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No Devils in Our American Skies: An Account of Discrimination
It’s a disturbing realization to come to that religious discrimination is still alive and well in America, even at a federal level. There’s still one religion who’s plight was never understood and organized properly to achieve equal rights, thanks largely in part to the perpetuation of misinformation and stereotypes by Hollywood. The religion: Satanism, my religion, which I have practiced without shame and largely without bias from others for the past 5 years.
Where, of all places did I have this morose epiphany? At an Air Force recruiter station in Henderson, Nevada. I’d come to the station, after much soul-searching, with the intention of enlisting. I was raised on Air Force bases and I was comfortable with the idea of military life because it as a steady job with loads of benefits and besides that, Airmen knew how to have a good time.
After smoking bowls and menthols interchangeably in my car for a half hour, I was in the right state of mind to begin my descent into responsibility and adulthood. I entered the office, an inconspicuous building in the corner of a plaza, right next to a smoke shop and a chicken place; it didn’t stand out whatsoever from the rest of the plaza and one had to really look for it to find it; urban camouflage to test those who seek it, it would seem. I went in and took a seat while the recruiter, a man in his mid-20’s that bore a striking resemblance to Romany Malco, was finishing up with another hopeful future Airmen.
“Your looking for college benefits? Military has the best around…………healthcare, full dental, and lifelong covrage…………..but the way the laws are being rewritten you’ll get close to nothing if you just do a 4 year stint, but 6 years…………..” this went on and on for close to an hour before he sent the interviewee, a twiggy 19 year old with a Jersey Shore haircut and an Obey shirt, on his way. Due to the close proximity of the door to the desk, I came face to face with him as he was leaving and I was sitting down. I thought about the stark contrasts between us, between his outfit and my black Dickies, heavy flannel and black beanie, and how none of it would matter in a military environment because of how it provides a catalyst for, and indeed thrives off of a group identity, a sense of disassociation from the individual in the name of something “more efficient”. But what is the price of individuality, even to put it on hold? It’s a question I’d pondered for weeks and one I still have yet to answer. “Good luck” was all I could say to him.
I was still contemplating the blow to my individuality a military stint would have when I sat down, but I cleared it from my mind as a question for another time; I sure as f*** wasn’t signing anything today. When we began the interview I had relatively high hopes.
“Are you a high school graduate?”
“Yes I am.”
“Going to college?”
“Yes sir, I go to CSN.”
“Any surgeries or hospital visits for something other than common illness?”
*“None that I can think of.”
“Alright, so far so good kid.”
Then the line of questioning took a turn for the worst I’d been preparing for when he asked me “Have you ever used any illicit drugs, including marijuana, anything over 15 times of usage for marijuana is an instant disqualification”. Anyone who has known me personally or read almost anything I’ve ever written knows very well that I am a huge fan of mind-altering substances, from nitrous oxide to methadone to cocaine, and that my one true love is sweet, sweet Mary Jane, so there was no way to answer this question without lying, seeing as how I’d apparently made myself ineligible by the time I’d turned 16. Still, I felt as though I had to be somewhat honest.
“I’ve smoked marijuana.”
“How many times”
“Any other drugs?”
(at this point I paused and thought for a period too long to be given justice with repeated periods)
**“Mushrooms when I was 16.”
“Ok, let me repeat the question: anything under 15 times FOR MARIJUANA IS AN INSTANT DISQUALIFICATION”
“I have only used marijuana 8 times in my life….”
I brushed that off, a little shaken, but relieved that the recruiter was down to earth and in tune with the fact that 97 million Americans have admitted to rocking the ganj, and besides that he looked like a man who had definitely smoked a blunt or two in his day. Unfortunately, I also had to answer for other parts of my past as well.
“Have you ever been arrested, detained fingerprinted, charged with a crime etc?”
“I got into some trouble when I was in high school in England, but that’s all expunged.”
“How can I put this? There is no such thing as expunged, what exactly were you arrested for?”
“Uh, well let’s see…underaged drinking, shoplifting, restricted access, providing alcohol to minors, possession with intent to distribute of an illicit substance and evasion of arrest, not in that order.”
“Ok, this might be a problem—“
“I was never formally charged with anything so I’m not entirely sure if it would come up at all, the only thing I was ever actually put in handcuffs and taken to a station for was the possession.”
“Ok and were you dealing marijuana or hashish?”
“Well, neither, I was selling methylphenidate.”
“Concerta, it’s ADHD medication. It’s a Schedule 2 drug, does that make a difference?”
“….Not for the better.”
We decided to continue on since I had no clue if anything was ever officiated. Somewhere in a file cabinet in Thetford, England there’s a mugshot of a 15 year old me and a tape of my confession to selling drugs, but that’s about it. I’ve been told all my life that what I do today will effect me in the future and I always believed it but never truly understood it in an up close and personal manner, much the same that one doesn’t fully comprehend the meaning of death until they feel the Grim Reapers cold breath down there own necks and, much the same as a man inches from death has little use for his realization, my reintroduction to the concept didn’t help me much at this point either.
To be sure, I sure as hell don’t regret any drug I’ve ever taken or anything I’ve ever been arrested for. I made my decisions and I stand by them as a perfect representation of the lust I have for life and the human experience, but sometimes I wonder if I couldn’t have been just a little bit less sketchy or exercised a little bit more caution when I was breaking the rules. To be fair, these were problems I had expected to run in to, and after we tabled my criminal record I felt a bit relieved. At least I’d gotten past all the problems and we can get on with talking about “what the Air Force can do for me.” I was mistaken, not because I’d forgotten another skeleton in my closet, but because I had too idealistic a vision of the world around me; I put too much faith in the tolerance of American culture. It is not a mistake I make very often.
“Do you have any tattoos?”
“I have four.”
“Alright, what of?”
“Grim reaper on my left upper-arm, pentagram on my right forearm, inverted cross on my right pinky and the words ‘Hail Satan’ on my right ankle.”
“…..what was that last one?”
“Hail Satan on my right ankle, sir.”
“OK, and could you explain the one on your forearm, please?”
“It’s a symbol for the Church of Satan.”
“So you’re an atheist?”
“It’s an atheistic belief system, yes.”
“Ok, as long as you tell them that, that tattoo won’t be too much of a problem, but the Hail Satan tattoo is a different story.”
“And why is that?”
“Because it says Hail Satan! It’s a bash against other peoples religion, it’s the equivalent of having a swastika tattooed on your ankle.”
I had no idea what to say. Apparently my religion was responsible to genocide and religious intolerance towards Christians for centuries and I’d heard the story with the roles reversed. I was shocked that, as I stood here offering my life to a country whose pride rested upon their protection of religious freedom, I was denied based on my own choice of religion granted by such freedom. Thre was simply no way to reconcile this new information with everything I’d ever learned about American values and human decency; what the f*** was going on here?
The recruiter went on about how if I got it covered up I’d be fine (so long as the tattoo covered less than a quarter of my leg) and went on for a bit about the regulations for tattoos, but it wa all noise to me. I stood up not saying a word and left him there with a puzzled look on his face. F*** him. As soon as I got out of the building I went to my car, drove to my friend Ves house and bought 2 hits of acid and a jug of cheap rum. I spent most of that night on the porch, sipping rum and cokes and watching the sky melt into itself, pondering what I’d learned that day.
I turned away from the sky for a moment to look inside the apartment at my friends, all laughing and drinking an smoking weed together, some playing guitar, others playing video games. Some were white, some were black, some wore crosses around their necks and others bore the Sigil of Baphomet, but they all drank the same rum, smoked the same dope and projected the same exuberance for life and independence that was the hallmark of people of our kind. Just a group of friends breaking the rules arm in arm with no forethought to how their actions conflicted with the rigid-faced norm. We were a community of nonconformists, outlaws and degenerates who stood diametrically opposed to the poison that surrounded us known as the American Dream. We were the American Underground.
I realized this, pouring myself another shot, and I was overcome with happiness. Not because the lifestyle was easy or socially accepted, that didn’t mean anything. I was happy because it was mine, a niche I had carved for myself, without compulsion from anyone, and certainly without any blessing. I didn’t need the military, I was a proud member of the Underground, and the Underground takes care of it’s own.
*I was hospitalized at age 14 for an Ambien overdose.
**….and 17, and 18, and 19.