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The Storm That Cleared My Path: A COVID-19 Story

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

| This is the 555th story of Our Life Logs® |

Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some clear your path.

My path began 40 years ago. My parents tried their luck in Vegas and, instead of hitting the jackpot, they scored with me. I was born and raised in Sin City. The Flamingo Hotel and Casino was my backyard and striptease dancers lined the streets. As I grew, I bet you I tried almost everything there was to try in that town. I mean, being out among the drugs, gambling and alcohol was better than being at home. My parents were too busy fighting and trying their hardest to make ends meet to keep an eye on us kids. So, my parents had no idea that by the time I finished high school, I already had a drug addiction.

I spent my 20s on drugs and learning that I could live a functional life if I smoked marijuana. I even advocated for its medicinal uses because I knew of the good it did. For me, smoking was therapeutic and I thought it made my life easier to manage. I never faced the emotional traumas of my childhood, causing me to develop anxiety, depression, and have violent bouts of rage in adulthood. But smoking helped me stay calm when life was daring me to lean into my temper. The only downside was the paranoia which sometimes made my anxiety worse. But those instances were few and far between.

Still, this life wasn’t sustainable. I kept shelving the pain and emotional stress of my childhood. By the time I was 30, my life was in ruins. They say the broken find each other. Well, I managed to attract the attention of a beautiful young lady who carried her own scars so gracefully. We fell in love almost instantly and moved to Denver, Colorado, together—one of the few places at the time where marijuana was legal.

When we arrived, it was everything I ever imagined—slopes on every horizon, air crisper than a granny smith apple fresh out of the refrigerator, snow-covered mountains, and lush greenery in the summers. It was a town full of new beginnings, and the change did us good. I felt like the luckiest man in the world. We were away from Las Vegas in a fascinating outdoor paradise, and we welcomed our son into the world on March 17, 2017. My own little family.

It’s funny how we plan our life, then God steps in and adds an entire chapter we did not see coming. This is how I felt at the end of 2019. I had been following what was happening with COVID-19 in the early days when it was reported in China and I believed it was going to be devastating when it reached the US. The beast was already growing and spreading quickly throughout other parts of the world. My consumption of medical marijuana with the added global stress kept me in a state of fear as I watched the news anchors unfold this story. Panic was my new constant. So, my girlfriend, our child, and I decided to go off the grid.

This may seem like a rash decision but let me explain our situation. I was working nonstop at odd jobs, mainly mounting televisions. And with no family in town and us being unable to afford $100 a day for daycare, I was the only source of income so our son could be cared for by his mother. When COVID-19 hit, people stopped calling me to their homes. The money stopped coming in. Bills were piling up and there weren’t any rent freezes. We would have been evicted, and I was scared we would end up in a shelter. Why should we stay in the city with so many people? It wouldn’t be safe, especially with a young child. We both had no money and no insurance and could not afford to get sick.

At first, it was a battle to get my love to agree to it, but after explaining how dire the situation was, she agreed. We decided to make it like we were on a vacation. We would take the little money we had and get tents, fishing equipment, blankets, a grill, and a big playpen for our son. Off the grid, we’d away from debt collectors and anyone who was infected. It would be just like camping.

First, we went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. When we got there, it was locked and gated. Desperate to take care of my family, I cut the gate and we entered illegally. We were the only people around. I felt like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Waterfalls were the background singers for all the birds that we heard chirping. Night campfires lit our conversations with the sounds of our son who was happy, free, and giggling. We had all that we needed.

We were adamant that we were going to survive this virus and we refused to return to society until it was safe…but, the weeks dragged into months. As our off-the-grid life continued into summer, things got harder. My girlfriend became agitated with our situation. Meanwhile, I’d run out of marijuana and my patience was wearing thin. I was no longer in a fixed state of Zen and all that rage from unprocessed trauma came back to the surface. I was angry and could no longer communicate peacefully. I could no longer talk myself down. I could no longer hear the panic and irrationality in my voice. Things got ugly.

One day, she refused to agree with my paranoid ways, and my anger got the best of me. Even though I swore I would never turn into my father and hit a woman, that day I snapped. I put my hands on my love. After I hit her, she immediately fled with my son. I knew from the moment she drove away in the truck that I had royally fucked up.

I threw a few beers back and waited for her to return. I cleaned up the camping area and prayed she would forgive me. But she never came back; no, it was the police who showed up first.

I was arrested for domestic violence and thrown in jail for three months. The first month was hell. The second was hopeful. By the third, I knew I had lost my family. When I was sitting in jail, knowing that I had lost my family, I made the conscious choice to change when I got out.

When I was released from jail in August and I came out to nothing and no one. The mother of my child submitted a full-blown restraining order against me and I lost custody of my son. It was all my fault. All my stuff was gone and the area we had camped in for months was now swarming with patrol. It was September and starting to get cold. I had no choice but to return to Las Vegas after months of hell on earth.

With nowhere to go, I started couch surfing. But I was technically homeless. I didn’t qualify for food stamps and, since I did not work in Nevada, I didn’t qualify for unemployment. Even if I wanted a job, without clothes or a place to live, I couldn’t find one. I knew I would not survive being homeless in Denver because I would freeze to death. I had to throw most of my belongings away because I had no place to store them.

Still, I remembered the promise to myself. I promised myself that I would change. So, I saw the bottom as the first of many steps.

Of course, that was easier said than done and it took a lot of reminding to make that promise stick. When I had lost everything, I’d lost my motivation to change for a while. I was too focused on playing the blame game and feeling sorry for myself. But it got to a point that I felt like I had nothing to lose. I no longer was mad at the pandemic; I was mad at myself.

I sought counseling for anger management. Doing so helped me look for reasons to see the glass half-full. Then, it was like my calling fell into my lap. It all started when I was on the couch of a stranger’s house in July 2020. They showed me a video of them being harassed by the police. I was appalled by how he was treated and I thought it should be seen by more people. I used his computer to upload the video and BOOM! The video started getting hits.

I was amazed at the reception that the video had gotten, so I added more videos. People started reaching out wanting to contribute their own bad experiences with cops and the channel began to really take off. Who would have ever thought that a couch surfer such as me would be able to have a popular YouTube channel? The channel shows people who recorded police officers using excessive force or escalating situations instead of de-escalating them. This issue has been dear to my heart and now I can be a part of the solution instead of just complaining about it. The YouTube Channel is called Amazing Audits and it already has hundreds of hits.

For the first time since I lost my son, I had something to look forward to and something positive to put my energy into. For most of my life, I meandered through life without a purpose, not processing anything, feeling tossed away by a society who no longer had a use for me. All those years, I refused to process my trauma. When I made an effort to change and find a way to bring a feeling of justice to others, my life outlook totally changed. Now, I see hope. I am still alive, I’ve never caught COVID-19, and neither has my son. Things may not be the same as they once were, but I will muddle through like I always do. I still had a life to live. I see that now.

This is the story of Jamie Bates

Jamie now spends his time creating videos for his YouTube channel called Amazing Audits. He collects recorded audio and visual videos of police stops throughout America to bring attention to social injustices. He also spends his spare time holding up a sign. Not begging for money or food but asking people to simply…smile. Jamie believes a smile goes so far, and that we need more positivity. He wants to spread as much love as possible because he believes that is the cure for the panic surrounding COVID-19.

Jamie with his sign, 2020.

This story first touched our hearts on December 8, 2020

Writer: Melodie Hunter | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker

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