My name is Robert Bates. I was born in Detroit, Michigan into a family of seven sisters and two brothers. My father died one month before my birth. Mother was from the deep south with no education. Having been a domestic abuse survivor, she did her very best working two jobs to support her children in a single parent household. As my mother worked from sunrise to sunset to support her children, my sisters watched over me.
Throughout my early school years I had self esteem issues. I felt I wasn’t smart and felt out of place in school. I always seemed to be bullied. Everyone’s jokes and laughs focused on the second hand (Goodwill) clothes I wore. My mother couldn’t afford the latest clothes, school supplies, and lunch fees for all of the children. I used to skip school and during school hours I would wander the streets and alleys stealing fruits and vegetables from peoples gardens so I could eat. I eventually ended up dropping out of school in the 6th grade. I couldn’t even read or write. In highsight I realize the only reason the schools moved me up to the 9th grade without attending any classes beyond the 6th grade and not being able to read or write was so they could continue to receive government school funding.
Although my sisters loved me and took great care of me, they did the best they could while my mother was working. My two brothers were predominantly absent with no significant role in my life. As a boy I did not fit in, always being around all girls. I looked outside the home to the streets for a sense of belonging and male role models to look up to. Unfortunately the male figures hanging out in the streets where I grew up were drug dealers, thieves, pimps, con men, etc. These were the type of guys I looked up to and associated with because they took interest in me, spent time with me, and gave me a false sense of worth and acceptance. They became my father figure and male role models. They were all much older than me, often manipulating me as I was very impressionable and naive. However in my mind, I was gaining a sense of acceptance and belonging. Not only did I learn all the ridiculous, absurd urban street codes and rules, I learned all of their bad behaviors and traits. I became just like them, if not worse than them.
With no moral compass within those I followed, my life was being aimlessly navigated by a psychological parasite, transforming crime, violence, and drugs into my norm at a very young age. In my underdeveloped, immature mind, my behavior hid my illiteracy but displayed my stupidity. My behavior gave me an illusionary sense of validation, and a false sense of comfort in the notion that no one was ever going to bully or laugh at me anymore, and I could have the material things that I grew up seeing everyone else with. That mindset kept me on a criminal rollercoaster ride, in and out of youth detention centers, jails, and prison. All my encounters with the criminal justice system were never comprehensively internalized due to my illiteracy, low comprehension level, and substandard court appointed legal representation. My life reflected the path of my peers heading one of two places, buried six feet in a grave or buried in prison for a long time.
The events and circumstances of my life before prison are not excuses, rationalizations, minimizations, justifications, nor an attempt to solicit sympathy. They are factual events that were imprinted psychologically and served as a foundation for my past apathy and criminal behavior, resulting in being convicted for armed robbery, assault with intent to murder, and felony firearm. I was sentenced to 75 to 150 years.
Here I am, 59 years old, 34 years in prison. As strange or weird as this might sound, coming to prison was a clandestine blessing. Not only did it protect society from who I was then, but it afforded me the academic and vocational resources which all contributed greatly to the human being I am now.
I earned a GED, an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies, and over 30 various certificates. I’m a self taught jazz piano player, reading and writing music. This is all reflective of how I spend my time. Having studied and practiced various religions I find myself on a spiritual journey introspectively, chewing on the notion of reciprocity. I use these same hands that once harmed to now heal and rebuild. I allow this once ossified heart to now feel remorse, empathy, and sympathy. I uproot the weeds, overturn and fertilize the soil, and plant positive seeds to now take root in the same mind that once rationalized dysfunction as the norm. I now understand the depth of morality, the severe magnitude, and the ripple effect of the harm and suffering I imposed upon the victims and society as a whole.
If I could reach back and speak to that young kid who was searching for something outside of himself, I would tell him, “You are somebody. There’s more in you, far better than what you see around you”. However, I can’t reach back, but I can speak into the Now. I can speak in this present moment to the young men around me and impart that same wisdom to these young men that I cannot give to that kid yesterday.
Just as a tree takes from the soil of the earth, so shall the tree give back in the shedding of its leaves. Having found a stable center of awareness and a shift in consciousness, I embark upon the realization that the purpose of my being is to help creation expand and grow, which enables the divine purpose of the universe to unfold.