Brian, 52

Brian, 52

In addition, I have another grandson, who I talk to on the phone, so he knows me. He calls me Blue Grandpa because he says every time he sees me I have on blue.

Receiving the invitation from Humans of San Quentin makes me feel human. This is not to say that I didn’t feel human before, but it makes me feel good to know that we on the inside are thought of.

I work for San Quentin Television (SQTV), and I’m also the executive director of the San Quentin Prison Report, which is an award-winning video and radio program that highlights the transformative work of the men inside SQ. I went from doing short-form storytelling to more of a documentary style, and I have a few in the works currently One is Growing Up Behind Bars, a dive into the lives and rehabilitative journeys of juvenile offenders serving life (learn more at growingupbehindbars.com). I’m also working on a story about Watson Allison, who spent 31 years on death row and in the middle of quarantine received a date and went home. I’m also a part of other San Quentin groups including Day of Peace, Mental Wellness, and the SQ Basketball Program. Mostly I am a filmmaker trying to change the prison narrative.

Language is important to me, and I am passionate about changing the language of incarcerated people. As vice president of our chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), I’m working to change how mainstream media labels incarcerated people and I ask that people not use words like inmate or prisoner. We believe it is more humanizing to call people by their names or just collectively refer to them as “people.” I’m not an inmate or a prisoner. I am a person who happens to be incarcerated. We’re incarcerated people and returning citizens. Changing the language could change our narrative.

***

Blue Grandpa

As I sit here in 2020, looking at the pictures of me seeing my grandson for the first time, I think about 2019 and the first time I saw my granddaughter Dakota. I see my family once a year through a program called Get on The Bus, a program that connects kids with their incarcerated parents. Since 2012, it’s been my only outlet for visitation with my family.

I was so nervous and excited while I waited to see my grandbabies. To pass the time, I tried to keep busy while I hung with the SQ Basketball Program. Finally, I heard my name being called, and I couldn’t get to the visiting room fast enough. My daughter gave me a huge hug, reached down to the baby seat and handed me my granddaughter. We took a few pictures and my daughter watched me the whole time while I ate and played with Dakota. For those two hours, I felt on top of the world, and when they concluded I was at a loss. I cried while I walked back to the yard, but I couldn’t wait to show off my pictures.

Earlier this year, I was finally graduating with an AA degree from Mt. Tamalpais College, the on-site college program here at SQ. I invited my family, my kids and grandkids; I had my heart set on seeing my loved ones. In addition, I have another grandson, who I talk to on the phone, so he knows me. He calls me Blue Grandpa because he says every time he sees me I have on blue. However, COVID-19 prevented me from celebrating my graduation in their joyful presence.

I worked so hard to finally be able to graduate and COVID-19 took that away, like it took so many things from other people. Receiving so many pictures from my family and not being able to see them this year really solidified that I am overly ready to go home after 22 years of missing out on their lives.

I’m thankful to have my kids and grandkids in my life. I’m also thankful to have my fiancée Lisa, who keeps me grounded and strong and tells me when I’m right or wrong. If there’s one piece of advice I could give people out there in society it would be that when you find yourself feeling like things are not going your way or life is too hard to deal with, just think about me. I would change places with you any day of the week. Try waking up in a cage as big as your closet everyday, yet still being able to keep your head up and stay positive through these unprecedented times.

Richard, 66

Richard, 66

At 12, my Ma had me incarcerated as a hopeless incorrigible, but really she was just mad because I wrecked her car joy-riding. I didn’t even know how to spell incorrigible, much less tell you what it meant.

My mother said I could say goodbye to him at the funeral home, but it wasn’t the same. She should have told me sooner, instead of letting me believe he was getting better. I believed that for a whole year while he underwent treatment for cancer. I was ten, he was my Dad. Maybe they did try to warn me, but I’m pretty sure I blocked it out. I’m good at that, blocking things out. Trouble is eventually there’s just too much of it…like Pa’s cancer.

In any case, I was mad at Ma for keeping the truth from me and depriving me of any meaningful last words with my old man, who was also my best friend. Catching her shortly thereafter with one of the marines from Daddy’s honor guard didn’t help either. I ran him off with a butcher knife from our kitchen sink and any other bozos she brought home. After that, I was old enough to enlist in the Marines myself, which was a welcome escape from that crazy ass world where long-haired freaks smoked themselves senseless on dope and disrespected our troops. I wasn’t into that. My old man had been a hero in the war. I wanted to be just like him – joining up as soon as I turned eighteen; which also kept me out of California’s Youth Authority.

The only branch that would have me though was the Marines, Pa had been in the Army, The recruiter looked suspiciously like the one I had caught with Ma. He did a number on my rap sheet with a bit of white-out, as a favor to Ma, he said, Two weeks later I found myself on a bus headed for San Diego, where a true-life miracle occurred, “a ninety-day wonder” they called it. When I graduated, fifth overall, my mother and oldest sister were present. I don’t know who was prouder, me or them. The transformation was stunning.

After completing helicopter school in Millington Naval Air Station, Tennessee, I was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California. A reserve detachment where I was the only squad member it seemed who had not yet earned his stripes in Vietnam. Nor was I likely to have the chance. President Mr. Tricky Dick Nixon had signed onto the Paris Peace Accords, which began the drawdown and eventually ended in 1975 to this very unpopular war.

To say this outfit was a little bit slimy would be an understatement, most of its members were short-timers, biding their time until their final orders were cut. Each morning after formation everyone went off in different directions, only to end up all together inside the furthest chopper. Quietly, we could sleep off all the partying we had done the night before. My part was to post up in the cockpit and keep lookout for our squad leader, a hard-nosed gunny, whose mission in life, it seemed, was to make everyone else miserable.

I had made a mistake one night of trying to keep up with the heavy drinkers and party animals in my unit. Smoking bowls of ganja laced with opium and whatever else they could get their hands on, until the wee hours of the morning. One by one they would drop off to their own racks and crash. Vietnam it seemed had been such a horrendous experience, no amount of drinking and smoking could ever extinguish it sufficiently from their psyche. A phenomenon not yet fully understood, PTSD. In the morning as they were gathering themselves for another day on the flight line, they were surprised to find me still wide awake, high as a kite from the night before! “Sleep it off” I was told, “We’ll cover for you.” But sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was still tripping, seeing tracers and colors whilst the walls melted. I was frying and by day’s end, when I was no better, then by week’s end, my squad leader determined I needed to be evaluated for a 51/50. On the psychiatric ward of the naval regional medical center in Long Beach, I traded my clothing for a hospital gown. The doctor started me off with 300 mgs of Thorazine, when this still didn’t get me to sleep, it was raised. By the end of the second week, I was taking up to 2800 mgs of Thorazine a day and still, I was not sleeping!? Much of this period is a foggy memory. One day, what happened in the shower area though, is too clear. I would go there for the quiet and to be alone. On this particular day, I was masturbating. One of the navy orderlies snuck up on me and instead of allowing me to leave, began to reach around and masturbate me from behind. I guess I didn’t mind, not at first, but when he suddenly tried to f*** me from behind, I said no – STOP, but it was too late. I couldn’t get him off me until his co-worker walked in. Then, being chastised, he let me go. I never said anything, I was too embarrassed and ashamed it had even happened. I just wanted to forget.

After another two months in the ward I was finally sent home. I continued to self-medicate as an escape, memories of that ward, that one particular ordeal, made me question everything about my whole rotten life. Including my manhood. I became depressed and suicidal. I swallowed the whole bottle of Thorazine they sent me home with. My many suicide attempts and self-destructive lifestyle with drugs landed me in prison. I never told anyone about my nightmares from the psych ward, not until recently when I received a copy of my service records and read the psych report. It infuriated me. They said everything that was wrong with me was my fault and not one word about the rape. Surely that wasn’t my fault! That shit shouldn’t have happened to a dog! I didn’t report it, so what could I expect?

Now, however, I can’t shut up about it. I had been a good Marine up until the day I flipped out, and even that was not entirely my fault. I had joined the Corp to escape the madness, the hippies, druggies and all the rest. The early demise of my father and years that followed going in and out of juvie. Only to find life in the Marines, my squadron in particular, there were more crazed addicts awaiting me than I had left behind! Now, decades later, I feel ripped off. It had not been my intention to sign up for that scene, if I had received the appropriate follow-up care after the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” episode, I might have gotten better and avoided years of incarceration.

Rather than trying to escape our darkest past, we need to confront it and know there are people who care, who we can talk to and get the proper help. I found that recently with Humans of San Quentin, and trust me, this is far better than trying to drown everything in liquor and drugs. “You’re not alone,” they said, “We love you!”

Jeffery, 59

Jeffery, 59

The Word tells us that we are never alone, and through the current events of the day it surely could have felt like it.

Dear Family and Friends, 

It is my prayer that the Lord keep us and guide us as we enter into the dawn of another year. Let us shed the past as if an old coat and go strengthened and invigorated into a new day. Amen. 

Would you allow me a moment to say thank you all for your love and encouragement as the time served just keeps going? Many of you are saying that the time is winding down and in that hope we keep pressing on. October of The New Year would bring the 23rd year and you all have been a part of this journey and again, thank you so much for your sacrifice’s and the spirit that dwells within that you so unselfishly share this way inside the razor topped fences and prison walls. 

How do we move forward through the past few years? Time and events that remain lingering with no end in sight and the rhetoric changes daily while remaining the same. The line of division appears to grow at such an unprecedented rate and the world growingly left in turmoil. How do we smile when the clouds seem to just keep rolling along? “FINALLY, MY brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is save” [Philippians 3:1] 

If we only look at what has happened in our lives, in the world over the previous year[s] we could just continue in that same cycle of loss and misery. Thank God for those who have stuck by; those who keep giving words of encouragement while even their situation is often fare more bleak than is for us sitting in prison. You give such strength that is holding me up and pushes me through those moments when I am down and hurting. So it is that I strive daily to be that better man, a more mature individual and take responsibility, hold myself accountable. 

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:11-14 KJV] 

The word informs us that there is not one of who is free from sin; we all have fallen and come short of the glory of God. Though I can think of several people I admire that I don’t thing would fit into that category, however, the Lord knows all of who we are no matter what we may reveal to others. For the Lord has spoken, Amen. 

The part of being in prison is the punishment for the crimes committed and it was intended that while here undergo a time of rehabilitation. To commit ourselves to change mentally in that we would not reoffend or commit another violation against society. In the current times of corrections or just the way of life is in the world today, we must attain that elusive “rehabilitation” ourselves utilizing the programs offered; developing a better social and work ethic where there may not have been one prior to the incarceration. 

Another way or a very integral part of rehabilitation is taking responsibility for the offenses charged against us. Often forgetting how we can be so quick to point fingers at others for some offense against us and yet think it not robbery to deprive another of that which we as men, as adults are supposed to do and be. Now we cry for the children left behind, those strong women who loved us even as the little boys we were. 

The scripture reads in part, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. That means to me that I must do whatever it takes to rise from that which held me captive in my past. Thank God for his grace  and mercy, Amen. 

“But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” [I Timothy 6:11-12 KJV] 

The Word tells us that we are never alone, and through the current events of the day it surely could have felt like it. The world quarantined and left isolated in the home, not much different than being confined in a jail cell and no one committed a crime, so to speak…but we made it, you all have made it out there to keep pressing forward in life. A good man has told me on several occasions, “you made it through the yesterday to wind up in the today you are grumbling about”. By the grace and mercy of Almighty God we have arrived in our today so let us not grumble and find the comfort, love and that joy of serving the Lord who has not left us and has brought us this far. Yes, we have lost family and friends, some are still here and battling various issues with health, finances. Let us remember, trouble don’t last always, Amen. I love you and thank you all for holding me accountable. To God be the glory, now and forever.  

“Now, we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, conform the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”[Thessalonians 5:14-18] 

Let us pray: 

I surrender, Lord God, we come before You in this season of closing out the past and entering a New Year. A season of forgiveness and purpose. We thank You Father for being with us during the difficult times and for holding us through when we were not sure on what the next moment would bring. We hold Your love ever present as we see that You have not left us, nor forsake us as Your Word tells us. 

Thank You Father for those who have stayed by our side and we give love to those who have gone on ahead of us. We lift up those who have had it a lot rougher than we who sit within the confines of a prison; and for those who are in perhaps another type of prison mentally. 

Lord, we pray that the days that are yet to come be full of joy and love and happiness. We ask that You watch over the families of those in prison and for those who are sick and shut in. We pray for the church body and seek to help them in ways the world may not be able to do for them. Keep us O Lord. Give us the strength to do Your will in these difficult times and please forgive us of any thought word or deed that is not of Your will in our lives. We pray this and all unspoken utterances in Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

In His Love, 

Jeffrey

Raheem, 45

Raheem, 45

This New City

After being in an abusive relationship for a couple of years, my mother decided to leave her boyfriend and move us to Miami, FL. it was 1982. I was overwhelmed by this news. But inwardly, I was happy for her. I would no longer have to see the bruises on her frail body that took days and sometimes weeks to disappear. I would no longer have to hear her frantic cries for him to “STOP.” I was liberated by her courageous choice and a piece of paper–a plane ticket that freed me from feelings of shame and helplessness for not being strong enough to help her. I despised this man–a man empowered by senseless rage and the false notions that led him to believe that beating women made him  a man. I was free; we were free.

 The district we moved to was called ‘Coconut Grove,’ an ethnic gumbo full of Haitians, Jamaicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. I didn’t know anything about the ‘Red-Lining’ of certain neighborhoods, or the ‘Fair Housing Act.’ however, it became immediately clear that I had arrived in what might as well have been a foreign land– a congested metropolis full of poor black and brown people. Amidst the scorching heat and frustrating humidity, vacant alleys and lots were home to heaps of trash and public health violations. Something told me that the general public didn’t care. This was evident by the discarded needles which vastly outnumbered cigarette butts. Still, there was a certain beauty to the palm trees that danced in the warm winds, as the avocados and mangos hung low enough on most trees to reach. And when you breathed in on most days, you could taste the salt in the air—courtesy of the Atlantic coastline which was right around the corner.

Whether day or night, different sized lizards populated the cracks in between the pavement—speeding by you as if just to be seen. And if not them, colorful iguanas peeked down occasionally from phone lines or nearby branches. Gradually I was starting to understand the pace of this new city, which moved methodically to a new urban rhythm.

It didn’t take long for me to see what was going on in this city although I was just nine years old, and oblivious to Columbian Cartels, I was smart enough to know that the constant sirens, overdoses and squad cars meant something—a heroin epidemic. And as the sun set each night, this epidemic became more visible. Consequently, it equaled more crime and cops who tried to restore some sense of balance to this concrete jungle. It was in these early years that I began to see what poverty looked like, but what it felt like as well. Moreover, I understood the damaging effects of the drugs that swept through my neighborhood.

Lord knows I wanted things to be different for me.
Harry, 46

Harry, 46

I was sentenced for 33 years as a Third-Striker for a vicious assault on my girlfriend – a crime that should never have occurred, not when it came from a person she trusted. I will never try to create an excuse for my crime. There are, however, some circumstances that led up to those fateful decisions. 

I believe no one is born a criminal. No one is born with the sickness to go against societal norms and create havoc by breaking laws. Yet, there are situations that enable a person to think crime is okay. Here are some of my attributing factors that have been brought to light since I have been in prison. First, I was a very hurt individual. Secondly, I carried with me the abuse I suffered as a child. Third, I had little to no self-esteem. And lastly, I learned alcohol abuse was a poor coping mechanism, a self-medicating crutch that prevented me from being able to deal with my fractured soul. 

The one person who was always there for me and a positive light was my dad. I’d like to give proper attributes to my dad, who was a strong role model until I hit my terrible teens. During that period, I rebelled against everything that made sense. He did his best to teach me what it was to be a man. If I had listened to him, I would have taken a different path in life and I would not be writing to you from a 10’ x 5’ cell. 

During my rebellious teenage years, I succumbed to peer pressure and surrounded myself with criminals whose words validated my abusive acts. At a time when I was being physically abused by my girlfriend, my friends told me all she needed was to be smacked in order to learn her place. Their ignorance weighed heavily on my conscience and I took their foolish words to heart. I am sorry for the terrible acts I committed against her. The ripple effect from the harm I caused her can never be forgiven because I created a void in her life. By abusing her, my conduct spawned potential intergenerational domestic violence. If her kids perpetrated violence against others, that violence could be attributed to me. 

Unfortunately, I led myself to prison. The cause of my actions came from carrying around too much pain and not having a proper outlet in which to release it. I wasn’t taught the coping skills I needed to deal with the pain. What I felt inside came from witnessing my abusive mother assault my dad. My mother would then turn her rage and anger onto me. It left me feeling powerless.  The actions of my mom left an impression on me at such a young age and stayed with me into adolescence and beyond. Her abuse fed my pain, cementing it in my mind and body to the point that I began to believe physical abuse was okay; it was a way to resolve conflicts. 

Prison has been a wake up call for me. Over the years, it dawned on me that I needed to change, and change I did.  I began by abstaining from consuming mind and mood altering substances, and I invested my time in pursuing an education. I have been sober now for over ten years, and I have made strides academically.  I even gave the graduation speech for Coastline College here at SQ in 2017. Can you imagine that? An introvert loving public speaking! In one of my pictures, it is of me graduating college. It was one of the greatest achievements I have ever accomplished.

Ever since I chose academics and recovery, my perspective has changed as well; I have come to realize that, even though my body is locked up, my mind has been truly set free. Moreover, I believe I am in the polishing stages of becoming the best version of myself possible. And I hope to leave a legacy where others might come to realize it’s still possible to succeed even in prison. In college, I was able to learn a great deal about the human condition. Specifically, I was made aware of the psychology behind and the cause and effects of my actions. Having reflected upon the underlying causes of my criminality from an academic perspective, I was able to develop a way to effect change within my daily living. I have earned three college degrees and I feel education is the only free aspect of a person in prison and their heart.

What has changed the most in me is the fact that I have learned to love myself. I have learned to speak about my pain instead of masking it. I have learned to control my anger. And I came to understand that anger is normal; it’s what you do with it that makes a difference.

One of the ways I learned to address my problems was through writing. This act of expression allowed me to channel negative, harmful thoughts and actions away from myself and others. It has been very effective in that I no longer choose to react to situations or circumstances using outbursts or by means of physicality; writing allows me a chance to respond to these challenges in a methodical manner.  Writing has been my gateway to freedom. I now write so others can see life through my eyes rather than feel pain through my reactions. I think my family would be surprised to know that I have been writing professionally for three years now.  

With these successes and breakthroughs and the fact of my meeting and marrying my soulmate, there remains the stark reality of being separated from society and my loved ones.  I miss so many things about being outside. Simple things like the smell of fresh cut grass. Being able to go fishing. The family gatherings over the holidays. I miss the memories that I could have built with my family. I missed the first steps of my kids and many other firsts in their lives. I miss being able to cook meals for the holidays and giving away more than we eat. These miss-vs-missed events also inspired me to change. It was the initial spark that led me to see that in order to fix my problem I had to first realize what was broken.

 My wife is helping me understand these things during our life journey and our pursuit of love. I appreciate the love she has brought to my life and I look forward to my time talking to her at the end of the day.  I see love differently now from anything I have ever known. I see the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. I learned that I am worthy of love. 

As for my children, my daughter has really been a blessing, and she is slowly trusting me and allowing me into her life. I hope my son, on the other hand, will eventually reach out to connect with me in God’s time. 

 The things I go through are directed toward conditioning myself for my re-entry to society and having a positive attitude helps me get through each day. I think everyone has a routine. Without one, you’ll have many things that fail to get accomplished. My plans are to be an at-risk teen counselor when I am released. I feel teens need the most guidance so that they don’t end up having to grow up and mature in prison like I did. Hopefully, with the help of people like me, that scenario will be avoided. 

Louis, 60

Louis, 60

My name is Louis  and I am currently serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on a 47 year aggravated sentence.  I am a Field Minister at my unit. I graduated May 2016 from Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary to be a resident, an inmate, and pastor. Upon my graduation I was assigned to the Mark W. Stiles unit Chapel of Hope. I have been serving this community for almost 5 years.

God had called me for His glory to be a shepherd and servant leader to the men here at my unit. I love my calling and it is a humbling honor to be of servitude to these men. I have many spiritually challenging ministry duties: On-call Biblical and Grief & Bereavement, Counseling, Hospice counseling, preaching, teaching life skills courses, organization of chapel programs and services, facilitation of anger ministry, facilitation of faith-based 12-step recovery programs (Overcomers & Celebrate Recovery), Closed Custody & Administrative Segregation ministry and courses, Tutorial Services for GED students, Facilitator of Talent Shows, playwright and Theatrical Workshops & Theatrical Company. Even though I am a Christian I teach and minister to all faiths, even no faith at all.

I also have many beloved friends incarcerated with me who have different faiths, no religious beliefs, and theological differences. In light of this up-and-coming Presidential Election countered by the current condition of the pandemic, I strongly believe, articulate, and live by the saying former President Obama used, “We all need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.” My prayer is that someday our government & world leaders would adhere to that principle at the tables of diplomacy.

I am also teamed up with three other fellow Field Ministers to support and assist in the various ministry opportunities. The Chapel of Hope resident community that we serve has over 33 different faiths. I truly love these men and understand the plights and situations one goes through doing time. Unlike TDCJ chaplains or outside chapel volunteers who leave the unit after duty, I live with my congregation. I wear the same uniform, eat the same food, and experience the unpleasant circumstances of being incarcerated. 75% of this population is serving lengthy sentences.

The Chapel of Hope administration team of men, my co-workers, is a very close-knit group. We are blessed and fortunate to be under the governance of a TDCJ Staff Chaplain who treats us like human beings, not outcasts who fell from secular grace. We have seven Christians and one Muslim brother. We all respect and take care of each other. We hold each other accountable by maintaining the integrity of our leader (Unit Chaplain) and the Chapel of Hope. We live by the mission of our chapel: Redeeming Broken Lives.

The Chapel of Hope Ministry Team and I do not play church for appearance sake. This is not just a prison job to our staff. We believe all people have value, deserve mercy, and are loved equally by God, even the worst outcast and most forgotten! We help restore hope by sharing God’s redeeming grace with individuals and their families. By no means were we choirboys. Every one of us has a mighty testimony (ex-street and prison gang leaders, drug, alcohol and substance abusers, thieves and murderers and master manipulators) from our past. Heartfelt testimonies give a level of transparency to those we minister to.

Over the past twenty years of my incarceration I see that the faces entering the system are younger with more violent charges and extremely long sentences. They are confused, angry, prideful, aggressively violent and scared. In order to minister effectively to these residents, you have to first earn and gain their trust.  Trust in a prison environment does not come easy. You gain their trust by them witnessing you living consistently. In other words, are you living and walking the talk you preach and teach?

We prisoners are professional observers, especially observing those who claim to be Christian, Muslim, and Buddhists etc. One of the first characteristics you inherit by simply doing time is how to observe your surroundings, staff & other prisoner’s characteristics, what shift is one duty etc. Before you can minister to these men they have to observe how you live and if it is constant with the belief system you claim. As the scriptures say, “You cannot serve two masters.” Hypocrisy is frowned upon by members of my community, especially when the hypocrisy is used or hidden behind religion. There is a secular term here in prison called “being 100.” When someone witnesses for you and says, “That dude is 100” that means he is not fake. His word is his bond. As a shepherd pastor, teacher, and minister, I always strive to be 100 with my flock.

Let’s be frank, there are many people in here that are not in here for being very nice. Some of them wear my uniform and others wear a staff uniform. There are those who are predatory and look for vulnerabilities or weaknesses. You do not want to become a mark, a weakling, vulnerable, victimized or labeled as a sucker in here. There are a lot of broken men who enter these walls who have not dealt or made peace with their past circumstances or transgressions (illiteracy, poverty, child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, addiction, broken families etc.) Please do not get the impression that I am making excuses or supporting the victim stance for criminal behavior or thinking. However, there is a cultural worldview mindset of relativism that prisons manifest. This detrimental mindset has adverse effects both on our free world society and within the walls of our prisons.

Every day I witness on the world and local news that there are no set moral standards. The mindset is “You Do You and I Do Me.” If you speak out against how I am living you are out of line. It may sound ridiculous but I often thank God I am in here, and not dealing with the ills of free world society. It seems a lot more viscous out there.

This individualistic selfishness is immediately apparent and manifested from the very onset you are processed in the prison system. No one gives you a training manual on how to Do Time. The only manual you receive is an orientation manual of institutional rules and violations. There are no smiling faces or welcome committee other than correctional uniformed staff.

Staff is trained not to trust you and not to befriend you. It does not take very long to realize you are alone, especially if you do not have any spiritual foundation. You learn to live by a set of endless forever changing rules and regulations called “The Prison Code.” There is no abridged edition to this manual. It has never been published in print. It is handed down verbally and the contributors are numerous authors who have earned their PhD’s in the “PRISON CODE OF ETHICS,” accredited by “Penitentiary State University” of “Doing Time.”

Your mind can quickly become a battlefield of bamboozled clichés tricked and fed by your emotions, environment or circumstances, such as how you represent your hood, street, set or barrio at all cost. Watch your back. Do your own time not mine.  Trust nobody but yourself or your homie. Worry about no one else but yourself.  Look hard, tough, resilient & un-vulnerable. You can take on the victim stance of living, the “because I” excuse for not taking responsibility. Because of the white man, because I was poor, because I am black, because I am Hispanic, because the DA was out for blood, because my mom was a whore, because my father was not there, because I lived in the hood or barrio. There is an endless cycle of excuses for taking no responsibility and believing, “Society owes me something. After all they are the ones who put me here.”

I am a firm believer in the positive flourishment of my community. The reality is that this temporary residence is my community. I have a moral and spiritual responsibility for its reform by promoting hope in an environment that often dictates hopelessness.

Our unit has a high rate of suicides, HIV, Hospice patients, mental health and health care challenged residents. Prison is not very encouraging. The surroundings, barbed wire, steel cages and fences, overcrowding, punitive systematic policies, substandard healthcare, mental illness, family loss and separation often makes emotions unbalanced.  Feelings of hopelessness settle in. Suicides start to peak and men develop self-destructive habits: drug abuse, substance abuse, increased gang activity, violence, and staff assaults.

Unfortunately, too, the COVID-19 outbreak had an adverse effect on our resident community and its members. Systematic lockdowns for positive outbreaks from COVID means no outside visitation, limited commissary privileges, and inconsistent preventive measures imposed upon residents. The realistic situation of overcrowding and prison living areas were not designed for “social distancing. Unrealistic staff enforcement of preventive measures can stress out residents and uniformed staff members. There is an old saying “Idle Minds Do Idle Time,” which is often an excuse for self-destructive behaviors to take over and cause substance abuse, depression, self-pity, suicide, homebrew, gangs, isolation, bitterness etc. 

Men continuously make bad choices. Not owning up to their God-given responsibilities, they end up in here!!

Sometimes we make choices and sometimes we allow our choices to make us. I teach fatherhood principles in a Christian based all faiths welcomed program called “Quest for Authentic Manhood.” Men have a problem with the concepts and responsibilities of true manhood. You see many men have no idea what the true definition of manhood is. After 24 weeks of genuine classroom mini-group interaction they come away with a clear definition of Manhood to include reward, God’s reward. One must learn to deny self without excuse. I challenge my flock and it is a humbling experience to be in the position to do so. I love teaching and I don’t take my calling under God for granted.

However pastoral care can be overwhelming. Like I said earlier I live with my congregation and earned trust requires patience, listening skills and a genuine heart for service. In the free world pastors can take a sabbatical and get away to refuel. I do not have that luxury. I live with my congregation 24 hours a day. So to decompress I do a lot of reading.

My favorite topics of interest are African & American History, autobiographies, and biographies. I am also a playwright. I love to make people laugh. I have a background in theater and enjoy doing stand-up comedy, hosting unit “talent shows” for the men. I pray one day that my plays might be copyrighted and published. I facilitated, directed and wrote two plays performed at my unit. I was blessed with a very good solid dedicated group of 40 men to formulate “THE UNCOMMON MEN THEATRICAL COMPANY.” Both performances were sell-outs during the Christmas season. It is amazing how many men here have never seen a live play performance. It is extremely rewarding introducing them to a cultural experience. I was in tears when I saw my ideas brought to fruition by my guys. They worked very hard, studying and memorizing their lines, and doing costume prep. We formed a brotherhood. People who view the prison environment from false misleading depictions from T.V. shows and the media really don’t realize how many gifted and talented men and women are behind bars. 

 Since my incarceration I decided not to remain enslaved to criminal thinking patterns or to do my time in idle mode. I did not come to prison to continue doing wrong. The only way to do that was to deny the narcissist pattern of thinking that got me in this situation in the first place. I came from a good solid loving middle class family and now I would be a disgrace to the family name. I let down my ex-wife, children, family and friends. I make no excuse or blame anyone. I am extremely remorseful for the victims of my crimes, the hurt and pain. I begged Christ for His forgiveness and asked my victims’ forgiveness, some in person and others in prayer.

I decided to make peace with my past and everyone by completely surrendering my life to Christ. Again, this is no temporary jailhouse religious journey. I had to complete the will of surrender. My life was completely dedicated to be obedient and in service to Christ Jesus.

I was first incarcerated in Arizona at 41 years old. I never before then was arrested nor had ever been inside a jail cell. However while sitting in the county jail of the notorious Sheriff Joe Apiolo, I was at an all time low. Clothed in prison chain gang stripes, pink underwear, pink t-shirt and socks with bright orange flip flops. The cell was cold, clammy, and nasty and the roaches were Special Forces members of Navy Seal-Team repelling off the walls (smile). I was coming down from a bad substance abuse habit and was unsure if my life was worthy of continuing. I made a promise to God. “Lord please lift the power of addiction from my life and I will forever be of service to you and your people.” Praise be to God that was twenty years ago, no drugs, no hooch, no pills.

I am smiling when I say that even on clean air I am still crazy.

In closing, sorry if this letter was too long. You are probably saying, finally, man this dude can talk. I need a bathroom break. Seriously, if God one day releases me from inside these walls, I will forever be of service to Him and involved with a prison ministry. His grace sustained me all these years.

I am blessed to have an 82 years young mom, a loving brother, two grown sons and two little girl princesses, my grandchildren. I will not leave Jesus at the gate upon release. My prayer is that this is good enough for publication and will inspire someone inside and outside of these walls.

In closing: “You have my permission to contact me if you desire.” If anyone else would like to contact me, they have my blessing. You may give them my information. I pray that your family and staff remain safe, healthy and blessed during our country’s time of unrest.