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Sunday, December 31, 2017

As the New Year comes upon us, I thought I'd share the remainder of the story of Patrick's 
life, a life renewed and changed over many years.

(Please forgive the letters being cut off/moved to a different line. I couldn't figure out what iscausing that and or fix it).

Part 2: At the close of the two weeks of withdrawing in his mother’s basement, Patrick’s uncle drove him to a sweat lodge where all the toxins were removed from his body. After being clean and sober for four months Patrick lied about how long he had been clean and enrolled in university for counseling sciences in order to give back to a community he had once tormented. The manager at his job encouraged him to attend school, but Patrick says he enrolled only to prove to the manager that he was dumb. However, Patrick finished at the top of his class. His first job while in school was working during the day with people with schizophrenia who also had drug and alcohol addictions. At night Patrick worked in harm reduction: talking to kids as they were high, providing a needle exchange, and making sure the kids were alive. Many of the youth were children of those he had once done drugs and committed crimes with. After graduation Patrick worked in family services. Because of Patrick’s jail record he needed a letter from the state to work around kids. After graduation he worked in family services. Then, he went back to Saskatchewan to his reserve, where he worked in many different avenues of child protection. Since starting his employment journey he has been a children protection worker, counselor, cultural facilitator, spiritual advisor in corrections, and a correctional programs officer where he helped inmates deal with their trauma. . Additionally, he established the first aboriginal healing unit for maximum security inmates, where he sang songs with the inmates, held a native ceremony, made moccasins, and led a sweat (not previously allowed in a max before). He also worked with active addicts, teaching them a sense of self, and provided employment assistance training.

Patrick loved being an aboriginal correctional officer, but was forced out because an inmate that he did time with in prison recognized him and an assistant warden didn't think ex inmates should be working in prisons. However, two officers who hated him as a kid saw his life change. In 2002 the officers called him to their station, requesting him to sign paperwork. He was worried, wondering how he could be in trouble again. But they presented him with a pardon application. Both officers wrote glowing recommendations for him to have a full pardon as they had seen him befriending and working with youth.

Patrick and one of his professors in school who worked for BC mental health teamed up together to design trauma programs. Patrick designed the cultural part, while the prof designed the mental health portion. They created best practices for aboriginal families as well as healing aboriginal communities. They also helped set up youth aboriginal treatment centers. However, Patrick’s work changed when he and his current wife decided they didn’t want him traveling out of town so frequently, as they had a blended family. Patrick then created the organization Blackhorse 361 which consists of program development, public speaking, and cultural workshops. Blackhorse 361 teaches the facilitators, who have been chosen among the community members as the community will already have a trustworthy relationship with them. "In order to connect with a group or individual you have to relate it to something they understand and are hopefully passionate about so I use metaphors to teach. I create a lesson using activities such as gardening, mechanics, or an event or hobby they have experience with​.”

When I asked Patrick how he incorporates native spiritual practices into addictions counseling, he said he doesn’t phrase his interactions with people as “addictions counseling,” especially because people have preconceived notions about what that means. Patrick works with them to deal with the problems underneath, the poison and root causes of the problems. He uses simple means, such as connect​ing​ them with animals or walking to a river or trail with someone as they talk and share. This keeps the body activated so the mind is less likely to overthink or filter what they are sharing. Using visualizations, he helps the adult remember the child that he was,  then helps that child as an adult would so that the person feels a sense of accomplishment. This also allows the adult to differentiate what his child self did and what his adult self can do now. Patrick teaches them to write letters to past people in their lives then they burn them without sending. Patrick also encourages them not to make any big decisions until going into ceremony four times, which teaches them to think for a period of time, delayed gratification and patience.

As our conversation neared its end, Patrick explained about the 7 sacred teachings of his tradition. They are: wisdom, respect, courage, love, humility, truth, and honesty. “Is what you did or about to do or say in accordance with these? When you get up in the morning, think about what you are going to do for your spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental health. When you go to bed at night, recognize what you did or didn’t  do to honor those aspects.” Patrick commented that as humans we tend to talk twice as much as we listen “which is opposite of what the creator intended for us; he gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much.” An old teaching says, “you can only keep what you have by giving it away and you can only keep peace by sharing it with others. You can only keep knowledge by giving it away."

When I inquired of Patrick about what has helped him to change after being involved in addictions and incarcerated, he said that moving away from Vancouver was necessary or he knew he’d use again. He moved to Abbotsford with his mother, where his sister also lived. Additionally, a buddy in school with him, Jackson, was part of his support system. His uncle kept him involved in traditional ceremonies, as well as involving him and empowering him to facilitate groups for offenders being released from prison. Patrick worked with their families to prepare them to know how to help their loved ones getting out. He also continued to correspond through letters with his uncle still in jail.

As a result of seeing his mother being abused  during his childhood, Patrick swore he would never hurt a woman- but he in turn became the victim as an adult.  He was involved in volatile relationships and addictive behaviors during his first marriages but he himself was not physically violent. One of Patrick's eye sockets was cracked and a woman broke his nose. An ex also hit him with a telephone and injured his face.

The person Patrick identifies as his biggest support now is his wife, who herself came from a 20 year abusive relationship. She is the first person he processes with. They have “rules of engagement” for how to communicate and deal with conflict. The only emotions Patrick knew or understood as a child were anger and depression. Patrick says that he intellectualizes everything. His wife helps him understand his emotions and he helps her with the logic aspects of life and their relationship.

Patrick came from a rocky childhood and regrets many of his actions from his past. Now, he is in a stable, loving relationship with his wife, serves and loves children in foster care who are under the care of him and his wife, and is involved in teaching and learning from his community and an extensive network through Blackhorse 361.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

It has been years since I've posted, but I'm reviving this blog to share the following story.

Part 1: As an 18 year Patrick van Loosen arrived at another man’s home, attacked him, and left him for dead. Four months after the attack, while Patrick awaited trial, the other man died in the hospital. While Patrick awaited trial for aggravated assault in Oakalla prison in the cow barn, a segregation unit, his charges were raised to second degree murder. Patrick plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

A couple of months ago I met with this man over coffee for an interview and to snap some photos of him. I was moved throughout our conversation by his life and how he has been transformed. As I sat down, he explained that the night before our meeting he had driven from Chilliwack, BC, then spent the evening in downtown Seattle, talking to people late at night, hearing their stories and photographing them if they were willing. He also gave out sandwiches.

Patrick’s interest in photography began in childhood, where he kept a box under his bed of pictures he had shot. When he wanted to feel good about life he would pull the photos out and look through them. Life growing up in East Vancouver was very tumultuous, with a violent, alcoholic stepfather and a mother who drank heavily and abused prescription drugs, while running poker games in their basement. Patrick also experienced sexual abuse at a young age. He remembers that his first experience with alcohol came as a result of his mother teaching him to bartend at age 9 so she could spend more time playing poker. What he saw the adults doing intrigued him, so occasional sips eventually turned to hiding bottles in his bedroom. He blacked out for the first time during that same time frame.

As a teenager Patrick moved between hotels in Western Canada, or stayed in apartments where people could meet him to buy drugs. When he was 15 years old Patrick was involved in a large fight and suffered three broken ribs from the police officers who picked him up. Patrick escaped from the officers and was found by a friend. He went to his sister’s home because going to the hospital would alert the police. In terrible pain, Patrick’s brother in-law gave him the only thing he had to treat it and so started Patrick’s addiction to IV drug use that lasted 15 years.

At 18 years of age Patrick lived with roommates where they hosted a drunken Christmas party. One of his roommates’ girlfriends arrived with a torn shirt and bleeding lip. She admitted to him that her foster father had been raping her since she was a child.  This was the man whom Patrick attacked and whose death sent Patrick to prison, where he was held in a segregation unit 23 1/2 hours per day, slept on a steel slab, and had a 5 gallon bucket for a washroom. Oakalla was so disgusting that the landowner’s wife later shut it down after she toured the prison after her husband’s passing.

Eventually Patrick was transferred to what is referred to as BC’s “Club Fed,” a medium security prison island off the coast of Victoria. In order to protect himself from other prisoners and fearing that he’d be roughed up, shortly after getting there Patrick took the offensive and smashed a man with a ketchup bottle and received 3-4 more years added to his sentence. He also began to use drugs again. Fortunately, a biological uncle whom Patrick had never met, a fellow inmate, sought Patrick out when he heard he was in prison in order to provide Patrick with some protection. After meeting his Uncle Blair, he spent most of the time with the Lifers in prison, where he learned the ropes of how to do time in prison and how to protect himself. Patrick was a quick study in prison survival and to protect himself in the case of a stabbing, he put on what is known as “prison armor,” stuffing his clothes with magazines. His uncle once said to him, “There are two ways to do time in prison: Let the time do you or you can do the time. Essentially, you can feed off the hate and rage of other inmates and end up doing a life sentence or you can learn as much as you want. If you don’t like the system, go to school.” So Patrick began his educational studies within the prison.

Although Patrick requested a prison transfer, he was refused. As a result of beating up a man, Patrick was on the next plane to another prison, only 45 minutes away from his mom, who had previously been unable to visit. Patrick had received parole on two occasions but they did not last long due to his intolerance to being told what to do by parole officers. On one of his paroles Patrick was brought back to prison and charged for another murder. Patrick pled self-defense and beat the charge, as  the other person had stabbed Patrick first in the liver and bowels. After seven years in prison and as his sentence drew near to ending, he considered committing another crime in order to stay locked up. The idea of being in society and not knowing how he would handle it scared him in comparison to the relatively routine life in prison.

Upon release, Patrick quickly began using drugs and selling again because, coming from the streets, chaos was comfortable. Heroin was his drug of choice, but to stay awake he often used crack, or dabbled in cocaine, uppers, or downers. During a delirious state from drugs his associates had given him, he showed up at his mom’s home and she noticed his nine millimeter and bullet proof vest as he leaned over the sink. It was only then that she truly realised just how violent life had become for him.

On January 27, 1999 at 2pm, two armed men burst through the door of his apartment, and told him he was out of business "if he knew what was good for him." Patrick chased the men out of his apartment with a gun and followed them for 4 blocks in his boxer shorts in midday. Eventually he returned home, looked at all the drugs on his table, and wondered why, after being clinically dead 10 times from various acts of violence and drug overdoses, he was still alive. At the end of that day he realized that there had to be something more he was meant for and was ready to be done.  Previously when he quit using, he had moved away but kept all the things he had bought with drug money. Soon he would realize that whatever he wanted to buy was worth a weekend of drug sales, so he would go back to dealing which always ended up with him using again. Patrick admits to being too scared to kill himself although he had unsuccessfully tried a few times over the years to get the police to shoot him to death.  On the day he quit he showed up at his mother’s home and she asked, “How are you going to quit?” This resulted in him heading down to his mom’s unfinished basement, where he asked his mom to lock him in, and not unlock the door no matter how much he protested. She complied. Only when he was sleeping did she bring him food. He suffered through two weeks of excruciating back spasms, convulsions, night terrors, and other withdrawal symptoms.