Before I go deeper into this, I’d like to make a disclaimer. All of my day one readers probably know this very well by now and that is that everything I express in my blog is my opinion. You are allowed to disagree with me. I actually welcome disagreement and discussion because that’s how we all learn. I don’t think that I’m objectively right and am aware of the fact that I still have a looooooot to learn in life. I know I could be wrong about what I’m about to write about and I may even disagree with myself a week, a month or a year from now, but I still feel like I should be putting it out there. It may help at least one person think more positively or somebody may bring up an interesting counter argument in the comments section that may lead to me changing my mind and learning something new.
I’m not claiming that this will work for everyone, but this is what works for me. The reason I’m saying this is because I know that this may be a touchy topic for many people. I am also in NO way trying to say that my life was harder than anyone else’s. I’m just sharing my story and how I personally felt.
I’d also like to thank my family for all the hard work and consistent support. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now!
I recommend reading this post before continuing with this one to put everything into better context.
25 to life
I was facing 25 to life. I still remembered my sentencing day extremely vividly. I was still a minor when I found out that I’d be spending life behind bars with only a slight chance of parole. The situation was grim.
Things began to seem more and more hopeless as I approached my 20 something-th year behind bars. I started to wonder if I’d ever get out. What was my crime? Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time it seemed. The judge didn’t go easy on me and neither did the jury. I always felt like I was innocent, but the years were wearing me down and I was slowly starting to believe otherwise. Maybe I actually was guilty.
One depressing day, I decided I wanted to see the Pacific ocean. I had never seen it before other than in pictures and if I was going to be doing a life sentence, I may as well see the ocean at least once. The days were going by slowly and I wasn’t getting any younger.
I decided to devise an elaborate plan. I was going to break out of jail briefly, see the ocean once and then allow myself to be recaptured. Anything that happened after that didn’t matter. If I was going to die a slowwww death in this cell, I may as well see beauty before I prepared for the next couple decades.
Breaking out of prison
Breaking out of prison isn’t easy by any means. There are a lot of systems in place to prevent you from getting out. Most of your fellow inmates have accepted their fate. They’ve lost all hope of ever being free again. Some seem to have lost their minds! They either refuse to accept that they’re trapped or somehow enjoy it in a weird and twisted way. That’s what was happening to me and I wanted to escape before I became a slave to my own mind.
I began discreetly speaking to other inmates while trying to figure out a way to escape. I didn’t make my intentions clear for obvious reasons. The only people who really knew what I was planning were the select few inmates who knew me best. Word began to get out despite my attempts to keep everything under wraps.
I was scared that that would foil my plan, but the guards never caught on. Some inmates supported the plan and wished they could escape too, but some thought I was crazy. I don’t blame them! I mean, who tries to break out of jail? I finalized my plan. I reflected deeply on what all the other inmates had said, but my mind was made up and I was going to escape. It wouldn’t be easy and the whole plan would take about 11 hours from my calculations. I chose the date.
Preparing to escape
I don’t really know how to explain the emotions that I felt as the escape date neared. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to be doing it. I was really scared about the repercussions I’d face if it didn’t work, but I decided that seeing the Pacific ocean at least once was in fact worth it and that I would see the plan through. I wanted to go out with a bang in case every thing went horribly wrong, so I met up with some others that I’d befriended over the years in jail and celebrated one of their birthdays. One of my cellmates tagged along. The following day would potentially be my last day in that cell and we all knew that.
The escape was only supposed to take 11 or so hours, but a lot of different things went wrong and it ended up taking close to a day. There were a few times when the guards almost spotted me and I was certain that I’d be getting thrown back in that cell only to have to face even more time than before due to the fact that I’d tried to escape. It was a very difficult escape, but I made it out and to a different town where nobody knew me. It was weird, I could walk freely without people judging or wondering who I was as soon as I’d gotten rid of my jail clothes. I was just like everyone else. It was a weird feeling. I didn’t know what to make of it and I didn’t want to get used to it because I could still be captured at any time.
After all the setbacks and bullshit, I finally made it to the ocean. It was beautiful! More beautiful than I’d ever imagined.
The whales and wildlife that I saw in the ocean fascinated me. I’d only ever seen these things on tv or at the zoo as a child before I was given my sentence. It was all so amazing! All the beauty was great and everything, but then I thought about all the people I’d befriended throughout the years. Some were free and some were still locked up and trapped. I used to love reading letters from my freed ex-cellmates and I always fantasized about one day being free myself. Now I was also free. Even if it was only temporary, I had tasted freedom. A freedom that some of the people closest to me may never taste. A wave of sadness washed over me like the ocean water at my feet. I was in love with what I was seeing and I didn’t want to go back to jail. I wanted to enjoy this freedom… Forever! I also wanted this freedom for all the other people I had met in jail. It was time to reflect. What would my next step be? I could be re-arrested at any moment. I’d do anything to avoid going back to that dark place again. I needed to think.
I’m not going back to prison without a fight!
Now that I have you’re attention, it is now time that I either fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), admit that I didn’t break out of literal prison, but rather a figurative, societally constructed mental jail and I’ll explain how.
Money is a societal construct. It only has power if we collectively believe it does as a society. If you really think about it, a lot of us determine our entire worth as human beings based on how much paper we have. Literal paper… but sometimes plastic depending on what country you live in. The only reason this paper has power is because we believe it does. Go try and buy groceries with monopoly money if you don’t believe me! Watch how fast the cashier rejects the exchange and shuts you down. Why does the cashier reject the exchange? The cashier rejects the exchange because we don’t collectively agree that monopoly money has any intrinsic value, but we do, however agree that “real” money does. Despite all this, many of us feel trapped and enslaved by money.
I’m not going to say that money isn’t important and that we don’t need it. That would be a blatant lie. This is where the disclaimer comes into play.
I didn’t spend time in an actual jail. Jail is a metaphor for how trapped money made me feel until I was recently able to escape.
The big move
If you read my last article, then you were probably able to figure out that this entire story was a metaphorical description of my journey to British Columbia; from the initial idea, to my actual arrival. I’m sorry if you guys thought I was a hardened criminal… I’m just a regular guy. I stole peanuts from the grocery store when I was 4 and I also stole Playdough in kindergarten when the teacher wasn’t looking, but that’s about it.
Ontario always felt like a trap to me. Well… “always” is a strong word, so I’ll narrow it down to the last ten years if memory serves.
I grew up in the greater Toronto area and I always remember not having enough money growing up. Not enough money for bills, not enough money for toys and so on. I remember our internet and tv got disconnected a few times because we couldn’t afford it. My friends from school’s parents didn’t seem to struggle with bills or money. They always just seemed to have enough. Their internet and tv also never seemed to get cut off. I know now that bills, food and clothing are more important than toys, but my young preteen mind saw things differently. All of this caused me to develop a very unhealthy relationship with money from a very young age. This unhealthy relationship effected me in many conscious and unconscious ways. A lot of the people at my school seemed to have lots of money. A lot more money than my family did at least. They’d go out to Mcdonalds and Wendey’s all the time to get fast food. Their parents could just afford these things because they had more money. I also remember that my friends with money always had super cool birthday parties and everything. They were always cooler than mine… I’m still extremely thankful for what I had. My family worked and continues to work very hard and looking back on all of this, I’m actually happy that I didn’t have as much as most of my friends from school because it taught me to be frugal and non materialistic in my adult years.
Still, not having money hurt. It hurt throughout my whole childhood and it hurt me to see my family struggle with money. Seeing the stress and pain it caused them only made my relationship with money even more toxic.
My first job
I got my first job at 18. I had tried to get jobs before, but nobody seemed to want to hire me. I’m sure my shyness and anxiety definitely played parts in my not seeming like a good candidate for most jobs, but at 18, I finally got a job. I began working at a restaurant as a dishwasher. I started making my own money and could finally do things because I was still young and didn’t have very many responsibilities aside from my phone bill. It felt great and it started to go to my head. I started eating out all the time and spending so much money on things I didn’t need. This was before I became frugal as you can all see. Then on a fateful day in 2013, I got injured at work. I didn’t know my worker’s rights or what to do if I got injured at work at the time and my work place took full advantage of that. When I didn’t heal as fast as they wanted, they started making me do all the shitty jobs to get me to quit on my own. One of the mangers approached me one day and literally told me that “my injury should have healed by now” a couple weeks after. I caught wind of a few rumours that a lot of people thought “I was making it all up to get out of dishwashing”. As time went on, I went from working a lot, to working one 4 hour shift a week. My money quickly ran out and I began using my credit card more and more until I had maxed it out. I couldn’t pay it off because my 8 hour pay checks at minimum wage were terrible. I didn’t want to ask my immediate family because they had their own bills and debt to deal with. It all hurt especially bad because I had originally planned to quit the job and to go into construction which became impossible thanks to the new injury. Construction would have paid a lot more.
Not having money again made me feel hopeless and pathetic. I kept beating myself up for not just quitting the job like I had originally planned because then I never would have gotten injured and screwed over. This is a regret that still follows me to this day because the injury never completely healed and still causes me a lot of pain 6 years later. I promise that this is not meant to make you pity me, it’s just a necessary part of the story.
My second job
A friend of mine helped me get my second job. I was super happy because I was actually able to do it despite the pain that the injury at my first job was causing me. I started getting good hours again and started making money. Instead of learning my lesson from the first job, I started spending it on things I didn’t need again. I started going out a lot. I started clubbing, going on trips to Toronto multiple times a week, eating out, driving to far away cities with friends to go out. Notice saving money was not one of these pastimes. It felt great just like it did the first time.
I lived with a friend of mine and his family for a bit while our house was being repaired and I remember I always had to ask him to lend me money a few days before payday because I had always already ran out of my own. Don’t get me wrong, this time period was one of the most formative time periods of my entire life up until this point and I learned sooo many things about myself. I made great friendships, strengthened old friendships, learned languages. I also learned things such as how to control my anxiety better, and how to get better at pushing my comfort zone. I grew A LOT in this time period, but I spent tons of money doing it. Do I regret this? Yes and no. The growth was necessary, but I could have done it for cheaper. My relationship with money was still toxic.
The retirement home
If we fast forward a little bit, we reach a time when I had begun helping my family to pay for things around the house such as bills and things like that. I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle of going out and doing fun things because it distracted me from other things that hurt me, so I continued to do them. It was impossible to spend so much money and still help support my family. This started to really wear me down. I wanted to have fun and do exciting things, but I also wanted to help out my family. There were a few times where they’d ask me for money and I’d have to say no, not because I didn’t want to give them any, but because I had none and that always destroyed me. It made me feel like a failure. “What pathetic human being can’t help support his own family?” I’d routinely think to myself. I even went as far as creating a list on my phone of the times that I was a failure for not having enough money to help out or do important things that would better me. True story.
It was getting to be too much and I contacted my friend who worked at a retirement home. I told him I needed a second job because despite the fact that I’d stopped going out as much and everything, I just didn’t have enough money to keep up. My friend pulled some strings and got me a job at the same retirement home that he worked at. I began working full days. I’d finish my morning fast food job and rush to the retirement home to keep working afterwards. It sucked not having a life outside of work anymore, but the pay checks were great. Working 7 days a week wasn’t though. I enjoyed the money, but started getting depressed from always working and never having time off.
I ultimately ended up quitting the fast food job and began working at the retirement home as a sole source of employment. I didn’t tell them that I’d quit my morning job for a while because I just wanted to relax and have free time for a while. It felt good for a while.
They called me a machine
If we fast forward again about a year, I was pretty much living at the retirement home. Sometimes I’d start at 6:30 AM and work until 8:30 PM. I almost took no days off even if I was sick. I remember my one coworker calling me a machine one day. I don’t see it that way because I was just doing what I had to do to survive and many people routinely work a lot more than I was.
The money was great, but the constant work and lack of social life was taking a toll on my mental and physical health and I was getting super depressed. I literally broke down one day under the weight of trying to work as many hours as possible while trying to save money and help my family out. I realized things couldn’t continue going on how they were.
I really needed a break from everything, so I decided to go to Europe. It was super short notice. I just desperately needed a change because everything seemed to be tearing me down. It wasn’t even just money and work either. This was a very negative time period in my life. I hoped doing the thing that made me the happiest would help. That thing was travelling. The only problem is that I had finally saved a bit of money at this point. I had FINALLYYYYY saved some money and now I was about to go spend it all again. I almost called off the the entire trip for this exact reason. I knew I needed to go and I knew it would really help me, but the number in my bank account was more important than my well being. It was almost like seeing money in my bank account gave me a weird false sense of security and made me feel safe and comfortable. I somehow managed to temporarily snap out of that mindset and actually went to Europe. Everyone including my family told me to just go and to just think about myself. They told me they’d be ok without my help and that I needed to do this. Only thinking about myself was incredibly difficult and I was honestly never able to do it 100% at any point during the trip, but I was, however, able to get out of the grasp that money had on me temporarily.
The trip to Europe literally changed my life in so many ways. I don’t even think I can express how profound the change was in such a short post. I felt like I was free on many occasions. Money worked for me instead of the other way around while I was on that trip.
Back to Canada
Although I had come back to Canada a changed man with a whole new outlook on life, I had also come back with a lot of debt. Spontaneous travel and dietary restrictions are expensive. Some complications with work meant I had to wait an extra 3 weeks before I could start working again. This meant even more spending while I was earning nothing. I slowly fell back into my old negative way of thinking. I put off paying off the debt because it hurt me to put money towards it. To numb the pain I also made a few expensive purchases which only added to the debt. It was a vicious cycle that I was only making worse.
After over a year had passed, I decided I needed to finally do something because the debt problem was getting worse and it was making me feel trapped. If things took a turn for the worst again, I wouldn’t be able to just run off to a foreign land to clear my mind this time thanks to my debt. This made me feel even more trapped. I decided I wanted to leave Ontario. I needed to get rid of the debt first though.
I decided I’d finally start hammering away at the debt. It was the absolute only way I’d be able to get rid of it. I mean, it wasn’t going to go away on its own, was it?. I started putting half of my pay checks towards my debt. I mostly stayed home and hardly did anything that costed money aside from food and other necessities. My friends and I would only really hang out when we would go grocery shopping together. Who needs to go to the movie theatre when you can go to Sobeys at night, right?.
I had also started working 7 days a week again at this point between two jobs. Every time I’d put money towards my debt, it hurt…. A lot.
I remember feeling super super depressed after each payment. Payday always sucked and I dreaded it because I knew the money would be gone as soon as I got it. It felt like I was selling part of my life and soul each time. It also felt like I was working for nothing. Besides, those were hours I wasn’t getting back…
After a while, I had FINALLY paid it all off! It felt amazing! FINALLY!! My hard work had paid off! Now it was time to finally start saving. I was disciplined this time. I knew how to sacrifice and didn’t waste money on things I didn’t need anymore. I was finally going to do it!
I was so certain that I had it this time. I was sooooo certain… and then I made some more stupid decisions without planning far enough ahead and it was all gone again. This time was too much. I couldn’t believe it. I felt utterly defeated. This is when I decided that I would never be able to save money ever and fell into another deep depression. I actually started stress smoking for the second time in my life at this point too. (I’ve since quit). There were other factors at play, but money was definitely part of it. Everybody around me noticed and worried. Everybody tried to get to the bottom of why my demeanour had changed so much and so suddenly. If you’re one of those people and are reading this, money played a part, but you’ll probably never know the rest. I’m sorry!
I was super desperate at this point and was so determined to get out of Ontario. Life couldn’t just be a constant cycle of financial struggle and defeat and if it was, I refused to believe it. There had to be a way out. There just HAD to be.
The British Columbian dream
A lot of people believe in and chase the American dream, but I decided to chase the British Columbian dream! It all started with an innocent Instagram conversation that translated into a job. I was talking to my German friend one day on instagram. She had moved to British Columbia a few months prior. We happened to talk shortly after she’d just gotten a cool job offer in one of the the smaller towns and that she could see about me getting a job there too. At first, I was kind of apprehensive because it seemed like too big of a gamble. I didn’t feel like I could do it. I had her ask management if they’d hire me anyway. She put me in contact with the manager who ended up hiring me and after about a month, I was flying to the other side of the country on the second biggest gamble I’d ever made in my entire life.
I needed to buy a few things before heading out and it hurt a bit at first. I remember that buying the plane ticket also hurt. I also needed to get new clothes because I had gained a lot of weight that winter and my old clothes no longer fit me. That also hurt. The realization that I’d allowed myself to be so unhealthy and also the fact that I had to spend more money as a result of it.
I decided that I’d treat myself before I left and bought two expensive things including an apple watch. You better believe that watch went straight onto my credit card. I don’t expect anyone to understand this and part of me still doesn’t understand, but I wanted to just buy something like a normal person and have it not sting. I wanted to buy something I didn’t need and have it not hurt like old times. The only difference was that I now had self control. I wanted to do what the young naive me used to do, but as a more mature, frugal person. Buying the apple watch didn’t hurt. I didn’t allow it to. It was weird. It didn’t even hurt the second day either. I’d normally wake up full of regret after buying something expensive in the months leading up to this point, but somehow I was ok. I decided that I wasn’t going to be trapped anymore.
Travel always seems to change me in profound ways and the move to British Columbia was no different. A couple days into the trip, it dawned on me; If I have a roof over my head, food to eat and clothes on my back, the power I give to money was my choice. I can either choose to let it define me or I can choose to NOT let it define me. Life is too short to constantly worry about the number in my bank account. Worrying about the stupid fucking number was ruining my life. I’m not homeless and have food to eat. Am I eating expensive caviar and oysters at 5 star restaurants? No, but at least I’m eating. There are a lot of things that I wish I could do and my family still doesn’t have very much money, but I accept that now. We’re surviving. I decided to make money work for me instead of the other way around. Being happy and surviving is more important than having tons of money to your name and killing yourself slowly. If I have to go into debt to have a happy and healthy life on this planet, then so be it. Using money to benefit yourself, to buy food, to clothe yourself and to keep a roof over your head is way more important than a simple number in your bank account.
Think about it, if you had a million dollars in your bank account, but were stranded in the rainforest with no contact to the outside world, would the number really matter to you? No! The number itself isn’t what matters, it’s what the number allows you to do!There are tons of severely depressed rich people. Money doesn’t buy happiness. It can definitely help, but it doesn’t buy happiness and some people would even go as far as to argue that it just buys more problems.
I’ve decided to make my mental and physical health my priority. All that matters is that I have enough money to do what I need to do comfortably and without stress.
I escaped prison!
The illusion of freedom
Despite all this, I still know tons of people who think they are free, but are actually more trapped than everyone else. I call this the illusion of freedom because they think they’re free, but use money to show off and to hide their insecurities. Theres a difference between buying a Lamborghini because you want one and buying one because you want to compensate for something else. There’s also a difference between buying fancy shoes because you enjoy wearing them and buying fancy shoes because you want to hide your shyness and fear behind swagger. Although showing off isn’t really my thing, I have been guilty of this too. We’re still slaves to money when we do this because we’re not using it for our own benefit, we’re using it to please OTHERS. The worst is when it reaches a point where people use money to compensate and show off to the point that they can’t afford things they actually need to survive and be healthy. I really like one of Childish Gambino’s lines in “Sweatpants” where he says “ Ya, you got some silverware, but really are you eating though?” He illustrates the fact that people will spend all their money on nice silverware to show off, but will be unable to afford food because all their money went into showing off.
I hope this all made sense and that you all understood me! I’m not saying that money isn’t important or that we don’t need it. Money makes the world go round nowadays in western society. You need it to heat your house, to buy food and everything else that needs to be bought. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to provide for yourself. Money does matter.
What matters more than money, however is your well being and mental and physical health. I’m going to force myself to continue to treat money as a means of making my life better instead of something that I need to have just to have it. Some solutions can be bought and some can’t. I need to remember that all my problems won’t magically disappear when I have X dollars in my bank account. It’s just a number. If that number allows me to help out my family, to feed myself and to have experiences that allow me to grow as a person, then sweet, but if not, it’s just a number! I think being on the west coast feeds into this a little bit too. People seem less stressed and more worried about actually living life and enjoying the little things where I am right now. In Ontario, on the other hand, it seems like there’s a lot more competition and pressure. People seem to be more worried about how people perceive them than their overall wellbeing. That definitely contributed to my negative relationship with money.
Life is hard and we need money, but if you can help it, please don’t let it control or define your life!
You got dis!