My name is Nate Mckowen, and my story is not an easy one to tell.
Ever since I was a kid it was my dream to be a filmmaker. In 2007 I graduated from The New York Film Academy, and I was on my way to making my dreams come true. My future looked bright.
Then everything changed.
One night, after a party, I made the decision to drive home when I was in no condition to drive.
I got in an accident.
Because of a stupid and careless decision I made, a man lost his life.
I was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I went through some dark times as I tried to process what happened. To be honest, I don't know if you ever fully come to terms with something like that. I had so much guilt, and regret. I had caused so much pain. I felt less than human. I was lost.
During my prison sentence I joined a creative writing class taught by a volunteer. I couldn't practice film, but I discovered that writing was like filmmaking. I could carefully craft a story. Word by word, sentence by sentence, I could explore what it means to be human, and I could shape some sort of meaning out of all of the chaos. Prison does everything it can to harden you, to kill your soul, and it was storytelling kept my humanity alive. Somewhere in the darkness I realized that I was the author of my own story and that it was up to me how it ended. I had to make a decision.
I decided that I was going to use my story to help people. I decided I was going to make something positive come from all of the tragedy. Since then I have been given the opportunity to tell my story to 900 5th graders at a Drug and Alcohol Awareness day, I have been invited to panel discussions on re-entry for people coming home from prison, and I have been fortunate enough to tell my story at the State Capitol, encouraging legislators to pass much needed prison reform laws. I am currently making a documentary that explores the difficulties that prisoners face re-entering society. In using my story to encourage positive change for others, I found the change I so desperately sought.
And my childhood dream has come true, because I created Updraft Productions. I get to make films for a living! And not only that, I get to tell peoples' stories. Updraft is about uplifting peoples stories, so that those stories can uplift others.
Stories have the power to change lives.
The Setting Sun.
A story I wrote during my incarceration that won 3rd place for memoir in the PEN Prison Writing Contest. Read by Jeffery Toobin.