Patrick, 56

Patrick, 56

Patrick, 56

Patrick: 56 
Incarcerated: 37 years

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. Although I am extremely relieved that part of my life can now be redeemed, there is another aprt of me that grew up here, matured and learned to actually care for others. My heart and personal commitment to the inmate population and community behind these walls as a peer mentor, health educator and facilitator remains genuine, grounded in acceptance and respect. It has become ‘my something’ I am passionate about. I pledge my allegiance to the education of otehrs for hte understanding of health adn personal well-being, through a self help, self-health style of communication and promotion.

In 1998, I graduated from teh Infectious Disease Requisite for Peer Health Education iin Solano State Prison. For the last 21 years, I have been learning, teaching classes, facilitating nad strengthening my knowledge as a peer mentor and health educator. 

The real story here is not about me, it’s about being aware of how family, community and culture shapes one’s values, beliefs and actions, then how that plays into behavior choices.

Being empowered with the information to protect our own health benefits one personally, and extends to the community behind the wall and eveutally to society upon one’s release back home. In the Peer Health Education Program our motto is: Your Health Is Your Wealth, regardless of your sexuality, ethnic, racial, cultural or regional background. Developing skills for making healthy choices ranks supreme, adn is an important step in becoming aware of otehrs So yes, parole will be amazing, however this work must continue in our post-pandemic world and I am here to be consciously proactive. Here in San Quentin we lost all of our self-help programs and the sponsors that facilitate those programs. “Peer Health” lost its outside sponsorship, resources and facilitators. I ahve been able to float the program with the very helpful and dedicated assistance of Diane Kahn and Lt. Sam Robinson. It is my hope to return to SQ as a free outside facilitator and sponsor to reignite its mission after the all clear bell is sounded. Please join me.

Larry White, 26 years inside

Larry White, 26 years inside

Larry White, 26 years inside

Diane: How long were you inside?

Larry: I was inside for 26 years.

Diane: How did it feel when you found out you were being released? 

Larry: Oh man, it felt awesome. I had a mental obstacle to overcome because I told myself  that I was gonna grow old and die in prison. In the back of my mind I had accepted that I would never get out. I was protecting myself,  I didn’t want to set myself up for that hope,  y’know what I mean?  I was thinking ‘well I’m here and I’m not getting out, so Larry just make the best of what you have. You know what I mean?

Diane: Tell us what happened when you first heard you were getting out.

Larry: It was the best feeling, I got a phone call and said I got it! It was special since I’d been shot down by the Parole Board three times prior to being found suitable. What hurt the most in the past was telling my family I’d been denied. Everyone had their hopes up. I tried to be optimistic for them, even though I didn’t believe they’d let me out. Because of Covid, the hearing was not done in person. I tried to get my attorney to call my family, but he said I’m not going to take that away from you. Guys were already on the phones making their own connections with their families, but once they heard I’d got a date, they got excited for me and gave me their phone time. 

Diane: Who was the first person you told?

Larry: 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. I’m so glad she did that because while everyone was getting involved in the prison drama, I was in class bettering myself.

Diane: Take us to the night before you were released?

Larry: l had a lot of trouble going to sleep that night. I pretty much stayed up all night, trying to force myself to go to sleep cause I knew I was gonna be walking into the new world and I wanted to be rested, but I couldn’t go to sleep. My mind was racing. At the time, San Quentin was going through quarantine so I was stuck in a cell all to myself. I got up and pace, I’d lay back down, try to meditate, and get up and pace. Nothing worked. They don’t come and get you until four or five in the morning. The nightman already knew what time it was, as soon as he walked up to the door, he was like you ready? And I was like yes I am. I already had all my stuff bundled up and walked out of the cell. He said it’s going to take a minute to kick back.  I asked him if I could run upstairs for a minute to say goodbye to a couple of people? I was lucky the C.O. gave me the chance to say good-bye.My friends’ gates weren’t open yet, so I had free reign of the building and ran around to say goodbye to people and give away the last little bits of my property. I’d been with most of these guys since I was 19, I grew up in prison. I mean they were like my second family. Men that I’ve met in prison actually became like my uncles and my brothers, we really developed a strong family bond. So leaving was bittersweet. It was so great to have the opportunity to leave, but then I’m actually still leaving people behind that I’ve grown to love.

Then we were taken to R&R for dressouts and locked in individual cells. Taking off my prison clothes felt like I was shedding my old skin. It was a new day! Once I put on my own clothes, getting out finally felt real to me. 

Diane: Did you feel you were prepared to get out?

Larry: Yeah, but at the same time, I realized that society had moved on without me. I was apprehensive about technology. I never messed around with cell phones inside because I knew if I got a write up, I could be denied. My release was coming closer and closer. My nerves are jumping about because the day I thought was never going to occur is happening. I’m leaving prison behind. The place I grew up in since I was 19 years old. A kid. And now I’m a 46 year old man. The youth offender law that was passed gave people like me a second chance. My attorney Keith Wattley, is the founder and Executive Director at Uncommon Law, he told the board that I put in the time and work to change my life, so why was I still there? I was blessed to have Keith as my attorney. He took special notice of my case. 

Diane: Did you have anyone at the gate?

Larry: I got on the transport van from prison to outside the gate. It  seemed like it took forever. I saw parts of prison I’d never seen before, cars, the bay, people walking around outside the gate. It was awesome. The correctional officer opened up the back gate, that door in the van and we stepped out and this is the last.  I can finally cut the tether between me and this prison. Now I can walk away from it and walk into the arms of my loved ones, hug them and grab them. Yeah, it’s beautiful.

At the time, I was married and my wife said she would be waiting for me. My mom also drove up, probably too fast, all the way up from San Diego and was waiting for me outside the gate. My mom grabbed me and hugged me. I was finally untethered from prison. Keith Whatley, my attorney was there too, he was filming my release for a documentary. I was a little camera shy so it was a bit awkward.

Diane: Where was the first place you went?

Larry: I got in my mom’s car. She said, “You’re skin and bones, I have to feed you.” We all went to Denny’s. I ordered eggs sunny side up, hash browns, sausage and french fries. I guess I kept overthanking the waiter. I kept saying every time he brought me something “oh thank you very much ”  because this is the first time I’ve ever had someone serve me, you know what I mean. I don’t get served food in prison, it just gets slapped on your tray and you have to keep it moving. It was a new experience for me. The food was excellent, the atmosphere and the company was so nice, so I really enjoyed myself. Plus, everyone was so nice to me. 

Diane:  Had you been to San Francisco before?

Larry:  Yeah when I was a kid. We used to go to Pier 39 and buy little wooden swords, me and my little brother would have fights. We’d buy churros and look at the water.

Diane: What happened next?

Larry: I got dropped off at my transitional house, called GEO, in San Francisco. I was free in my heart and my mind until I walked into GEO. I felt like I was incarcerated again. I was put in isolation to quarantine because of Covid. My wife  bought me an iPhone which was really nice and helped me pass the time. I started to learn the functions of the phone, so for two weeks I’m playing with it. Having good conversations, texting, learning how to search for things on Google, and watching Netflix and YouTube. That was a similar concept of being in prison and having a cell phone. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have it and I kept trying to hide it whenever the workers would do a room check. I was so appreciative that I had it. When I heard the key hit the lock I would tuck the phone and after count I would pull the phone back out.  Then I would tell myself this is okay, this is authorized, I’m no longer in prison.

Diane: How did you get food while in quarantine?

Larry: I was basically given the same style of prison food. They give you lunch, breakfast,  and dinner, but they’re of a lot higher quality. Things like bologna and mustard. I made a promise to myself: I said once I get out of prison, I am through with bologna. I spent 26 years eating bologna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly, it’s terrible. I mean I still like peanut butter and jelly but I haven’t eaten it since. I keep telling myself that I can save money by making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and then I think about it and I’m all – hell no. The memories are too deep.

Diane: What’s the first thing you looked up when you got out of prison, do you remember? and you can take the fifth on this one. 

Larry: Haha, a workout video, quarantine workouts.  In prison, especially in the cells, they’re so small and then they jam two people in there. It’s basically a single-occupancy cell with two people in it; so they can’t really work out in there during quarantine. Before quarantine, I ran the track, hit the punching bag, did pull-ups, burpees, dips, and curls. Now that I finally had the space to myself so that I could actually move around, I felt better at exercising. I feel good when I exercise. I kept looking at the phone and thought to myself,  man I bet they’ve got some great workout programs on there. One of the things that always motivated me to exercise and work out was that I had a workout partner. He would call out the workouts, the cadence, and do the count. So I looked it up online for myself. and set up my little phone.

Diane: What did you do when you finally got out on the street?

Larry:  That was pretty cool matter of fact, I took a lot of pictures.

Diane: What did the world feel like? How were you treated?

Larry: After being locked up for so long, I’m happy all the time. Do you know what I mean? And I got to move around the city and cross paths with people. I was saying good morning, good afternoon, and some people would be very rude, like ‘why are you talking to me?’ and kind of rude and I would be whoa, no disrespect. I was just trying to be cordial.  People looked at me like I had an ulterior motive, I made one lady crash into a door by accident. We were going shopping and she was coming out and we were going in. I saw her and I was like Hey, good morning and she looked right at me but kept walking and crashed right into the door.  That’s when my friends are like ‘Larry quit saying hi to everybody.’ I think that was the most difficult thing for me to grasp. People are in their own little bubble, they want their own space. I was just being friendly and being happy and wanting to greet them. I know sometimes it just comes out too quick I can’t rein it back in.

Diane: What kind of emotions are you experiencing?

Larry: All kinds. It’s a steady elevation. I want out of my transitional housing, but I am grateful to be back in society. It was hard learning technology and I’m still working on it. I’m giddy when I wake up and I count my blessings every day. I love it. Every day gets better and better. I am a fast learner so I’ll get it!

Diane: What has it been like the first few weeks back into the community?

Larry: Once I was able to come and go, I learned how to get acclimated to the city. How to get back to GEO. I had no ID, no bus pass, no nothing. I’d get a two hour pass, but I didn’t have any funds except for my gate money. I walked a lot.

Diane: And Now?

Larry: At the time of my release I was married. My wife owned a bakery in Oakland and working there allowed me to leave GEO for long hours. But, I didn’t know her prior to my incarceration and I believe that led to our break up. She was a different person when I was out. It was really hard. Thank goodness I had good friends like Joe Krauter, he got me through my divorce. He used to be the librarian in prison. He would get so busy that he would let me come behind the counter to share with him and that became my therapy coach. He continued to be there for me outside of prison. That marriage wasn’t meant to be and I had to refocus my life. 

Diane: What keeps you motivated?

Larry: Work, for sure. I want to learn more about psychology and counselling. Dealing with my triggers and stressors. They also help me understand other people.

Diane: What have been the highs?

Larry: Reconnecting with my family and my new girlfriend, Princess. I saw Princess walking by everyday on my lunch and one day we walked the same way and I got to introduce myself to her. 

Diane: And lows?

Larry: My housing. Originally, I was supposed to go to The Dream Center in Oakland, but one of my victims lived in Alameda, so I was blocked from living there. So I’m at GEO until September 25th then I move into my own place. My marriage falling apart was really difficult as well.

Diane: What brings you joy? 

Larry: Connecting with the community and especially working for Urban Alchemy. We provide safe passage for tourists, help the homeless find shelter and administer Narcan if we find people that have OD’ed. I want to be a Director at Urban Alchemy, I’ve already put in for a promotion. I saved someone’s life at my job by administering Narcan. It was an amazing feeling and gave me a purpose. Being treated like a human being and not a number or an animal. My girlfriend, Princess, brings me joy. She is beautiful. She stole my heart when she made me Edamame. She’s so adorable. Also, food brings me joy.  I found the best place to eat, it’s called Krispy Krunchy Chicken, on Eddy and Taylor. I call it “Crack Chicken.” It’s that good and the prices are decent. My roommates were betting if I would come home with Krispy Chicken and laughed when I walked in with it. It is that good! 

Diane: What surprised you about being out?

Larry: I’m happy everyday because I’m free, but I miss the camaraderie and the intense levels of respect that influenced me to be a better person. I have a strong sense of respect for others, especially my elders. I haven’t seen that so much out here in society. I really miss people being cordial to one another.

Diane: What are the biggest challenges?

Larry: Finding affordable housing and catching up to the digital age.

Diane: What are you most afraid of?

Larry: Overzealous police officers or parole officers trying to trip me up.

Diane: Advice for your peers inside?

Larry: Growing up in prison, the guys became my brothers, my second family. It was bittersweet leaving them behind, but it was my time. I’d tell them to take classes and participate in groups. Do the right thing. I earned the right for a second chance.

Anthony “Ant” Ammons, 37

Anthony “Ant” Ammons, 37

Anthony “Ant” Ammons, 37

Anne: How many years were you locked up?

Ant: 20 years, since I was 16 years old. I was so young.

Anne: I can’t even imagine what that was like. 

Ant: Yeah, emotionally, I was a wreck, but externally I was the toughest person you probably ever wanted to run across.  I was putting on this facade because I had identity issues.

Anne: Tell us about your transfer to San Quentin in 2012. 

Ant: I was originally sentenced to 102 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. I oversaw the Covid Strike Team. I was also the lead janitor in the mental health unit. I am certified in OSHA rules and was also the head hazardous material expert. Then, a new juvenile law took effect.

Anne: Ah, did that help?

Ant: Well it didn’t in the first board hearing, but because of the work I started to do at San Quentin, Governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence. He is the best and I wish he was still Governor. It took you so long to get out, then he commuted it to 19 years to life. The board taught me a few things about myself that I took to heart. I respected what the board had to say, and I followed their recommendations. They felt I needed to be clean longer than four years and that I didn’t go far enough into the causative factors of my crime. I respected their truth. I had committed the crime because I wanted to be tough, not because I was embarrassed or humiliated, and I didn’t understand that until the Parole Board pointed it out to me. I was still trying to act in the old masculine way. I got a three-year denial, knuckled down, and worked on the areas I needed growth in. I learned from that experience and changed my narrative. The second time I went before the board was December 17th, 2020. When I heard I was approved, it confused me because I believed I was denied. I wanted to cry when I finally heard I’d been approved. I was so surprised because I had just got written up for getting on the phone without permission that July, but my attorney said it wasn’t a nexus to my crime.  In part, I was approved because of all the letters of support I’d received from correctional officers, doctors and nurses in the prison hospital. They wrote to the board explaining how much I’d changed,  the level of growth they had witnessed and my maturity. That’s a huge reason I was approved, it set me apart from my write-up. Change is not just flipping a light switch it’s a process. I admitted I had been impulsive, and I also stood up for myself, not in an argumentative way but as an advocate. It’s called rehabilitation, not rehabilitated. I will always be moving forward, learning about myself, and working towards a higher level of maturity. This is my lifelong journey.

Anne: Tell us about what was going through your head after you learned of your release?

Ant: Well, being only sixteen, I had to learn how to shave in prison, to think for myself, to stand up for myself. I learned how to grow up in prison. And as I walked out of the hearing that day—the sky was blue. I could breathe easier. I went and called my Mom. She started screaming. The feeling was indescribable- like being on a high better than any drug. What was cool was that she saw me struggling all those years to do the wrong thing and now she had watched me as I struggled to do the right thing. I started thinking about how prison is done in three phases. How am I going to do my time?  Learning the politics of prison which took years- especially at 16 years old, as a child. Stage two, I had hope I would go home, but I was also like who cares, I’m never going home. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I had a tingle of hope. I started going to groups, working, and believing in myself. Then  I was found suitable. I was walking on eggshells. I knew I couldn’t get a write-up. I wasn’t sleeping, and I would just stay in my cell except for showering.  So much emotional stress. Was the Governor going to deny me? I was finally released on April 22nd, 2020.

 

Anne: What were your duties, and your job in the hospital again, and can you still use those skills? 

Ant:  I was the head of the strike team when the coronavirus cases appeared in San Quentin. happened. We went and cleaned all the cells after any coronavirus outbreaks. That was part of my duties. My other duties were working on the mental health floor. I was a lead, a janitor, making sure all the restrooms were clean, coming up with agendas and schedules, for rooms to be cleaned and talking to them.  I worked there from 2013 until I was released. I want to use those skills out here because I am trained.  I want to use that. I also want to help kids and try to open the door for them to understand their emotions and their feelings so that they won’t make the same mistakes. Crimes are committed when they don’t understand what self-worth is. I think that’s what I’m going to do, I want to go to school and get my degree, so I can be certified. Hey, I got experience!

Anne: After you were approved for release were you worried about them rescinding your approval at all?

Ant: Yes, there is a guy named White Eagle in there. After 45 years in prison, he has been found suitable. And because of the victims’ family push, which is their right, they took his name. They showed up every time, like 11 times. On his way to be released, it was taken back.  There’s another guy,   a lot of people don’t like to say his name,  Bruce Davis. He’s Charles Manson’s guy who drove the car. He has been in prison for 50 years.  He’s been found suitable six different times for release. Those guys are not getting out. It’s like the Manson girls, they’ll never get out and I mean they’re never gonna get out, and they were just kids. That happened to Bruce Davis as well. He’s a really good dude! They interviewed him, did you see? Documentaries, Manson Charles Manson on Netflix. One of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. It’s so political though.

Anne: That makes a lot of sense. Can you tell us anything about the day of your release?

Ant: The correctional officer comes to my cell at  4:30 am. He says get ready, I’ll be back in 30. I was like,  is this real life? I felt like I was in a dream and I’m praying  I don’t have to wake up. I got dressed and I’m saying bye to the guys. It was hard because I was leaving behind a lot of good guys who also have earned their way to get out. I don’t say deserve because deserve is not something we should have because of the crimes we committed. So a lot of guys have earned their opportunity to go home as well. I feel this sense of sadness and gratefulness that I was the person that could go out and hopefully represent them. I went to R&R and put on my dress-outs that my Mom sent to me. The van comes, I get in and start tearing up because it’s getting real. My heart’s racing, I’m sweating. I can see the water in the bay as the gates open. There were so many people waiting for me. Family and friends, Rasheed, and James King. My brother who’s been my rock. My Dad and Mom. I’m so excited and nervous. It was a blessing. I realize If I hadn’t been caught at 16, I would have gotten worse. I had been in an identity crisis. I was playing sports- basketball- but I never saw people in the stands. I found acceptance in the streets in a gang. I joined up by the time I was fourteen.

I got into the car with my brother, and we went to some restaurant, whose name I don’t recall. I do remember the meal: bacon, eggs, French Toast, sausage, orange juice and coffee. I didn’t even taste it, I just scarfed it down. It felt strange being in a restaurant. I sat with my back against the wall. I felt worried and paranoid and believed the prison made a mistake and was going to come in and take me back. It was chaotic. Sensory overload.  Being in the car driving under the overpass gave me an anxiety attack. I went to Costco and it was overwhelming. Too crowded, people were bumping into me, which is a sign of disrespect in prison. Then I went into Starbucks and didn’t know where to go, what to do. Then it came to me— I need to ask for help. I asked if I had to pay for the drink and was told no, then the cashier forgot my order and I had to go back in again. I apologized to her and let her know I’d just been released from prison. She was so helpful. She had sympathy for me and was kind. It pays to be honest.

Next, I went to see my parole officer (PO) and then straight to the house. My PO is cool. A straight shooter, he said if there is an issue just talk to me. He’s helping me get a state ID. The problem was I only had my prison ID and it has my wrong birthdate on it. It took three weeks to get an ID and it still has the wrong birthday on it, because when I got arrested, I lied about my date of birth. I wanted to be in an adult prison, not in juvie. I’m still waiting on my birth certificate.

 

Anne: You spoke of wanting to go to college at one point. Is anyone helping you with the college process? 

Ant: There’s supposed to be a new college program that helps me pay for college. I think Google has a program that I can apply for. I don’t know if you guys know Richard Richardson? He knows some people that are signing up for free college, which is helpful. He’s going to help me set that up. Right now I’m just going on YouTube looking at English classes, trying to improve my spelling and grammar. . Trying to learn the basic steps. I’m not good at writing. I’ll write a letter and there will be no punctuation in it. Reading is another story though.

Anne: Do you enjoy reading?

Ant: I do enjoy reading. I haven’t picked up a book since I’ve been out because I want to see and do everything. Reading is the best way to learn. I like getting lost in books. Before I left, I read this book by Elaine Brown. She was the only woman that was in charge of the whole Black Panther organization! A lot of people would never know that unless you read a book and it’s it. She was Cleveland’s girlfriend. She’s still alive to this day. Her book amazed me.

Anne: After being released did you find it hard to change habits or routines?  Do you still wear shower shoes?

 

Ant: No, I’ve just started changing that. In prison, I showered with my boxers on and I had to tell myself that I don’t have to do that anymore. I struggle with waking up early. I’m up at 4:00 am. I also struggle with sleeping in a bed.  I struggle with whether I should spit in the toilet or the sink when I brush my teeth. It’s like I’m trapped in between some moments. I’ll spit in the sink because I’m here. In other moments I’ll spit in the toilet because I’m overthinking it. I’m still stuck in that psychological frame that it’s a negative fit.

Anne: How come you couldn’t spit in the sink inside San Quentin?

Ant: We cookout of the sink and wash everything in it. So every prisoner knows that’s a rule, to spit in the toilet. The sink needs to stay clean.  I am getting used to using metal silverware as well. I still prefer plastic and a disposable plate. It feels weird just the other day I heard some metal dropping and I  hurried up and looked down thinking it was a knife or something. It’s PTSD,  a survival instinct. The state offered me mental health treatment and I am going to take it.  I never took it inside because of the stigma, now that I’m out  I want the help. At first when they asked me if I wanted help,  and I’m like, no, I don’t think so. Then, my girlfriend who worked in the psychiatric field in Orange County jail told me that it wouldn’t hurt. It won’t stop me from getting a job, it’ll just help me communicate.

Anne: That’s great! All support is welcome!  Do you have to meet with your parole officer more?

Ant: Because I was a lifer and committed murder, I’m considered high risk. I see my parole officer twice a week. I believe my parole is for three years. Coming home was earned and not deserved. A validation that I am not the worst moment of my life. I am a pretty good human being although I committed a heinous crime. For the rest of my life, I will live and breathe for my victim; always strive to be a better person. I am here to give back.

I am learning how to be attentive and how to cope, to be present and be included. I don’t want to digress when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning how to be in the present. To converse with my roommates, not to just look at my cell phone and go into myself. I’m exploring my surroundings. I’m learning how to use public transportation. I run every day and play basketball with the guys that came in and played basketball in San Quentin. I was on the poster for the movie ‘Q Ball.’ I’m in a relationship and learning that communication and vulnerability are key to having a healthy relationship. I can’t just make decisions for myself anymore which was confusing to me at first. I’m learning how to be considerate and to think of the other person. I’ve changed the narrative and realized she is there for me. She is not judgmental. She loves me, for me, and that feels good.

I want to work on my  ‘Emotional Intelligence.’ I’d like to go back to school to get a counseling degree.  I want a career working with kids that are angry- to help them understand their underlying components.

 

Anne: Speaking of support, is your family nearby? 

Ant: No, all my family’s in LA. I chose to stay here so I can figure out who I am as a person and who I am as a man. I want to transition without a crutch. Even though I love them, I have to make my own path.

Anne: Where do you live now?

Ant: Oakland, California and it’s amazing. I went Kayaking and fell in three times! I can’t even be upset just to be in the water was beautiful! I like the weather, I can kayak or take a walk. Even though my fear of trying new things is there, I was like why not experience kayaking. I have great memories of that day, being out on the water.

Anne: Are you close with your Mom?

Ant: Yes, we text every day.  She worries about me like Moms do.

Fateen Jackson

Fateen Jackson

Fateen 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.  I noticed every detail: the trees, the bay, cars coming and going, the busyness and vitality of life.

“Over here,” called Jacques, my friend and mentor from a program inside called Guiding Rage Into Power, who was video recording my release and would be taking me to my transitional housing. The Dream Center in Oakland would be the next step in my journey after serving twenty-one years of a thirty-six-year sentence. But first, I wanted food.

As we entered my first restaurant as a free person, video equipment and all, people greeted Jacques and I, they all looked curious as to what was happening. It was then that I realized- I was the only person of color. I was used to being around and living with people primarily of my own color from my years in prison. The waitress was very nice, and after my delicious French toast breakfast, she asked us what the camera was for. We told her that I was just released from San Quentin after serving 21 years in state prison. She and some other patrons welcomed me back home, I was overwhelmed with appreciation. I told her what we do as GRIP  facilitators and she began to cry. I could feel her bitterness. She slowly revealed her personal story about her dad’s recent murder and shared that his killer is currently on death row. I felt the need to apologize to her, as she was a victim of a terrible crime. As a long-term offender, it was very important for me to acknowledge and take account for my wrongs although I was not connected in any way to her actual story. Owning up is how I continue to transform my life, and it was a poignantly moving experience for both of us. We later parted with a big hug and she asked if we could take a picture together. We left after she accepted our invitation to visit one of our classes sometime later. But because of COVID-19 this hasn’t happened yet.

For me, getting out was like a rebirth. I had a startling, vivid, and enjoyable day. Soon after, I spent a day at Lake Merritt, which was my first time in an open space with time to sit and relax. It was there when I first noticed how different the outside world had become –– so many people were moving around, enjoying life, and doing everyday things: I saw people running and biking, and there were families picnicking. The liveliness and industriousness of all the people made me realize that life was flying around me. This made my heart beat firmly with meaning. I felt that I could do anything, and become anything.

My first home was  the Oakland Dream Center, where I spent eleven months, and I attribute part of my reentry success to them. During my time there I was fortunate enough to land two jobs, the first of which was at the same organization that helped me rehabilitate inside, Guiding Rage Into Power, they taught me a lot about emotional literacy and set me up for success. With GRIP, I am able to give back and counsel men like myself in Avenal State Prison. For many men inside, I facilitate the identification of emotions other than anger and lust, simple feelings I call ‘The Manbox.’ These are the two acceptable feelings given to us from society, we as males, are taught to show, which instill a false sense of respect. As men, we often portray ourselves as ladies’ men, which ultimately leads us unfulfilled to a state of sadness, grief and hurt. I ask those I work with, who live inside the walls, to stay hopeful. After they put in the hard work, opportunity will meet preparation and if they continue practicing patience and stay the course this is when blessings occur. When they are ready to get past their old narratives,  they will need to grow out of past titles and see themselves differently.  As better human beings, with better human characteristics, while learning to navigate emotions in the moment. Otherwise, as men we aren’t living whole.

I am also fortunate in my work to give back to my community while working for 5 Keys Schools and Programs. They are a large non-profit that serves the homeless and  incarcerated communities. As an ambassador for 5 Keys, I ensure that guests at our homeless sites are treated with dignity and respect, and with proper guidance will be transitioned into permanent housing. This work feels very enriching on many levels.

There are so many of us that were formerly incarcerated flourishing and it gives me joy seeing them excel. Hard work on the inside pays off on the outside. It’s cumulative. We must create and reestablish values and use each other for support. You will often hear us say to one another, “You good?” We check in on each other and lean in, especially on the heavy life stressors. We are there for each other to break down what is on our mind to make it manageable. We use our learned emotional intelligence to support one another. Together we can go from incarceration to living our best life.

What’s next? I want to go back to school to study social work with an emphasis on mental health. I’m learning about the business world, the stock market, and investments.

I know there are many challenges ahead and I embrace it. My daily motivation is high, I know  if I gave up my self-esteem would plummet, and I wouldn’t be able to move through this world with confidence and compassion. Inevitably, I fall short, and when  I do, I’d get back up and try again, but I don’t –– and won’t –– fail. For me, to fail means that I have given up all possibility of changing something that I control, like how I deal with each circumstance and condition. To fall short means that although I haven’t reached my mark I’m going to keep striving until I do. I might make mistakes in the process, but I will learn from them and hopefully gain wisdom through time. One thing I have learned is that time heals and reveals.

Today,  I live in my own apartment with a great lady. We recently got engaged and I truly feel as though I am home. Right now, I’m sitting in my La-Z-Boy chair with my dog on my lap appreciating the moment. It’s liberating to be able to pay my own rent, to have a roof over my head and to live in a place with things I’ve worked hard to aquire. The sense of responsibility is energizing, especially since I have several obligations and I am grateful for it.

Joe Krauter

Joe Krauter

Joe Krauter

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 thought I had a little bit of breathing room –  as in, I thought I had a few more months in prison. Two weeks wasn’t enough time for me to fully process leaving behind the routines I had become accustomed to over the course of fifteen years behind bars. I am autistic and have struggled with transitions from the start. Frankly, the thought of leaving prison so soon was horrifying.

Shortly after my arrest, in Shasta County Jail at the age of 23, my attorney wanted me to be tested for Asperger’s, a Developmental Disability of which I’d never heard of. Upon his request, I agreed. The attorney hired the psychologist who tested me. When the test came back negative, I believed I didn’t have Aspergers. However, I now understand that, had the “negative” report been read back to me in a way that was clear and informative, I would have learned that I did indeed have this Condition. Having zero knowledge of psychological jargon, I didn’t learn of my autism until several years later. That being said, I always knew I was different; I didn’t seem like everyone else. I always felt uncomfortable, even in my own skin, even if only slightly;  something in me was always off. One of the hindering differences with people on the autism spectrum, is we trust everyone, especially people with authority. We see the world as black or white and take everything at face value. That’s why I believed my Attorney when he said “Well Joe, you don’t got it [Asperger’s].” I let this idea of having Asperger’s go. Discarded it, since my attorney and according to the Psych report [which I didn’t read at the time because I trusted my attorney] stated that I didn’t have this condition.

It wasn’t until 2009, a year after I arrived at my first mainline prison in Susanville, California, that I was having one of my weekly phone calls with my mom. She sounded serious. But the kind of serious you become when something exciting has happened.  She told me “I went to the salon with my girlfriend to get my hair done; she had brought her son with her that day.  Joe, he looked just like you, acted just like you, talked just like you and even had his hair the same way.  When I told him this, my girlfriend said ‘God I hope not, my son has Autism!’”      

I was stunned, I had no words.  My thoughts were ….that piece of shit lawyer lied to me…. My mom sent me two books on autism and I contacted my former attorney and asked for a copy of the original test report. I read the books as a pessimist since the report said I didn’t have Asperger’s. Those two books, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – by: Dr. Tony Attwood,  and Asperger’s from the inside out – by Michael John Carley,  spelled out my entire damn life.

I then received the psych report in the mail. As I shared before, I didn’t understand psychological lingo at all back then; so terms used in the report as Rule out to me meant that those possibilities had been discarded. I then came to learn that  in psychological terms ‘Rule Out’ means, what has been ‘Ruled Out’ is the determined diagnosis. I didn’t know that at the time; so the diagnosis page stated: Rule out: Asperger’s syndrome; Rule out: Social anxiety disorder; Rule out: Depression Disorder NOS;And so on and so forth.

Since these were ‘Ruled out’ I just felt confused between the books and the report, until I came to the end of the report where there was a synopsis of the tests and diagnosis.  The Psychologist stated: Mr. Krauter has clear indicators for developmental issues such as Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, also called PDD/NOS, also called ASPERGER’S SYNDROME.

This lit a fire in me to seek testing and diagnosis. My diagnosis could have been entered as new evidence getting me back into court for a hopeful resentencing and lesser sentence.  But as time went by I made peace with my crime and chose to do the time, earn the right to get out and seek wellness as I pursued my testing and diagnosis.

It was the middle of 2009. I had a mission, a purpose. I immediately filled out a request to seek help from the mental health program. I took my books and psych report.  After I told the clinician what I wanted, he said to my face “You don’t have Asperger’s, I can tell you don’t have it”. He didn’t care what my books or report said and  continued with “beat it”,  I wasn’t his concern according to their manual of protocols.

The same response happened at every prison I transferred to seeking testing and diagnosis, including San Quentin: We Don’t Test For That. SQ did however offer a broad spectrum diagnostic test. I was asked if I wanted to take that test. At this point I was so depressed and going down in emotional flames that I just shrugged and said ‘sure, why not’. This introduced me to my very first Clinician: Lizelle Cline. Ms. Cline saw how wrecked I was mentally and emotionally. She knew immediately that I needed help and was actually compassionate and wanted to help me. She asked me what I wanted and I told her I wanted testing for Asperger’s syndrome.  Ms. Cline told me that wasn’t offered here at SQ normally. But she saw my depression and said “I want you to hold on for two weeks, and I’ll see you again. Can you do that for me?”  I nodded yes and we finished our session for that day. Ten days later I was called in to see Ms. Cline. She informed me that she requested that I be tested for Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD/NOS, and that her request had been granted. Officially, on April of 2015 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

During incarceration I  received five years of intensive weekly treatment. My counseling experiences inside were acceptable but piecemeal and disorganized. Only two of my clinicians specialized in Autism; One was my Psychiatrist, Dr. Lona, but was only there for three months. The other was an Intern Clinician, Dr. Anjalee Greenwood, who specialized in treating people on the autism spectrum. In a nutshell, I did not receive the proper Autism therapies I should have as a newly diagnosed person on the Autism spectrum; the prison mental health system doesn’t have ANY protocols in place for treating autistics while inside.  All the other treatments I required besides what was offered at SQ I had to research and provide myself as best as I could with the limited ability and accessibilities I had.

Although it was unknown to me at the time, the prison gave me a safe space and social treatment tools by hiring me in the SQ library. My abilities to hyper-focus, organizational skills, powerful memory and drive for efficiency along with my affinity for technology and desire to help people let me help turn SQ’s library from a small rinky dink prison library into a strong hub of information, recreation and legal work.  My pattern recognition along with my desire for efficiency let me and the other workers clean out all the exhausted reading materials and replace them with up to date desired reading material.

Autistics crave routine. For me, it is because the world around me is so chaotic due to sensory overload. Routines allow me to focus on what I’m doing and where I’m going so that I don’t get completely bombarded by the world around me without mercy. To have a routine is to be soothed. Comforted with the knowledge that I can have control and safely be controlled in a set series of actions and reactions. Even though prison is “structured” with rules, regulations and routine, the guards, free staff and inmates create their own chaos within the routines causing disruptions and distress which is very difficult to navigate or overcome; especially since most of the chaos is senseless and carries no logic.

During incarceration I had three major fears, never going home, hurting someone and becoming a monster. Allowing my pattern of who I am mutated by the prison system’s patterns of ugliness, rage, desperation, despair and violence to warp me into a monstrous version of myself.

The most serious meltdown I ever had in prison was because of SQ’s optometry. The majority of my sensory overload is connected to my eyes and ears. I need specially made glasses to protect my eyes,  I suffer from serious light sensitivity. My sight is connected with my ears, when lights get brighter my hearing sharpens and things get louder for me.  I mitigate this with transitional lenses that are anti-scratch, polarized to prevent glare, grinded a specific way so that the edge of the lenses don’t refract light and are wide enough to catch my dominan peripheral vision.

SQ optometry wouldn’t allow me the proper glasses. They gave me standard PIA pieces of shit – state glasses. Apparently,  I didn’t qualify for them since I didn’t meet any of the prison medical protocols. I had to repeatedly fight for them, advocate for my needs and was continuously denied. Once again it took the compassion and clout of others outside of the prison medical system, to help me advocate all the way to the warden, Ron Davis to get my glasses. I’d like to note also that the prison did not have to pay for these glasses, my family was responsible.

I went to the board in early February of 2019, and was deemed suitable to go home. I thought I still had a year to prepare for my release and had planned on taking advantage of every second to organize my plans. Unbeknownst to me, my time had been significantly shortened by both the programs I had attended as well as my work in the prison library. I was informed of my early release through the prison mail. However, when I looked at it and calculated the time, I thought I had shortened my time by two to three weeks. So, I went to see my counselor, who of course wasn’t in, but I was able to talk with another counselor. Upon further examination, she too realized I had extra credits, and that I was to be released nine months before my original  date. If I hadn’t checked with her, I would have continued to prepare myself for release, doing time for another year. I paroled in December of 2019 right before Covid hit.

I advocate for my fellow autistics both inside and out and everyone impacted by incarceration to give them as soft a reentry landing as possible, rather than the hell I and others have gone through.

And I won’t fail…I won’t go back.

If I can do it. So can others.

Joe Krauter

Two days before I was released, the prison’s pre-parole counselor came to talk to me. He said, “Your acceptance to your housing, HealthRight 360 has been rejected. They have no beds.” Shocked, I said, “What are you talking about, where can I go? My parole agreements are purely mental health, and I can’t just go anywhere.” He  responded , “You’ll be fine, you can either go to Hayward or Oakland.” And that was how I found out that the Mental Health Facility that I was counting on was not an option for me. Just like that and right before my date, as if it was nothing. I had spent months securing the most appropriate housing knowing this was going to be an unsettling time in my life. Things quickly turned into a horror show.

The day of my release was here. My mom and dad and even my little sister were at the gate waiting. It was earth shattering. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my dad in fifteen years and had only been in contact with him four times since my sentence. After my parents’ divorce when I was ten, they were distant figures in my life. My childhood was stained with a bitter sense of betrayal, intensified by my semi-formed adult recognition of what was happening (at the time, I was undiagnosed). I had been close to my sisters before I was arrested but afterward, it seemed we were all strangers. I had a sense they’d be there, yet I had no expectations. My dad came over and gave me a big hug, “It’s over,”  he said. I could not have chosen better words myself. They still ring in my head today. I had become self-sufficient in multiple ways. Hooray for therapy, it was only because of my years of hard work that I could handle what was being thrown at me.

After my first meal in the free world with my family, a wonderful guy by the name of David Cowan, from an organization called Bonafide, drove me to a transitional house, called Volunteers of America (VOA), in Oakland. David inadvertently prepared me for the worse and he didn’t do it justice. It was a shithole, hell. I was put into a ten man dorm surrounded by people I did not know. I had no idea how to react. I had zero time to process the transition and because of my autism, I was traumatized. For the first two weeks, I sat on the edge of my bunk bed, withdrawn, constantly in grips of powerful anxieties. I only got up to use the bathroom. My autism proved to be especially challenging in that environment. I found myself struggling to cope with the changes occuring in the span of those few weeks. I was unsure of my next move or my plans.  My well thought out future was quickly falling apart. Thank God that only lasted 14 days. My parole officer was able to transfer me to San Francisco to a reentry house. There I was able to recover and begin rebuilding my plans of reentry.

By a happy accident, today, I live in a communal housing project in San Francisco called Second Life. It is designed as an intentional community with people both previously and never incarcerated. It was created by people who want to live together. A combination of both desperation and force led me here, and I am so grateful. Here, I have my own room, my own space. It shows us what we can learn and how we can grow from being human together. Here, we are a community – we bolster each other and we look out for one another. We learn together. I have my room now for as long as I want it and am supported by the community; they learn from me as I learn from them.

It has been quite a journey for me, from my years inside prison, to being released. As I became empowered after learning that I am a high functioning autistic, to being found suitable by the board, to being released and dealing with the challenges that came with that transitioning process. The struggle isn’t over; but the stress and the pains I’ve overcome have been greatly reduced. And now there are way more positives than negatives in my life.