How do you define yourself? This is a question that I’ve asked myself countless times. Mainly the answer has been a hyphenated jumble of the many labels that I acquired over the years.
I started out as a good kid, but I had issues that I did not know how to face. Attempting to combat them, I subjected myself to addiction at an early age and for the next fourteen years, no matter what else I was, I defined myself as an “addict” first. Everything I did either started or ended with drugs. The tenacity and ingenuity I employed to fuel my addiction were astounding. My selfishness astonishing: my life was about my drugs and myself and an honest word rarely escaped my lips. Eventually I quietly laid aside my last remaining shreds of restraint and humanity and became an absolute monster. It was in this state that at age 27, I would finally find myself in prison. For the next nine years I was defined only as an “inmate.”
I quickly decided that prison was not a place I wanted to be. I also realized that I could not do the same things and expect different results, so I knew I had to get clean and stay that way. The tools made available to me towards that end came in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings brought to the prison by outside volunteers. Active addiction takes a phenomenal amount of energy and dedication. During years of sobriety in prison, I often wondered where I was going to channel all of excess energy. But sometime around Thanksgiving of 2014 I would attend an AA meeting and receive the answer to my question: On the back of some of the literature, there was a picture of two honey bees on some flowers with the Serenity Prayer written in the corner. It was like something clicked in my head and I knew then that I wanted to keep bees. As soon as I returned to the cell house, I used the prison phone to call a family member and asked for a subscription to a beekeeping magazine. My father sent me Bee Culture and soon after I happened upon a copy of Warré’s Beekeeping for All. For the next two years I read, learned, and waited patiently for the day that I would have a hive.
During this time period, I remember sitting on a prison recreation yard next to a patch of Dutch Clover, thinking about everything and yet nothing at all. I noticed a bee going about her work. I poked her with my finger because Warré had said to try it. She did exactly as he said and simply moved unperturbed to a different flower.
With sobriety eventually comes a spiritual awakening. It began with the glimpses of nature I would see amidst the prison walls and bars. Birds singing outside the window. Mice in the cell house. A Praying Mantis on the walkway. Crows and geese waiting for unwanted dinner bread. But I think communing with that bee was when I first truly felt the presence of a power greater than myself. So when I was released, I saw it as no coincidence that there was a beekeeping supply store directly across the street from my first stop, the parole office. Two months later I would buy a colony in a deep and a medium from a man a couple of miles from my home. During the transaction I was lobbying for a mentor and asked a question about hive inspections. His response was “Why would you want to look at them? Set ‘em up and leave them alone.” I left excited, but slightly dejected about having to go it alone.
When I got home I put the hive on two cinder blocks. I figured out how to don my protective gear. Got pretty good at ….