Winning with a Bad Hand | Aaron Fulton

winning with a bad hand

I’m always hesitant to tell the story of my life. Whenever I do, I almost always get the hated response, “You were dealt a bad hand.”

I am not some victim of my circumstances. That frame of mind leads to excuses for being less of a person than we could be. None of us choose what we are born into, but we all choose what to do with our short lives.

Both of my parents were addicts: my mother was hooked on prescription narcotics and my father was an alcoholic. They separated when I was young and my dad had custody of my brother and me but I stayed with my mom regularly. 

In those visits, I witnessed her overdose repeatedly. I watched my mother on countless chairs, sofas, beds, in cars take what I believed would be her last shallow breaths.  I was on edge, having to constantly keep an eye on her. More than once, I called an ambulance because I couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead.

Her addiction had her in and out of prison throughout my childhood. Shortly after she was released the second time, my dad suffered a fatal heart attack. I was ten years old. 

He wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination; he was a binge drinker, and we didn’t have much. Regardless, he slaved away in a warehouse to provide my brother and me with some semblance of a stable life. When he died, that went with him.

Winning with a Bad Hand | Aaron Fulton

There was a constant feud in the aftermath of his death between my mom and my paternal relatives over who would have us. My mom had relapsed, and my dad’s side of my family had always tried to position me against my mother. 

In my grandmother’s eyes, my father was a saint, and all our problems were the fault of her daughter-in-law. But since I was conditioned to know my mother wouldn’t always be there, I have always clung to her.

In addition to the constant fear for her safety, the huge issue that hung over my time with my mother was hunger. There was never any damn food in the house.  I learned a few tricks: staying at friends’ houses so their parents would feed me, drinking so much water I would feel full, stealing out of stores. And that hunger filled me with shame. I didn’t want to be the kid who was constantly looking for a way to eat.

So I was relieved when my uncle, my father’s brother, took me away from her. I didn’t want to leave her, but I also wanted to have food available.

Everything felt normal for a bit. Only my uncle didn’t know what he was getting himself into by taking us in. I was out of control, and he tried to beat it out of me. Over the next two years, his physical disciplines transitioned from simple whippings to handcuffing me and shocking me with a taser.

Winning with a Bad Hand | Aaron Fulton

My behavior got worse as his beatings did. I started running away, hanging around with older kids, using drugs, and committing crimes. The police would retrieve me, deliver me back to the beatings, and I’d run away again. It became a game we played. My mom was about to be released from prison, and I was just biding my time until then.

Before she got out, I was arrested again and placed in a boys’ ranch called Azleway.

At fourteen, for the first time in my life, I finally got a taste of what it was like to just be a kid.  It was dysfunctional for sure, but the best six months of my life were there.

When I returned to my mom after Azleway, life looked promising. My mom was doing great for a change. There were no overdoses, I had food to eat, no abuse, I had friends at school, girls liked me. It was a glimpse of happiness, an opportunity for something different. And this is always the time I wish I could go back and make better decisions.

Somewhere along the road, I had become my own worst enemy. Crime and drug use had become an identity for me. And because of that, I ended up in the Texas Youth Commission, the youth prison system in Texas. 

When I was released from there, I was damaged. I made an attempt to reform, and I failed. Something had happened in my mind. Throughout my life, there were moments when I didn’t want to be alive anymore. At sixteen, every moment was like that: a nasty pit of black depression and hopeless internal torture. What was going on in my head was manifesting in my life. I was on a self-destructive tear.

My girlfriend at the time was the last string I was hanging by and when she broke up with me, I lost it. I felt physical pain from mental anguish and I was so messed up it’s like I wanted it. 

The next few months were an intoxicated haze of self-destruction. I didn’t dare to commit suicide, so I lived with the hope that I’d die of an overdose or somebody I’d ripped off would kill me. It was from this state that I got involved in a murder. It fills me with shame, regret, and remorse but I stood lookout while two men killed someone.

There is a law in Texas called “The Law of Parties” that says that anyone involved in a crime as an accessory is just as guilty as the person who actually committed the offense. After being certified by the juvenile court to stand trial as an adult for capital murder, I spent the next three years in Harris County Jail. In March of 2011, I pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of murder and received a twenty-five-year sentence.

Today my mom is my greatest inspiration for turning one’s life around. She is sober, a Registered Nurse, and has a Master’s in Counseling. She is such an inspiration because I saw firsthand how far gone she was, I suffered in these times with her and she showed me that there is a way out.

Winning with a Bad Hand | Aaron Fulton

Thirteen years have passed since the day I was arrested. Today, it feels like I’m telling someone else’s story. The direction of my life has changed, and I’ve found a new path. But I understand that because that past is very much my own, I must wait on my opportunity. My next parole review date is July 2022. I’ve put years of preparation and work toward the life that could be waiting for me after this. 

What I learned from my mother is I control my thoughts, my thoughts manifest themselves in my actions, and my actions determine my outcomes. A human mind is a powerful tool when it is cultivated, cared for, and applied in a meaningful way. This opens up a world of possibility to me and to all of us. Put us together, and we’ll move mountains.

My personal history might be called a “bad hand” but it is also the making of a resilient and compassionate person. It’s empowering to look back on the hardships I’ve endured and know that my worst days are behind me and my best are yet to come. My life experience has gifted me with a deep understanding and compassion for people who are suffering. That’s what fuels me to make a difference. In French General Ferdinand Foch’s words, “The most powerful weapon on Earth is the human soul on fire.”

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