One thing I’ve learned about myself is that there is no situation that is so bad that I can’t make it worse.

The last time this thought popped into my head was seven months earlier, looking into the mirror at an area on my neck where I’d recently stuck a homemade prison syringe full of drugs. My jugular vein was now bright red and swelling up at an alarming rate.

“Christ,” I thought, “Really nice Kenton.”

Kenton Warnock

Kenton Warnock

There were actually a few people I’d met since getting locked up who told me that they thought I was pretty smart. I was looking at fairly conclusive evidence they were dead wrong. Here I was in prison still being a fuck-up and, as I gazed into the mirror, it occurred to me that I didn’t recognize what stared back. The image I had of myself, my own internal representation of who I thought I was, wasn’t this face with its flat expression and pain leaking out of the back of its eyes. When had I become that person?

The swelling had eventually gone away but not the regret. Sadness surrounded me like a halo of black light and it was times like these that made me wish I had overdosed back when I had the chance.

Another holiday incarcerated.

Out the front door of my cell, I see a number of guys busy decorating the housing unit with paper snowflakes and icicles made from cut-up, clear garbage bags. On the walls are various Christmas icons such as Santa with his reindeer, the Grinch, and even a good-sized gingerbread house — all cut and molded from cardboard. Personally, I find the whole thing depressing.

Closing my eyes, I rest my forehead against the cold concrete and wonder once more how I ended up stuck here in Clayton, New Mexico. Clayton is where the windswept dust bowl meets the desert. Its only noteworthy aspects, besides the prison, are the truly impressive dust storms that routinely scour the area. But now the snow is coming down, blanketing the earth with white — and reminding me of Christmas’s past, growing up in Toledo, Ohio.

Yesterday I got a Christmas card featuring some family pictures including a few of myself in earlier times. Looking back when the pictures were taken, I know that I would sell my soul for the chance to go back into the past and do things over. It’s funny though, because compared to my circumstances now — as young as I was and with the many opportunities I would later get — it would seem as though my whole life should’ve seemed stretched out in front of me like a bright, sunlight road.

Anyway, this was my mental state when I happened to look up at my T.V. and see a short documentary playing about the one-time college football star Maurice Clarette. I remember him very well because in the fall of 2002, as I was entering the Ohio prison system for the first time and dealing with the turmoil of a life rapidly spiraling downward, the Ohio State college football team went on a hugely improbable winning spree.

Ohio is a football-mad state and many of the male inmates imprisoned in its penitentiaries were soon caught up in Buckeye frenzy. Every Saturday in bars and living rooms, and even in the common area of prisons, people all over the state were glued to the television screen watching yet another last second, gut-wrenching victory. This eventually culminated in a double overtime thriller over a 2-touchdown-favored Miami team.

MauriceClarett

Credit: The Sports Illustrated issue for sale on Amazon.

For the first time in decades, Ohio State was the national champion and it is impossible to relate to someone not from that state what a big deal this was. The star of this team was Maurice Clarett, an All American running back who had a brilliant freshman year. He received a huge amount of attention including an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated, one of the highest accolades a sports figure can receive. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that after playing the obligatory two years in college, the NFL and an abundant contract would be waiting for him.

It was not to be, however, and nearly two years after his season of acclaim he was sentenced to six years in prison for robbery and threatening a witness with an assault rifle. These events were well covered and I watched them in disbelief, wondering what prison he would be sent to. The thought that this sports hero whose future seemed so assured might be serving me food in the chow line or mopping the showers in my housing unit was surreal.

Watching the movie document Clarett’s decline, I begin to feel strangely unsettled. I think the most difficult part is seeing the gradual process of his life unraveling and knowing how the movie would end. First there were several public disagreements between him and the university. Later, he was suspended for three games, then six, and finally, he got himself kicked off of the team. Returning to his gritty hometown neighborhood, he descended into alcoholism and ultimately a doomed NFL tryout. These events appeared on the news – each a bit worse than the last.

Watch Maurice Clarett’s response on CNN to Aaron Hernandez’s conviction.

Now I wonder if, at each such point in his life, he would have done something a little differently – if he would’ve taken a right instead of a left, or fuck, even a U-turn – how different his life could have been. I find myself wanting to reach through the television and warn him of what was coming.

I feel the same way looking at old pictures of myself — wishing I could break through space and time and tell that younger Kenton, “Stop, you don’t know what the fuck you are doing.”

But neither Rome, or the road leading me here, was built in a day. Instead, it was a series of small steps, each leading past the previous one until, like an object caught in Newton’s second law, inertia takes hold and becomes an unthinking motion in a direction you wish you had never made.

At the end of the documentary, Clarett gives the impression that he has fashioned a life incorporating his experiences into moving forward and is attempting to offer something of himself. To not merely be a taker from the universe, but to give something back so that he might help others.

I can only hope that I am able to do the same.


Kenton Warnock is serving time in New Mexico for murder.  


Kenton Warnock #73692

NENMDF

185 Dr. Michael Jenkins Blvd

Clayton, NM 88415

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