Beyond the Bars

Here, you will find stories of individuals we have interviewed during their time incarcerated, and were fortunate enough to interview post incarceration. These stories and pictures provide insight into the struggles many formerly incarcerated individuals face upon reentering society, and reveal life beyond bars.

While some stories contain the gratification of instant success we often seek in narratives, they offer enlightening perspectives on challenges that many people, both incarcerated and non-incarcerated, deal with in society today.

The pictures, quotes, and stories below reveal the experiences, both positive and negative, to which these individuals have been exposed.

We hope that these stories expand your knowledge and understanding surrounding the difficulties many formerly incarcerated individuals face, as well as their lives post-release.

Thanh Tran

I broke down in tears and cried. I couldn’t believe that it was really over. I’ve been out for two months now, and it still feels shocking to me. Just now, I’m here mopping my foster mom’s house and I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m really here mopping my foster mom’s house; I’m not in a cage anymore.’ It’s still mind-blowing.”

Tommy “Shakur” Ross

When they told me I was found suitable and I’d be getting out of prison it was really emotional. We’re talking about waterworks. I was in tears, I was so happy. One of the things that I appreciated is that the parole board was able to see me for who I am today. They explained how I’d be able to impact society moving forward based on the work that I had done inside.

I was basically flung out of San Quentin by the seat of my pants. I truly wasn’t ready. Yes, I had my exit strategy and parole plans set for the board, but I wasn’t given the time to set up housing or put my plans into action before I was released.

I am one of the many incarcerated Humans of Sanquentin. I have been in for 37 years for the Second Degree murder of an associate whom I, at another time in my life sold Marijuana with. Six weeks ago, I was found suitable for parole for that crime.

I was originally sentenced to 201 years to life for a crime I committed at age sixteen. Things really started to change for me when I was transferred to San Quentin in 2012. Moving to San Quentin was a very good thing. I was taking programs , classes and working hard. I also worked in the hospital from 2013 until I was released.

My first call was to my mother. She’d been with me every step of the way. She never ever turned her back on me. She kept me out of trouble, even when I was on the inside. She’d say, I want you to go to school, take every class there is. I couldn’t say no to her, so I signed up, went to college, and self-help groups.

Fateem Jackson

The only word that came close to describing my feeling after getting out was “surreal” as I stepped out of the van and onto the sidewalk outside the west gate of San Quentin on September 30th, 2019. The colors were more vivid –– greener, bluer –– than I’d remembered.