“Not the Quarry, but the Chase… Not the Trophy, but the Race.” – Proverb
This won’t be an easy one to get through. I’ve always suffered from a panic attack of self-doubt when telling someone else’s story. But, in this case, I must speak up for a fallen brother.
When you serve time in jail, especially your first time, your initial response is one of fear and anxiety based on what you’ve seen in the movies.
“Find the biggest guy and kick his ass…” rang through my mind as I first entered a pod in Utah County Jail.
“Wait… shit,” I thought, surveying the other jumpsuits in the cell. “I AM the biggest guy in the cell.”
It only took me until lunch to realize that Utah County Jail is no San Quentin. Guys were passing around the latest copy of Game of Thrones and asking me if I wanted to trade my roll for an apple.
However, even if your jail experience is not full of shanking and rape, there is still a level of camaraderie between inmates. When you share a 6′ x 12′ cell with someone for 23 hours a day, you have some pretty deep conversations. Plus, “honor among thieves” and all that… there’s a certain freedom in opening up to a stranger that you may never see again.
During my three years of probation, I got arrested CONSTANTLY. I was once arrested for jaywalking in Saratoga Springs. When you do as many stints behind bars as I did, you start to notice recurring faces.
One of the faces I saw multiple times was Chase’s. His was always a smiling face. He took incarceration in stride and would frequently be seen laughing alongside guards and inmates alike with a very “shit happens” attitude.
It wasn’t until my final stint in jail that Chase and I became friends. We started sharing commissary and working out together. I confessed to him that I’d always figured he was part of the “popular” crowd that I’d always avoided in school, church, and even jail.
“You’re probably too cool to do burpees with a new guy,” I told him.
“No way, dude, you’re just a big guy and kinda scary looking with that Mohawk,” he said, laughing.
We were instant friends and it didn’t take long to realize why people gravitated toward Chase. The kid was all charisma and shine, but not cocky about it. Even on my worst days he would have me laughing by making faces from his cell or rubbing his nipples on the glass when guards walked past during lockdown.
As is normally the case, Chase and I lost contact once I was released. I focused on my recovery but stayed in touch with Dave Donaldson who taught an Institute (Church) class in jail.
Dave was my first “reader” and consequently my mentor, brief employer, sponsor, and dear friend.
As my writing gained momentum, I began to get a lot of emails. A while ago I got an email from a girl named Shelby asking me how she could help her boyfriend. She didn’t know me or where I was from. I was just some random guy on the internet who tried to give a voice to addicts.
As our email chain grew, I realized that we were in the same state. Fast forward a few more emails and I see a picture of her with Chase.
“Wait, him?! I know him! We were cellmates!” I exclaimed.
Here’s where the world gets smaller…
The way Dave touched my life with his support and love, he had also touched Chase’s. During the last few weeks I have made multiple attempts to contact Chase, but my feeble efforts failed. I drove to Heber to visit him at work but I got there about an hour after they had left for the day.
Dave has been in touch with me lately about his concern for Chase. “Dan, if you hear from him, will you try to say something?”
The anxiety built and my call went unanswered. I should’ve tried again.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s also excruciatingly painful sometimes.
Yesterday afternoon Dave texted me to tell me that Chase had overdosed and died.
The tears poured from both of us. Bitter tears of loss and regret. Both of us were fully aware that our “what if” questions were an exercise in futility and self-torment. However, that doesn’t stop your brain from torturing you with those three horrible excuses for words – would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.
Dave wrote this letter to Chase…
My heart is breaking today. As I watch the sun come up on another day, it hits me with painful poignancy that you are not here to share this day with me. I’ll not get to see your beautiful smile today, or feel your huge arms wrap around me, and hear those words that you so unashamedly and frequently shared with me, “I love you Dave”.
I met you almost three years ago in jail, and each time you were inside, you came to church and ALWAYS sat on the front row. When I asked for a volunteer to offer a prayer to begin our services together, yours was always the first hand up. And when you talked to God, I knew you knew him. And I took comfort in that regarding you, because when Jesus had a chance to pray in front of his friends the last night he was alive, he said, “I just want them to know you…”
Each time back in I could feel your love for God…and for me. And each time out, I could see the grip of this horrible drug taking its toll on your beautiful soul.
I had the chance to share tears and reminiscing with your Mom last night. I told her that the first time I ever met you, there was something special about you; that you had a “light” coming from inside you. She said, “I know, Chase was ‘shiny'”. And you were Chase. You really were. I already miss that shining.
I had a physical therapy appt yesterday and I left my phone in my truck. When I got out, I had two missed calls from Shelby and a frantic text. I knew this was going to be bad. You know Shelby and I had been trying to figure out how to help you the past couple of days. I just didn’t know it would turn this badly so quickly. 2 hours after your last text to me, you were gone. When I finally got through to her phone, her friend McKenzie was on the other end. “Chase didn’t make it.” I have no idea what I said in reply, it’s all foggy now. I do remember that as soon as I hung up, my fist slammed down into my center console and I screamed, “NO!” And then, a flood of tears, and the realization that I should not be driving and bawling bitterly at the same time. So I pulled over and wept. For you? For sure. But mostly I guess for myself, and the rest of us who loved you, and are now robbed of your love and association, because of this horrible drug.
After that were hours of introspection and fitful sleep. If I’d have responded differently to your text. Maybe I should’ve recognized something I didn’t and cancelled my appt and gone to you. I conjured an imaginary scenario where I found you, and wrested the rig from your hands before you inflicted yourself with this. I know that this is survivor’s guilt, and I can kinda talk myself through this these days, but the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” haunt me. And the funerals of kids I love, coming with painful regularity, weigh on me.
You’ll be happy to know that one of the first things that Shelby did was call me. We met at her Mom’s house as soon as we could both get there. She sought blessing and comfort from me, and then we just held each other and cried. You were a huge personality son, and you’re leaving a comparably sized hole in the world that you left.
You’ll also be happy to know that Dan immediately reached out to me, picked me up, brushed me off, and blessed me with words that I needed to be able to then go and give comfort to others in your life.
You and I talked often lately about your addiction. I love and appreciate the insights you’ve blessed me with. Your words, your experiences, your naked honesty, and your pain; these will help me minister better to your brothers and sisters in the coming weeks, months and years.
I literally feel crushed this morning by the pain of my loss. But, I want you to know my friend – my “son” – I am resolved in this moment to use this pain to to re-double my efforts to bind up wounds where I see them, to be more aware of those who need love, to do all I can – and this, with memory of you – to relieve the suffering of the addict, and to persuade those who see addicts as less worthy of their love, that “they” are “we”, and we need to stop treating those with addictions with societal scorn and lonely punishments, but rather with compassion, love, and healing.
You’ve taught me, loved me, and changed my life for the better, as you have done for so many others. Rest from your pain now. Until we meet again son. I love you.
As I said before, Dave… thank you for finding the words I’ve been struggling with all day. Please never forget the unimaginably extensive reach of your goodness. You set something in motion in my own life and have fed my body, heart and soul as the moment dictated. My writing and passion are thanks in a big way to you. I know how much you loved him and holding my composure as you wept was nearly impossible. Once we hung up I felt like punching the shit out of my own dashboard through the tears.
The loss of Chase’s light in this world is immeasurably tragic. In my work with addicts, I do sometimes see the great benefits of the torch we light in these dark moments of loss. They are never gone when we speak their names. The parents, friends and loved ones will ignite their sorrow with the jet fuel of hope to sing Chase’s praises from the rooftops and because of this, because of HIM… someone will reach for help before it’s too late.
Chase, my brother, the impact you had on me as compared to the brevity with which our paths crossed is a true testament to the man you were. This hits me especially hard because I know how easily it could have been me. The best way I know to honor your memory is to fight that much harder against this insidious drug.
Also, I will work that much harder to live up to the potential you saw in me. I love you, man.
(I would also like to thank everyone who has reached out with calls, messages and support toward myself, Dave, Shelby, and the countless other people who loved Chase. Erika, I thank you especially for driving to multiple coffee shops to find me when I felt too gut-shot to give proper directions. Thank you for holding me up when I couldn’t do it alone and knowing how to keep me from letting the claws of despair sink in any deeper.)