Mindful Metropolis March 2010 : Page 30

art & soul Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality Chicago native Charles Shaw’s riveting new memoir details his path into addiction, through prison and back into the world Exile Nation 7 n By james faBer Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality “Before you abuse, criticize and accuse, then walk a mile in my shoes.” —Songwriter, Joe South Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality, is as close a glimpse as you can get—or would want. And, although the book begins with Shaw’s journey from Cook County jail, to Statesville and ultimately to East Moline Cor- rectional Center, it’s anything but just another story about prison. Exile Nation is a candid memoir of Shaw’s life from 2001 to 2009, not L only chronicling his time as a prisoner, but also the years that led up to his sentence and the years after his release, covering his activism, addiction and spiritual quest to fi nd a higher meaning. (Shaw was the editor-in-chief of Conscious Choice magazine from 2006-2007). Th e book begins in the middle of Shaw’s story as he’s being processed into Cook County jail to be- gin serving a one-year sentence for possession of 14 capsules of MDMA. As the story unfolds we learn not only who he is and how he ended up in prison, but also how he rises up to successfully reinvent his life. “I think the crux of the story is of my own political and spiritual awak- ening, but that can be really self-indulgent on a lot of levels, except that what I think that I went through is what I see so many other people going through,” he says. “Everybody’s story is a little bit diff erent, but what I wanted to do was put mine out there as a means of people being able to connect with it their own way.” And people are connecting with Shaw’s story. Th e book has received critical acclaim—not just by prison reform activists, addiction special- ists and drug policy experts, but also by an outpouring of people who have had similar experiences. “Some of the compliments are more fl attering than anything I’ve ever heard in my life, but the coolest part about it is that people who have gone through the same experience have reached out and said ‘this really helped me, this gave me hope, somebody fi nally understands what hap- pened to me,” he says. Shaw started writing his story the week he got released from prison in 2005, but went through multiple drafts before fi guring out exactly how 30 march 2010 uckily, not too many of us will ever spend any time in prison, but for anyone wondering what it’s like to be housed by the Illinois Department of Corrections, Charles Shaw’s book, Exile Nation: PHOTO: KRISTIN GORENFLO by Charles Shaw he wanted to tell his story. Some of those days were bleak—Shaw suf- fered the shame of being a convict and teetered on the brink of suicide before ultimately fi nding the strength to forgive past transgressions, ac- cept himself for who he is and fi nish writing the book. “I was tormented by public opinion, and what I took on, and I inter- nalized society’s view of addicts and ex-off enders as who I was. I didn’t really see any of the strengths that I can recognize in myself now. I didn’t really see the purpose for all of it…eventually I was able to accept it all and understand that it was for something beyond me, it wasn’t just about my ego or my reputation or my level of success, but it was about a larger issue—that I’d been given the ability to speak for millions of people that don’t get the opportunity to be heard by anybody. Th at really changed it for me. Th at gave me the courage to really start fi nding my voice.” Exile Nation isn’t available in print—yet. Instead, Shaw chose to release all seven chapters of the book in weekly excerpts, free, on the website Reality Sandwich.com throughout 2010. An essay running in three parts dealing with the history of American involvement in the drug trade will follow the book, which is just the fi rst piece of a larger project called the “Unheard Voices” project. “Unheard Voices” will include a documentary website featuring in- terviews of people who are part of the “exile nation,” or those who are “exiles” in our own culture—people who have had their lifestyle somehow altered because of criminal charges. Many of the interviews will come from Shaw’s tour through various cities speaking and reading from the book. “Really, if there’s any message in all of it, it’s don’t give up,” says Shaw. “No matter how bleak you think your life is, don’t give up, because there might possibly be blessings around the corner that you could never imagine. And, there is hope. You just have to really be willing to dig in the dirt of your soul to fi nd it.” Visit realitysandwich.com and look for Chapter One of Exile Nation. Charles Shaw will speak and read from Exile Nation as part of the monthly Chicago Consciousness Cafe speaker series, at 5pm, Saturday, March 20 at Transamoeba, 1325 S. Wabash, Chicago.

Exile Nation

James Faber

Luckily, not too many of us will ever spend any time in prison, but for anyone wondering what it’s like to be housed by the Illinois Department of Corrections, Charles Shaw’s book, Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality, is as close a glimpse as you can get—or would want. And, although the book begins with Shaw’s journey from Cook County jail, to Statesville and ultimately to East Moline Correctional Center, it’s anything but just another story about prison.<br /> <br /> Exile Nation is a candid memoir of Shaw’s life from 2001 to 2009, not only chronicling his time as a prisoner, but also the years that led up to his sentence and the years after his release, covering his activism, addiction and spiritual quest to fi nd a higher meaning. (Shaw was the editor-in-chief of Conscious Choice magazine from 2006-2007). Th e book begins in the middle of Shaw’s story as he’s being processed into Cook County jail to begin serving a one-year sentence for possession of 14 capsules of MDMA.<br /> <br /> As the story unfolds we learn not only who he is and how he ended up in prison, but also how he rises up to successfully reinvent his life.<br /> <br /> “I think the crux of the story is of my own political and spiritual awakening, but that can be really self-indulgent on a lot of levels, except that what I think that I went through is what I see so many other people going through,” he says. “Everybody’s story is a little bit diff erent, but what I wanted to do was put mine out there as a means of people being able to connect with it their own way.” And people are connecting with Shaw’s story. Th e book has received critical acclaim—not just by prison reform activists, addiction specialists and drug policy experts, but also by an outpouring of people who have had similar experiences.<br /> <br /> “Some of the compliments are more fl attering than anything I’ve ever heard in my life, but the coolest part about it is that people who have gone through the same experience have reached out and said ‘this really helped me, this gave me hope, somebody fi nally understands what happened to me,” he says.<br /> <br /> Shaw started writing his story the week he got released from prison in 2005, but went through multiple drafts before fi guring out exactly how He wanted to tell his story. Some of those days were bleak—Shaw suffered the shame of being a convict and teetered on the brink of suicide before ultimately fi nding the strength to forgive past transgressions, accept himself for who he is and fi nish writing the book.<br /> <br /> “I was tormented by public opinion, and what I took on, and I internalized society’s view of addicts and ex-off enders as who I was. I didn’t really see any of the strengths that I can recognize in myself now. I didn’t really see the purpose for all of it…eventually I was able to accept it all and understand that it was for something beyond me, it wasn’t just about my ego or my reputation or my level of success, but it was about a larger issue—that I’d been given the ability to speak for millions of people that don’t get the opportunity to be heard by anybody. Th at really changed it for me. Th at gave me the courage to really start fi nding my voice.” Exile Nation isn’t available in print—yet. Instead, Shaw chose to release all seven chapters of the book in weekly excerpts, free, on the website Reality Sandwich.com throughout 2010. An essay running in three parts dealing with the history of American involvement in the drug trade will follow the book, which is just the fi rst piece of a larger project called the “Unheard Voices” project. “Unheard Voices” will include a documentary website featuring interviews of people who are part of the “exile nation,” or those who are “exiles” in our own culture—people who have had their lifestyle somehow altered because of criminal charges. Many of the interviews will come from Shaw’s tour through various cities speaking and reading from the book.<br /> <br /> “Really, if there’s any message in all of it, it’s don’t give up,” says Shaw.<br /> <br /> “No matter how bleak you think your life is, don’t give up, because there might possibly be blessings around the corner that you could never imagine. And, there is hope. You just have to really be willing to dig in the dirt of your soul to fi nd it.”<br /> <br /> Visit realitysandwich.com and look for Chapter One of Exile Nation.<br /> <br /> Charles Shaw will speak and read from Exile Nation as part of the monthly Chicago Consciousness Cafe speaker series, at 5pm, Saturday, March 20 at Transamoeba, 1325 S. Wabash, Chicago.

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