I grew up in a military home. My father joined the Air Force at 17 years old, and he served 20+ years. As a child I was proud that my Dad was in the military, I got to see air planes, and people looked our way when he was in his uniform. He had a box in the top of his closet, it was filled with random things he had collected during his time in the service, and I would get so excited when he got that box down. Every item he pulled out had an amazing story to it; from the old revolver he found in the snow while he was stationed in Alaska, to the pictures he had taken of bears and beautiful sunsets, and the medals and stripes he had earned for his service. There was one item in particular that I loved; it was a POW/MIA bracelet. It was a plain stainless steel band, and engraved in the top had the name of a soldier that went to fight and never came home. He wore it everywhere, with everything. At that age I didn’t really understand why he wore it.
I am now 25 years old; my dad has been retired from the Air Force for several years. I cannot begin to explain the respect I have for him and the countless others that have served and sacrificed for me. I ordered my own POW/MIA bracelet last year. Capt. Michael Scott Speicher was a Navy pilot. His FA-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq on the first night of the Persian Gulf War; January 17, 1991. The wreckage was found in a recovery attempt, but no remains were present. I wore this bracelet every day; it was a constant reminder of his sacrifice. It caused me to think, on a daily basis, about the life he had yet to return to; the stories, and the memories he had shared with his family. I never knew Capt. Speicher, but he was close, very close, to my heart.
August 2, 2009 Capt. Speichers remains were found in the desert. He was flown back to his hometown, Jacksonville Florida, and laid to rest August 14, 2009.
I don’t think it is possible for me to explain to you how deeply this has affected me. I believe some things in this world have special meaning, and carry great importance in our lives, my bracelet was one of those things for me. The whole purpose for the bracelet is to wear it in memory, and in hopes of an ending to the story. My story got an ending. Capt. Michael Scott Speicher’s remains have been found in the desert, he is no longer lost in a foreign desert, he is at home.
When all other words fail I can only say Thank-You.
For years I have carried this knife, and for years I have been afraid to use it. Situations have arisen, as you can imagine, in which I probably should have reached into my pocket, unfolded this blade and used it fearlessly. Now I sit almost motionless in this chair; excited, terrified, regretful, hopeful, freshly impaled.
Many fancy guns but the blade and I have a bond. Its simplicity and effectiveness appeal to me in a way that no gun ever could. It is personal and pure; nothing about its appearance or application is arrogant or overdone. The knife is perfect; it has proven itself to be an earnest and loyal companion, and in return I have allowed it to be the vessel in which I begin this voyage into death.
There is a short time in the process of death in which you are not quite alive and not quite dead; something akin to an exhausted drive home on auto-pilot, this is the place I sit now. A bloody shell of the weak and fragile man I used to be is fighting with every breath to cling onto the prisoner within that I have just set free. Freedom has been the dominant emotion in this endeavor, and while I take my first breaths as a new and better person it is blatantly clear that however tough, this was the right decision.
It’s funny, in those moments immediately preceding certain death what goes through your mind. The pain and intensity in which I had imagined this particular event happening was completely non-existent; in its place was an eerie calmness. I can only relate this feeling to something like walking alone through a vast and fog covered field just before daybreak, and seeing in the distance the skyline of the Roman Empire. As unsettling and unfamiliar as it may be, this place is beautiful. In the midst of total commotion, I have found unadulterated peace.
I killed the man I used to be. As I write these words I am overtaken by foreign emotions that seem to spill out from within. It feels, quite literally, as though the blood that makes me who I am today is running rampant from some place deep inside, down my arms, off my fingers and into the deep crevices of this keyboard.
My life is true; this is a powerful and liberating statement.
Track #10 in this link will take you to the broadcast that I wrote to Mumia about, it may help you better understand several references in the letter below.
My name is Michael Paul Harrold; I am a 26 year old man living in Tampa Florida. I have been wrestling with the notion of manhood for a few months. What does it mean to become a man, how do you know when you have evolved into something more than what you were told to be, and where do you find self-confidence when everything in your life seems to be so uncertain? A quote by Orison Swett Marden spawned this character defining journey that I am taking.
‘This is the test of manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of you?’
If I am honest with myself, and with you, I fail this test of manhood. I often feel as if I have spent the vast majority of my life playing defense, and that hasn’t allowed me to cultivate anything within me that I can be proud of.
I have discovered that I am not alone, and in a very short time this trek has taken me to many unexpected places, one of those being this letter. I found ’175 Progress Drive’ while searching for inspiration in the words of great men before me. Your album Mumia, your voice, shares a page on Rhapsody.com with the voices of: Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill. You convinced me with ‘Preschools vs. Prisons’, but you changed me with ‘Manhood’.
The cultural and societal differences between my battles and those of the young black male are vastly different, but our struggles are the same. You referenced the words of James Baldwin who so vividly describes the position I sit in at this very moment. I too have realized that the morals and goals I had pledged myself to were an illusion, and that underneath the dream that I prized so highly sat the very chains that bound me.
I knew that this realization was big, but it changed me in a way that I could not put into words.
‘For a young black male, this is potent knowledge that defines you, and marks your trajectory in life. From this foul seedling of knowledge can sprout the noxious weed of alienation or the blossom of belonging. One can emerge with the poison of aloneness or the shared sense of commonality…’
You have defined my demons with an eloquence and simplicity that seems to put things into perspective. I have opened a door in my life that cannot be closed, and you have given me the courage to step through it without fear.
I do not yet know where my road is headed, but I rest easy in the comfort that at the end I will stand a man among men.
Thank-You Mumia Abu-Jamal. Your life is an inspiration and your words have given me ‘a way to decode the maddening world that has been at war with me since birth.’
Michael Paul Harrold
I’m not sure how a person knows exactly when they have hit rock-bottom. Is it possible to already be there, and not even know it? Does being at rock-bottom mean you can’t foresee anything worse, and if you can foresee worse is there more to come?
It’s July 12th (3:49am). My 25th birthday is tomorrow, I am currently sitting in my living room crying uncontrollably. I think I found that place tonight. The place where you realize that you have nothing, the bottom.
It has been a long night. I found myself at a bar, alone, at 2:45 in the morning. I knew full well that the establishment was closing in 15 minutes, but I didn’t care. I sat down and asked the bartender if I had time for a beer. The place was pretty much empty, there were 3 people inside, I knew them all by name…none of them remembered me. “It’s been a while” by Staind was the only sound in the entire place. I HATE Staind. I sat there; alone, upset, and drunk. “It’s been a while since I could hold my head up high…” played in the background. I finished, and ordered another beer. “It’s been a while since I could stand on my own two feet again…” another beer…a cigarette.
“…Everything I cant remember, as fucked up as it all may seem. The consequences that I’ve rendered, I’ve stretched myself beyond my means…”
The bar was far past closed now. I had managed 5 beers, and at least 10 cigarettes in about 20 minutes. That’s how I got here…right where I sit now. Still on my couch, still crying, wondering what the fuck I am doing with my life.
I think I have a problem. My problem is that I always feel like things will be better when. When I get married. When I get a job. When I buy a house. When I get divorced. When I get a new job. When I lose weight. When I love and let someone in. When money is right. When…..when everything. Nothing is ever better when. When leads to more whens.
I have done all of those things. I have failed at all of those things. Each time I have reached a “when” moment in my life I have chosen the path that I had convinced myself leads to happiness. I have come to the conclusion, after far to many attempts, that happiness does NOT come when. Happiness must just be, and if happiness just is….where is it?
My tattoos are the story I do not tell. They speak of triumph, determination, morals, suffering, and love. As this blog, my art is an outlet for something deep and sacred inside of me; a window into the life I dare not speak of. You see faces and words strewn amongst flowers and skulls that sit next to diamonds and rubies, but I carry much more than that on my skin. I carry my entire being, the most important memories, stories and emotions that I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
If you do not understand this by now, you never will. It does not much matter to me that you like them, and I’m not the least bit concerned with their appearance in my old age; at that time I will liken myself to the battle tested warrior who speaks proudly of his scars, for they have made him the man that stands before you today.