My name is Brandon E. Simmons and I took a serious misstep in life.
It was 2012 and I had found myself in a deep state of grief, stress, and debilitating depression. Part of my attempt to alleviate this emotional anguish was responding to and placing ads on adult websites for consensual encounters. This activity only served to further my suffering, yet I was desperate for relief, and ignorant of how to healthfully attain genuine well-being.
I had posted several ads and received a response from a female saying that she was looking for her first experience. In the following email she declared her age as a minor. I responded that age was not material to me, and we continued the conversation.
Approximately two weeks later, after a couple of refusals by me for erotic dates, I agreed to meet in person.
Exactly what had led me to a place where I did not see this to be harmful is difficult to assert. I suppose it was the loneliness and despair. It was thinking that I only had positive intentions and that I would never deliberately hurt anyone.
Somehow, I never stopped to consider the consequences.
About how I could bring lasting trauma to another human being. About how I could be taken away from my family and friends. About how I could lose my personal freedoms forever.
I only sought to fill the void.
The person that I was speaking to was a member of law enforcement. I was arrested and charged by the US government for using interstate commerce to induce a minor.
I went to trial twice, the first being a hung jury. In the second I was found guilty. I was later sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, with 30 years of probation to follow.
I believed my life to be over and saw no point in going on. I was a devout atheist and had no comfort that a higher purpose existed.
After my conviction, I was put in a cell on a floor of the courthouse completely alone. I took a lace from one of my shoes and tied a noose, then attached it to a crossbar of the cell. I could not understand why they had left me unaccompanied with a means for suicide unless they had wanted me to use it.
I positioned the noose around my neck and stepped off the bench, the intention being to end my life.
I had tied the lace a bit too long, though, and my feet scraped the floor. I pulled myself up and began to shorten the length. And then it hit me, from somewhere that I had not previously known, that I did have an authentic and vital purpose.
In some existential manner, I absolutely knew this, and I knew that I could not let this situation deter me from it. I relaced my shoe and waited there, a little less alone than I had been before.
It was soon after, while I was in jail, that my dreams began to occur.
I have what is known as aphantasia, meaning that I do not possess the ability to form mental images. But in my dreams, I kept seeing these very detailed depictions of beautiful works, and having the lucid recognition that I did not hold the capacity to visually fabricate such intricate creations.
Thus, there had to be something else.
In each of these dreams I came to this same idea: there had to be something else. And this something else was related to Beauty. Capital B.
So, I committed myself to try to find what that "something else" may be. I read voraciously, devouring every sacred text I could find: The Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, etc. I studied philosophy and science and great epics of literature, all in search of what resonated with this notion of Beauty.
And I began to write; just little stand-alone aphorisms. I found limitations helpful, so I came to the concept of using 128 character-spaces for these maxims.
It was actually in the writing itself that I began to find what I was looking for. These pithy expressions that would spontaneously come to mind as I walked the prison yard. I would scribble them on 8-fold pieces of white paper that I always carried in my pocket.
At first I thought that the quotes were to be used for a fictional novel. Each chapter would begin with a passage from a made-up wisdom text. But the reflections kept coming, and it eventually became clear to me that I could compose the wisdom text in its entirety.
That I was supposed to.
I typed the aphorisms on typewriters with no spellcheck, as we were not allowed the use of word processors. I cut out all of the statements and categorized them in mailing envelopes by theme: love, forgiveness, justice, etc. I looked for order in these topics and glued 8 slips each to whole sheets of paper with institutional toothpaste given out by laundry.
I spent nearly 8 years in prison on this tedious process; manually counting each letter and space as I wrote.
At the same time, I was working on myself. As the book evolved, I evolved, and vise-versa.
Through the ugliness of prison, I was able to find the Beauty all around. In being a delinquent and pariah, I was able to find the Beauty within.
I learned the meaning of love, apart from the human inclinations for yearning and attachment. I found it accurate that not all people who do bad things are 'bad' people. And that even those considered 'bad' have Beauty inside and are deserving of dignity and care.
I forgave myself and all those who had ever wounded me. I released the guilt and shame that I had accrued. I came to an acceptance of who I had become, as well as who I had been.
Through all that I endured, I gained a level of empathy that I had never felt before. I resolved to further Beauty within society; assisting to lessen the injustice, intolerance, and inequality that oppresses humankind.
Above all I discerned that life is Beautiful and is truly worth living.
So how do we find Beauty in even the harshest of life's struggles; when all seems lost and we appear completely alone? And how can we observe love for ourselves and others who have woefully misstepped?
I think it is important to comprehend that our most challenging trials teach us the most significant lessons of life. The lessons that are meant to draw us closer to our pure self. It is from these periods of apparent darkness that light may emerge.
We are all on our transformational journey, and we each have our obstacles to face.
When we view life in this fashion, we can see every such episode as an opportunity for growth rather than degeneration. They are scenarios orchestrated to uncover negative energies and give us the chance to address adverse tendencies. They are adventures that allow us to heal and transcend.
In this favorable outlook, we may find peace with potential instead of anxiety from threat. In appreciation for these occasions, we may find joy. In awareness of the soulful essence of all involved, we may find love.
This blissfulness of peace, joy, and love is the experience of Beauty, and the disposition of our true self.
From the revelation of heart, we ascertain that no one can ever fully be lost. Everyone has their individual path to walk, some being longer than others, but in the end we are all traveling toward the same destination. And we will all make it in time.
Along our unique trek, if we raise our eyes to look around and upwards, we will notice that we are never alone. Every person is intimately connected to every other.
And all are inherently divine.
The murderer, the rapist, and the thief; they are all divine, regardless of their error. They simply have not yet made this realization. It is in grasping this insight that we can discover love for every person.
What a wonderful world it will be when all of humanity lives in the unity of this knowledge.
- As shared at The Mindful Word.