A confession—it’s a big part of my memoir
It's the last blog of 2022, and I guess I'm ready to open up about this.
The desire to write this memoir stems from my brother. Four years ago, he went to prison. He’s serving a 19-year sentence.
When I first started writing my book, I completely left him out of the story. But as I kept writing and recounting the past—the agony, joy, and triumphs spilling out of me, I realized that my brother (and my family) are a part of me. To leave him out wouldn’t tell the truth, and to me, that’s what memoirs are all about.
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The reason I left him out was because I hadn’t fully accepted his situation. The more recent events that centered around my brother—his trial, sentencing, and new life as an inmate had sucked me further down into a vortex of depression, shame, and guilt.
My brother’s story
My brother is 10 years younger than me, so growing up, I changed his stinky diapers and picked him up from elementary school like a pseudo-mom. When he was five, my family learned he had Tourette’s Syndrome. He went through a tangled web of doctors and medications—none of which really helped to lessen his ticks or ADHD.
In our adult years, my brother and I grew apart. I left for college when he was still playing with his action-figure toys, so it was easy for me to lose track of how he was changing from a kid to a teen.
Over the last decade, our interactions morphed into something I’d call more transactional than an authentic relationship. When I’d see him, I’d brace myself for what he would inevitably ask, “Can I borrow ______?” (Fill in the dollar amount. And “borrow” isn’t accurate. It should be “have.”)
I wanted to know how he was doing, but I also knew it would bring me heartache and irritation. So I avoided him. As I reasoned back then, I had plenty of problems of my own.
When he first went to prison, I told no one. I fell into a kind of depression, unable to shake the storm cloud that was ready to burst into torrential rain at any moment.
When you have big news like this, there’s a logical string of questions that tend to follow. First, it’s shock, especially for those who knew my brother from the time he was a kid. Then, it’s wanting to know what he did—I mean, 19 years is a really long time. I felt I’d crumble under the weight of these questions, judgment, and even encouragement.
I couldn’t even really talk about it with my sister or parents—my own guilt and sorrow choking my ability to speak. I felt so deeply sorry for my brother and his new reality. Thoughts about my parents also flooded me with anguish. They had always favored my brother. He was their youngest son, their beloved golden child.
My parents were in court on the final day of his trial, sitting in the last row and straining to hear the jury’s final verdict. I imagined their stunned reactions after hearing the double-digit sentence. My mom later recounted when my octogenarian dad turned to her after the verdict was announced and wondered aloud if he would live to see his son a free man again. His words were sharp, slicing my mom’s already bleeding heart wide open.
I won’t go into details about his case and the subsequent trial that followed. It’s not that important anymore because honestly, it goes way beyond the crime that sealed his fate as inmate 9023. Prison was the final outcome following years of bad decisions and hanging with people who wanted to make a quick buck.
My brother’s life could be a movie
Over time, my brother had unknowingly curated a sheltered, one-dimensional life with stunted beliefs of what success meant. Gang life, tattoos, and drugs—he was the star of his own movie, packed with plot twists, drama, and running from the law.
When he was in the midst of his “adventures,” my family never knew where he was. He’d call every now and then from a burner phone, asking us to save the number in case we needed to reach him. But like clockwork, that number would eventually get disconnected, along with my brother’s whereabouts.
In the moments when he was home, my parents always accepted him with open arms. I, on the other hand, was skeptical and angry. He was a pill popper, a stoner, and at some point, a speed and heroin addict. I watched him spiral into delusions fueled by a concoction of these drugs. He told me he heard voices, sometimes telling him to kill himself or someone else. He lied about everything, especially about what he needed to borrow money for.
I stopped believing anything he would say and began resenting the fact that he wasn’t normal. Why couldn’t he just go to college and chase girls, like everyone else his age?
But there were so many endearing qualities that made my brother so special. He could be so kind, charismatic, and funny. In his early 20s, my sister was gracious enough to give him a job at her company. He worked as a lowly office assistant, moving furniture and delivering mail to clients in the building.
Everyone in that office loved my brother. Their eyes would light up with an enthusiastic, “Hey, Isaac!” each time they ran into him—chatting it up in the hallways and elevator every chance they got. They’d gush about him, informing my sister that he was doing a great job and “You have such a cool younger brother.”
This was his superpower. He knew how to talk to just about everyone. As a kid, he’d become fast friends with anyone at the playground and befriended everyone on our street, even the grown-ups who didn’t have kids. My sister and I used to joke that he’d either be a millionaire or end up in prison. Some joke, huh.
As his pseudo-mom, I felt heavy with the knowledge that I couldn’t save him from the path that destroyed his life. Somewhere along the way, my avoidance and anger had gotten in the way and I felt like I had failed him. I wasn’t there when he needed me most.
I didn’t think it would take me so long to finally be open about it. But in writing my book, I found it easier to accept the situation.
My first visit to see him
Years ago, I read a book by a former inmate who was serving a life sentence. His only visitor was his childhood best friend, who showed up every single week for two decades. These visits gave him the will to live. The story stuck with me because I realized it only takes one person to affect another’s life so profoundly.
Even though I dreaded the first visit, I knew I had no choice. I hadn’t seen him in nearly four years due to COVID and regular lockdowns. I thought about how homesick and depressed he must be. I wondered if he’d come out more broken than when he went in.
After seeing him, I felt a renewed sense of… something. On the drive home, I kept thinking about it, this feeling bubbling up inside me. It struck me that it was purpose. I knew exactly what I had to do—I would tell his story through mine.
A new Substack
When I said my brother’s life could be a movie I wasn’t joking. In thinking about the most eventful moments to include in my memoir, I realized there were too many stories to tell. I wouldn’t be able to convey all of them in my book.
So I’m going to share more of his stories through a new Substack called Inmate 9023: Stories About My Brother. (Here’s the first story!) It’ll include all the bits of his life leading up to prison, and stories while he’s still in prison. The latter will require my brother to tell me what’s happening on the inside—something that he may not do right away. When I told him about my idea to start this Substack, he snorted, “My life isn’t interesting. No one will want to read it.” I told him I’d do it anyway, and I encouraged him to contribute.
My persistance in asking him to write about his life is because I know how cathartic it can be. Writing helps to spark inner reflection. And Lord knows he needs to let the healing begin. I fear he’s wasting away in his cell, perched in front of his TV day in and day out. In sharing his stories and writing, I’m hoping he will find purpose and help him process his mistakes.
There’s more to come in 2023, so please subscribe to Inmate 9023: Stories About My Brother.
Wrapping up 2022
Since this is the last blog for 2022, I couldn’t end it without expressing my gratitude for all of the blessings I’ve been lucky enough to experience. I’ve learned to be grateful for my brother’s situation. If he were still a free man, he’d probably be dead.
I’ve cultivated stronger relationships with my family and finally settled into a work schedule that doesn’t stress me out or make me anxious. I’m also thankful I got the chance to experience Hawaii, which is probably one of the best places to write!
Also, thank you for subscribing. Even though I don’t have tens of thousands of subscribers (not even close), the fact that you’re there to read my weekly blogs gives me encouragement and purpose.
So thank you thank you and cheers to 2022.
Looking back,there are many regrets in our family but you sublimate the regrets into the brilliant jewels! And I m so grateful that my three children are my most precious treasure ever given to my life! Looking at your family love, I found that I haven't lived in vain at all. Yes,it only takes one person to affect another's life so profoundly,
It is YOU and you have started!
Let not depart love from your life.
Mom prays that your memoir will be well run to the end!
I'm so proud of you and I love 😘