harmful to you or others. If they were really your friend they wouldn't be trying to lead you into something that can hurt you or screw up your life. If you can be smart enough to do yourself this favor now, I know you'll be glad you did later in life. The best of luck to you!

© Copyright 2003 Joseph P. Payne. Sr.

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The Choice Is Yours Issue 1 for the month of August, 2003

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