28 November, 2018

The Icebreaker Speech

Today I completed my first project for Gavel Club: the five- to seven-minute autobiographical speech that Toastmasters International calls "the icebreaker." I brainstormed for weeks, trying to come up with the perfect gimmick for my monologue, before settling on something simple, straightforward, and maybe even good. It went a little something like this:
Good morning, Gavel Club members and guests, and our generous VIC, Mr. Curry, and thank you for this opportunity to officially introduce myself. For those of you who don't know — which is quite a few of you, since this is only my sixth meeting — my name is Byron Case.

Five days ago, I turned forty. Now, they say that age is just a number, but I remember my dad's fortieth birthday. His friends threw him a party, with black balloons and a cake in the shape of a gravestone. At least for him, forty seemed like a big deal. Maybe it is. The average male in this country lives to be about eighty. That means I'm either right at my peak or halfway to my end. The glass is half full or it's half empty.

I used to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy, through and through. "Negative" doesn't even begin. You've heard that old saying, "Every dark cloud has a silver lining"? Well, I was such a pessimist that I saw dark linings around every silver cloud. My friends even had a nickname for me: Byron the Blackhearted, Dark Cliffs upon which the Waves of Hope Break. (Ridiculous, I know, but my friends were kind of weird.) If you told me that you were getting a raise at work, I'd shoot right back with something like: "Too bad taxes will take most of it." If you announced that you were getting married, I'd probably ask, "Can I be invited to your divorce party?"

With an attitude like this, it's surprising that I had friends at all, weird or otherwise. But I don't want you thinking I was some grim character. I knew how to have a good time, and did. I had hobbies and interests. Writing, live music, dinners with friends, racing my car, reading, anything involving computers — I stayed busy. I even had a job in the hospitality industry, managing the front desk of a popular hotel in my hometown, Kansas City. What I'm saying is, terrible attitude that I had, I could still summon up a smile.

I was twenty-two when I came to prison — green as your neighbor's lawn. Before this, the closest I'd ever come to thug life was when I was fifteen and got my wallet stolen at knifepoint in the parking lot of a Wonder Bread store. I felt totally lost here. I did a lot of crossword puzzles, waiting for my appeals to make their way through the courts. At some point, though, I realized that I had to do something with myself. So I threw myself into the one favorite pastime that these circumstances allowed.

After about a year of sending my manuscripts out, I published a short story. The magazine paid me fifty-five dollars, but so much more important than that was knowing that my words were still relevant beyond the prison walls, that I could still speak and be heard by people beyond these boundaries. Writing became my lifeline, my purpose, the thing that I wake up excited for, then go to bed feeling good about. It turned my whole life around.

These days, friends call me an optimist. Some even say I'm too positive. They don't understand how anyone in my circumstances, facing life in prison without parole, can feel so much happiness. The well-being I feel today is greater than it ever was when I was free. Mr. Glass-Half-Empty is long gone. It took imprisonment for me to realize what's truly important in life, and in that way to find my purpose.

Five days ago, I turned forty. It feels like my prime. Life is good.

1 comment:

  1. congratulations on BEST speaker in spite of all the ummms in 5 min. GOOD for first timer.


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.