Michael, 60

Michael, 60

Growing up in a house dictated by an abusive alcoholic, I didn’t know love as anything besides the absence of hate.

My family is a casualty of McCarthyism after the Korean War. My biological dad was accused of colluding with the enemy as a prisoner of war, arrested, and incarcerated. I have three siblings: Donna, five years older than me; Jimmy, four years my senior; and Paul, one year my junior. My mother first got pregnant at fourteen, and told me she didn’t even know how women got pregnant until a doctor told her. Her parents, uneducated and poor, didn’t discuss such matters. That habit carried over to my generation.

When I was three, my mom met my stepdad. I don’t know where they met or what their interests were. My first memory is of living in a big old house in a small town. My step dad worked on the surrounding farms, irrigating the fields with siphoning pipes. Alcoholism was in our house from early on: he and my mother would go to bars and usually end up fighting. I remember the fleshy smack of him hitting her. I wet the bed and had a speech impediment that wasn’t resolved, with a simple cut of the connective tissue under my tongue, until I was in first or second grade.

As a young boy, I don’t remember love even existing in our house. Growing up in a house dictated by an abusive alcoholic, I didn’t know love as anything besides the absence of hate. You either loved or hated, feared or didn’t. Mom had dinner ready for my stepdad, had his drink made, took off his boots and socks and rubbed lotion on his feet; she made sure we knew to be quiet or leave the room, that we didn’t do anything to make him mad. So I thought love was not hurting someone. Being in someone’s presence and not being afraid. Love wasn’t something we talked about. “I love you” were just words that meant everything was okay for now.

But I knew something was missing. There was something Mom was giving my stepdad, a nearness of bodies, that I wasn’t getting. I sought out that physical expression, even if I didn’t grasp the essence of what it meant. Even my first sexual encounters were by the numbers: first base, second base, third base. Is it the same for everyone? I thought so. Fortunately for me, my “first time” was with a fifteen-year-old French girl. I was thirteen, but lied and said I was fourteen. I’m glad I lied. She taught me to slow down and notice things. She placed my fingertips on her neck so I could feel her pulse. She made me keep my tongue in my own mouth—so much for French kissing! She taught me that the nearness of bodies could be one of trust and discovery.

That experience with Evonna showed me that there was an equality to a sexual union between girls and boys, not the subjugation and dominance I had seen growing up. I felt she had revealed a secret to me, though it was more of a sense than a knowing. Looking back now, the respect she showed me, and the respect I was responsible for showing her, was as close to love as I had experienced at that point. So I equated sex with love. I wanted to be loved a lot! This was the summer before high school. My second week of freshman year, I was expelled for smoking marijuana with another student. I was called into the dean’s office, where two sheriffs were waiting. The dean told me the kid I had smoked with was acting bizarre in class and had given me up. I asked if I was going to be arrested; he replied, “No, you’re going to be expelled.”

I was used to maximum punishment for small infractions at home. All I could think was that my stepdad was there and would see me coming back in a cop car, and that as soon as the sheriffs left he would beat the shit out of me again. I asked the dean if the cops were going to take me home. “No,” he said, “you can walk yourself home.” I was more relieved than he could know. He shrugged and filled out a form, ripped off the yellow copy and gave it to me, and said I could go. The closer I got to home, the more frightened I became. I started folding the paper into smaller and smaller squares. I was tired of being beaten by my stepdad. He’d been beating me with his fists for almost ten years. Just for ten seconds or so each time, but he’d hit my ribs and my back—even my butt, because I’d instantly curl into a ball and wait for it to end.

I came to a telephone pole a few feet from our house and stuffed the paper into a crack. I stuffed it in as far as I could. Then I looked at the house and realized there was no love in it. I kept walking and never returned.

I hitchhiked from California to Vernal, Utah to see my cousin Roy. He’d know what I should do. He was always good to me; he was fun to be around and his whole family was cool. My Aunt MaryAnn smoked pot and drank RC Cola from the bottle—to get along with her all you had to do was leave her RC alone! No one beat anyone in that house. That was nice.

I got to Vernal with no trouble. My third or fourth day there, we went to an engagement party. A little later I saw Roy getting into a car and I jumped in too; so did the owner of the car and the newly engaged couple, and even Roy’s small dog. Since Roy was the least intoxicated, he was chosen to make the beer run. Thing was, the car only had one headlight on the passenger side. I told everyone we should take a different car. The owner said if I didn’t like it I should get out. I told Roy to pull over; he did and I got out. I begged him to get out too, he begged me to get back in, and I said I couldn’t. He drove off. The very next car picked me up. We saw Roy and them on their way back to the party; I knew it was them because of the one headlight. It was the last time I saw him alive. A head-on collision killed everyone in the car except the owner. I wanted to kill him, but when my aunt took me to his house two weeks later I just stood there and then left. He was a drooling mess. I felt more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. I was still a runaway, now without my cousin Roy. For years I wished he had survived, not me.

I was fourteen. I didn’t return to school for forty years.

I was a mess. I was so completely engulfed in grief that I don’t remember leaving Vernal or arriving in Las Cruces, New Mexico. My aunt Harriet and uncle Joe were too young to look after me, though they did show me a different example of a loving couple: they did not berate me, hit me, or treat me badly. Still, I was lying constantly, ditching school so much I don’t recall going to a single class. I had no friends, male or female. After, I don’t know how long, I was put on a Greyhound bus and sent back to California. Looking back, I think Harriet and Joe loved me. I know I should have treated them better.

On New Year’s Eve 1976 I arrived in Ceres, California, at my aunt Sheila and uncle Jim’s place. My cousin Darren had leukemia and would pass the following April. I knew I wouldn’t be welcome for long, but luckily my uncle Paul and aunt Ramona were visiting. Paul traveled the world working on offshore oil drilling platforms; he offered to take me with them to their next destination on the condition that I go back to school. I said yes with great relief, and I turned sixteen at the Horus House Hotel in Cairo, Egypt! By this time I had learned that females were safer and more fun to be around than males. Ramona, in contrast to my mom, was a fierce defender of her children whether we were right or wrong—a maternal love I hadn’t experienced before. This made me realize that it mattered how I treated people. I still felt apathy for most people, but I learned to treat some with respect. When I told Ramona I loved her, I was saying, “I won’t hurt you, I won’t steal from you, and I will be as honest with you as I can be.” Evonna had taught me a respect for females; Ramona taught me a reciprocal kind of loyalty.

Meanwhile, I still had a deep fear of and resentment toward males. The men in my life had mostly terrorized me; at eight or nine I got lost and, when I went to a house to ask for help, was drugged and raped by a man and a woman. This powerfully distorted my attitude and behavior toward men and women in general, and gay men in particular: for many years I associated homosexuality with pedophilia—I know now that this is ridiculous, but it was how I felt as a young man. (This experience is shared by many men in prison. It’s not spoken of often, because we feel that having been sodomized will make others think we’re gay.) So, for a long time, not being attracted to other males was of the utmost importance in how I represented my masculinity. I did and still do on occasion find some men attractive, but that’s no longer an issue because I understand that beauty can be seen anywhere, in anyone.

For most of my life, then, I would run away from situations I didn’t understand instead of asking for help. Being lost was dangerous, letting someone know you were lost was dangerous, and asking for help was even more dangerous. Period. I have always had this insane reflex to clench my jaw and move on into the unknown instead of admitting that I needed help; when I say I haven’t always recognized when I was loved, it’s because love looked to me a lot like the “help” that hurt me so badly as a child. All of this created a strong sense of entitlement in me, which made it seem acceptable to steal and rob. “This happened to me, so fuck you!”—that was the apathy I felt toward people I didn’t know.

Back to Egypt. We lived in a community called Maúdi, about seven kilometers outside of Cairo. For a while I attended the Cairo American College, a prep school that was out of my league academically, although I did get good grades in creative writing and had an essay, “The Nile,” placed in a ten-year time capsule along with a picture of me that I had developed myself in a darkroom, Aunt Ramona had helped me set up in our flat. I wrote the first draft of the essay sitting on the very top stone of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In Egypt I had my second sexual experience, with a Nigerian princess—literally. Her family had been exiled there by a military coup, and we met on a school trip to the Cairo Museum of Antiquities. She dropped some papers in the aisle of the bus and we both bent down to pick them up. When our eyes met, I was dumbstruck. She thanked me but I couldn’t speak, so she raised her eyebrows to let me know I was causing a spectacle. Someone changed seats so she and I could sit together. Later we wandered through the museum, amazed at how much time and effort people spent just to have stuff in the afterlife. We agreed that this life should be spent seeking pleasure—which is just what we did later that day in my bedroom when Aunt Ramona walked in. It was an incredible experience, but love had nothing to do with it. (She did tell me I was the best kisser she had ever known: thank you, Evonna!)

Like most teenagers, I was self-centered and had no scruples about breaking agreements. Promises were just a way to get what I wanted. My lack of empathy or regard for consequences resulted in getting a wonderful girl pregnant. I wouldn’t know about it until eight months later, after she moved with her family back to Mississippi and a friend of hers brought me a letter with some adoption forms to fill out. I punished myself for many years after that, vowing never to have children because I hadn’t looked after the one I brought into the world.

Eventually, failing all of my classes besides creative writing, I had to go to work. My uncle told me I wasn’t going to be a bum. I got a Eurail pass and took the train from Geneva to Paris to Brussels to Amsterdam to Frankfurt back to Cairo; by then my uncle had punched some guy in the nose for making a derogatory comment about Texas, and we had to pack up and move back to Ceres, California.

Back to California I turned eighteen and went to work at a Wendy’s. I met a girl my age, and within a week met her stepmom, who was nine years older. What a mess! Margo was a bona fide cougar, a twenty-seven-year-old ex-hooker married to a preacher. She separated from the preacher and swept me off my feet, I moved in with her. Aunt Ramona tried to convince me I was making a mistake, but I cut ties with her and my uncle and cleaved even tighter to Margo. I made her feel good because my youthful vigor was all hers, and she kept me right where she wanted me. Meanwhile, I was doing landscaping work for my crooked uncle Jim, who paid me just enough to stay broke and work for him. I could install an entire sprinkler system, front and back, by myself in twelve hours.

With Margo keeping me in bed and Jim keeping me digging ditches, I finally got the bright idea to join the Army. In 1978 I passed boot camp and advanced individual training and became a military policeman. I figured this way I could provide for Margo and her children, but just before I was to go on patrol she flew to Alabama and convinced me to leave the Army. I did as she wished, regrettably. Her influence on me was supernatural. Why was I so under her spell? Well, she was nurturing and safe, knew how to make me feel manly, and literally screwed my brains out! I still felt a responsibility to provide for her, which was the catalyst that led to my first bank robbery at the age of nineteen.

Unable to find a job in Sacramento, where Margo had moved while I was in the Army, I decided to return to Bakersfield and get a job on the oil field—but a couple of days of job hunting proved that employment was scarcer than I’d hoped. One night, I saw on the evening news that a lone gunman had robbed a bank and made off with an undisclosed amount of money. All they found was a ski mask in the parking lot. Hey! I thought. Fuck yeah, I can do that! I envisioned a sack full of money, Margo happy, the kids happy. Why not?

The first robbery brought me a whopping $570, including $300 in one-dollar bills. That wasn’t enough, so I kept going. Without giving it another thought, I robbed more banks, getting more money each time; finally, I had a few thousand dollars and returned to Margo a few weeks later. We moved to Modesto and I went back to work with Uncle Jim. Since he was a crook, I told him what I’d been doing. What I didn’t know was that he was also on parole. Guess how he got off? A couple of days later, he came to where I was digging a ditch and took me around to the front of the house. I looked around and saw suited men in sunglasses approaching from both sides of the street. FBI. “Don’t run, Mike, you’re surrounded!” I just looked at him. He told me they had my mom’s phone tapped and had heard him talking to her, but that was a lie. He had turned me in in exchange for release from parole. I don’t hold it against him. I turned twenty in federal prison in Englewood, Colorado, serving six years for armed bank robbery.

At twenty-five, I was married after a romantic date, as we were leaving a restaurant where the pianist had played just for us, I said, “Will you marry me?” I hadn’t meant it literally, but Bobbie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Oh yes, yes. I’ll marry you.” Oh shit was all I could think. We were married the next day by a justice of the peace, with his secretaries as our witnesses. I had been released from federal prison a little over a year before. To me, by this point, good sex was love. It was easy to say “I love you” and mean it, and it was easy to hear it and believe it.

At twenty-seven, I robbed another bank. Bobbie and I went on the run with $10,500. We hid out in Beaver Creek, Washington until her cousin gave us up for the reward. When I found out, I decided to turn myself in to save Bobbie from being implicated. The plan was that I’d go to prison and do my time, and she’d join the Army and put together a life for me to parole to. She never visited, and I didn’t think much about her. I never truly fell in love with her, and she never truly loved me: she said later that she married me to get out of a “situation” she was in. I never asked what the situation was.

 After two and a half years in an Arizona State Prison, I paroled to her in San Miguel, California. She was stationed at Camp Roberts, one of the first females in satellite communications; she had a secret clearance and was doing well. But she had grown, had become disciplined, and I hadn’t. I had changed very little and even more damaged than when I’d gone in. She had outgrown me, and I really didn’t care. She had affairs. I left. I still didn’t know what love was.

 Thirty and fresh off parole, I went back to Bakersfield, and within two weeks robbed another bank. Got $5,500 out of that one and spent the money on women, drugs, alcohol, and hotel rooms until I found a woman I could move in with. It was back-to-back sex and lies: I’d say “I love you,” she’d say it back, and we’d both know it wasn’t real. But we didn’t care. Eventually I would rob another bank, rent more rooms, and party until I found another woman. It seemed like I’d been repeating this cycle forever, finding other lost souls and giving each other comfort until it wasn’t comfortable anymore. 

 I traded my motorcycle for a Volkswagen Baja Bug, which I took down to a used car lot as a down payment on a pickup. I did some work for a temp agency, bought some tool bags, and drove around Bakersfield stealing sprinkler heads from big business complexes. With a PVC cutter, channel locks, and a few parts, I then drove around the country club estates, hunting down properties with obvious sprinkler problems. I would knock on the door and tell them I could remedy their problems for $37.50 plus parts. Many agreed, and I’d walk away with $55. I bought more tools, stole more sprinkler heads, and made more money until I was picking up $200 a day.

 After I injured my hand in a bar fight, I met a beautiful woman named Tammy at the doctor’s office. I had a cast on my left arm and she had a cast on her right foot. We moved in together. Our relationship never went beyond sex where I was concerned; I knew no other way. She said I just fucked her, that I never made love to her. I just crinkled my brows and asked what the difference was. She started having an affair.

 Meanwhile, I kept building my sprinkler business. I posted an ad in the yellow pages: Aquamann Sprinkler Company. (I figured the extra n would keep the real Aquaman from getting me.) I made flyers and business cards and knocked on doors in the wealthy neighborhoods. I rented uniforms with my name patched on the chest. I was an excellent marketer of myself, and the quality of my work brought me lots of business. I met a very wealthy eighty-year-old widow who found me irresistible. She had so many things for me to do that I started working at her estate exclusively, abandoning all other calls. She had a big house and only lived in half of it. Guess what happened? Yep, I moved in with her, occupying the other half. Had sex with her twice. Then she died.

 I hooked up with a childhood girlfriend, Robin, who had become a meth addict. The sex was phenomenal. I moved in with her and then we moved into my parents’ rental. Between the meth, the alcohol, and not building my business, I robbed another bank. I was arrested on October 24, 2000; in November I was given a three-strikes sentence of thirty-five years to life. I was forty years old and still didn’t have a clue what love was. I certainly didn’t find any in prison.

  What passes for love among prisoners is the same love you might feel for a close friend. A sense of trust and loyalty with room for forgiveness and an element of exclusivity. I would forgive my friend for lying or stealing or having sex with my girl, but not a stranger. I can go to my friend’s cell and sit on a bucket and discuss this, figure that out. For instance, if I really want to put hands on someone I might consult my friend in private, to find out how he sees it, and not care what anyone else has to say.

 I had no financial support at Lancaster State Prison, so I learned to make hooch, pruno, wine, whatever you want to call it. I got good at it and was making $20 every Sunday, making two gallons and selling one, then sharing the other with the “Wood Pile,” the other white inmates. I wasn’t concerned about getting caught—hell, I had thirty-five years to do and I was forty years old. Besides, I needed the things wine was getting me: food, weed, heroin. I was “in the mix” by choice; I would’ve been anyway, whether I liked it or not.

 One day in 2004, I was in the dayroom with my hands cuffed behind my back, while two other guards searched my cell. After a few minutes they both came out empty-handed. I smiled. Then one walked back into the cell and just stood there. I wasn’t smiling now. He put his hand up, palm out, and put his index finger to his lips: sh-sh-sh. I knew what he was going to hear.

 He looked straight at me with a smile, then got down on his knees and reached into the darkest corner under my rack and found a rolled-up army blanket. In the center were two gallons of hooch, just bubbling away. (I had a filtering system that masked the smell of fermenting fruit but bubbled continuously. At night my cellie and I could hear it cooking away; we’d say it was the sound of money being made.)

 Now, as everyone looked out of their cell windows, I was cuffed with this guard gripping my upper arm as though I was going to take flight from a maximum-security prison. Watching him hold the army blanket like a trophy, I couldn’t help but smile again. “You’re really clever,” he told me. I thought, “The only way you could think I’m clever is if you’re really stupid.” The other guard squeezed tighter and shook me. I had said it out loud. What I didn’t say out loud was that I knew it was the guard who was clever: he wanted me to keep doing what I was doing so he could keep busting me. So that day I changed the game. I stopped making hooch and stopped drinking it too, and I would stand up to anyone who didn’t like it. I decided I needed an education. I needed mentors and friends who weren’t criminals, so that I could be more than a criminal myself.

 In prison, the powerful groups make money for their organizations on the street. Drugs, gambling, extortion, alcohol, whatever sells. Prison is structured for that purpose and violence is the enforcer. But when a man decides that he wants to do right, to better himself through religion or education, he can walk his own line. He still has to “ride” if a riot breaks out or to back a homeboy’s play, but he doesn’t have to engage in criminal activity any longer. But he has to be genuine or he’ll get smashed on. Criminals pretend to have honor, respect, and loyalty. I say “pretend” because when you cross a criminal all of those virtues dissipate right in front of your eyes, replaced in an instant by hate. If I loved women for sex, I loved criminals for safety. But neither is truly love.

 That day, standing there with my wrists cuffed behind my back and feeling the guard’s fingers squeezed around my arm, I decided I was going to go for it. I had a niece named Lacey who thought I was really something, but here I was doing nothing. Even if I had trouble with the people here, I would have her. I wouldn’t be alone. I decided to treat myself like I would treat someone I loved. I even said it in my head: I love myself! I can be a good man or I can end up living in a cell 24/7 in boxers and shower shoes. I chose to be a good man.

I chose to get an education so I could find out what a good man is.

When I was placed back in my cell, I was already a different man from the one who had stepped out an hour earlier. For the first time in my life, I felt worthy of bettering myself. I had found a little love, and it was for myself. I didn’t care much for the adults in my family, but I spent time with the children when I could, teaching them that they could make their own decisions and that everyone should respect them.

On one family visit to Pismo Beach, I walked hand in hand with a tiny little girl named Lacey, my older sister’s youngest child. As we walked on the pier, she saw fishermen ripping hooks from the mouths of the fish they had caught, and she asked me whether the fish could feel it. I told her I knew fish could feel the temperature of the water, but I didn’t know if they felt the hooks or not. Lacey later told me that having this discussion made her feel grown up. After I went to prison in 2000, she began writing to me. She was in her twenties at the time, and she’s been writing and visiting me ever since. Her kids, Olivia and Kael, love me and write to me too.

In general, love is not talked about in prison. But we do take great pride in being loved. I like saying that my niece loves the shit out of me. It makes me feel good, not so alone. It also signals to whoever hears me say it that I have some value and good characteristics. I’m in prison, but I’m not a total loser. Lacey has loved me long enough for me to finally come to terms with my childhood traumas, and to turn the love I feel for others inward. I recognize familial love without reservation as a great force of salvation. Putting aside criminal thinking and feelings of entitlement has allowed me to see the humanity around me; going to college has forced me to ask for help, and to specifically identify the challenges I was facing. From that help came a genuine interest in my own good. Where I once superimposed the face of a deceiver onto every stranger I saw, I eventually learned to recognize the help for what it is: love.

It took me nine years to get to the only prison that still had a college program: San Quentin State Prison. It was the first long-term plan I ever undertook. And it was within the Prison University Project, and thanks to Lacey, the one member of my family who never lost touch with me, that I discovered love on levels I had no clue even existed. (And guess what? No sex! Imagine that.) I started paying attention to what others were saying, spending time showing them I wanted them. I stopped getting in trouble. I talked to an educational guidance counselor, and we made a plan for me to work toward an AA degree. I still have the paper on which we laid out that road map toward college. When I began my first for-credit class in 2014, I had only an eighth-grade education, completed in 1973. Of the forty-one years in between, I had spent almost thirty in prison.

By 2017, the classes had become my world. I had never felt like part of a community, so I developed an apathetic view of people as a whole: I believed they wouldn’t like me because I was different, which made it easy to steal and rob from them. But as I became better educated, I began to identify with those people and recognize my wrongdoing. Realizing the suffering I had caused, the brutality and traumatizing effects of robbery, brought me to tears.

In retrospect, my tears of remorse were a sign that I had learned to exercise my apathy and internalize empathy.

With the critical thinking skills I was learning, I was able to go back in time and see things more clearly. I said there was no love in my house growing up, but looking back I see that there was. My mom was a victim too. She just didn’t know what to do with six kids and an alcoholic as her provider. And I saw that money was never the driving force for my crimes—I just blew it as soon as I got it.

Robbery, I discovered, is no more about money than rape is about sex. It’s about feeling powerful and in control. I realized that the abuse I experienced as a child and the helplessness I felt growing up were silenced by the power I felt when I was robbing a bank. All the criminal activity I participated in was either to feel in control or, in the case of drugs and alcohol, to not feel at all.

I can’t do anything to change my childhood, but I can change my life’s trajectory by learning how to manage my emotions and behaviors. Now, only two classes away from a college degree, I’m thriving socially and don’t feel powerless at all. If I start to, I understand and adjust. Problem-solving strategies give me the sense of control I’ve been searching for. Education may not be magical, but it has transformed me from a dangerous, callous, selfish, confused loner into an intelligent, mindful, conscientious, repentant member of my community. It plugged me in and connected me to an amazing world of amazing people.

When I finally looked inward with acceptance, forgiveness, and self-love, everyone around me became more human. I could see their ages and intentions. All of a sudden, as I said before, I wasn’t seeing threats, but opportunities.

I looked back and realized how many people had tried to help me in a loving way. I regretted my apathy and my heart ached at the rejection I must have made so many feel. I am so sorry to so many for not recognizing that they cared about me.

Every single person I have met associated with the Prison University Project helped me become the better human being I wanted to be, for no other reason than that it was what I wanted. And it’s because I’ve shared my burdens, and been open to helping others bear theirs, that I’ve been able to connect to the world around me. There have been times when a tutor was helping me that my eyes began to water:

I have made it. I have become a better human.

Letter to a friend

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I know. I’m taking a break from a writing assignment for a college class I’m taking. Today, feeling a bit melancholy, I took a walk down to the lower yard. As soon as I walked out of the cell block, the whole world changed. Leaving behind the noises and smells of a huge dank warehouse filled with eight hundred men is like walking out of a cave into the clear light of day.

Ensconced in my thoughts and alive in my senses, I merge into pedestrian traffic. I’m certain that people walk like they drive. I position myself safely behind the person in front of me, careful not to walk on his heels, hoping no one runs into mine from behind.

 My walk is concrete, steel, prisoners, and guards until I reach the top of a staircase down to the lower yard. I pause at the viewpoint. Over the thirty-foot walls I can see for miles instead of yards. People in their cars and trucks, zipping left and right on the expressway. Freedom? I sometimes wonder if someone on the road has pulled over and is looking over here…

Seeing so far gives rise to a yearning that I have to dampen by continuing down the stairs. Forty-six steps. The lower I go, the higher the white walls rise. They reflect the sun’s rays and the hills are green and still. I see no more movement out there: the walls are too high now. I hear the echo of a handball game, shouts from the basketball court, the ring of steel horseshoes striking the steel pin. The comfort and safety and familiarity of a prison yard always surprise me a little. The melancholy is gone.

Do you take walks to change the way you feel? If so, write and let me walk with you.

Yours truly, Mike

Tien, 31

Tien, 31

Suddenly, I am pulled  from my deep slumber by a loud flushing noise. I open my eyes, and all I see is a small, dull colored room. The insidious sound vibrates through my body, leaving me in utter shock. I begin to clear my eyes and the lingering fog encompassing my mind. I must have been in a dream because I can remember feeling a cloud-like mattress on my backside. The vivid scene of my family and friends surrounds me and that genuine smile racing across my face. The thunderous sound of the flushing toilet only a feet away from my head shattered that peaceful dream. I feel the cold metal underneath the paper-thin mattress against my back. A teardrop forms at the corner of my eyes as loneliness sets in. The abrupt confusion fades away and the daunting truth seeps into consciousness. I am in prison! And have been for the past six years. I feel the sorrow coming in strong waves, hitting me over and over again. My mind had done its best to create an illusion of momentary joy. But it failed miserably, and I sit here living with the pain of reality.

My cellmate woke up to take a leak. As he slowly climbs back up onto his rack, I glance at my clock and realize it’s time to get ready for the day. I push myself off the old, rust encrusted bunk and take three long steps to the sink. As I wash my face, a part of me still wishes that I was in that dream. Looking ahead, I stare at the reflection before me in a four by six mirror. Like any other day in prison, I begin with my usual routine of positive self affirmation. As I go through my daily mantras, a loud mechanical click rings to my left side as the solid metal cell door slides open. A booming voice roars through the housing unit’s PA system in the early morning: “Nguyen, report to visiting for your family visit.” A joyful reminder of what I was going to experience sent a surge of energy through my body. I am excited at the prospect of seeing my family. But also nervous. The anxiety arose from the list of questions I had for my mother, and the uncertainty of how things will go. Quickly, I put on my blue prison uniform and grab my ID as I exit quietly from the cell. I make an attempt to close the metal door with as much elegance as possible, but as it slides shut it makes that same mechanical sound, stirring my cellmate from his sleep.

I arrive at the visiting room and am waiting to be processed in. It takes about thirty minutes. As I sit there, my mind goes into overdrive, imagining all kinds of horrid things, which robs me of the joy of the moment. With such great discomfort eating away at me, I decide to do a seated meditation to calm the storm that is brewing inside of me. After fifteen minutes I feel the joy that was taken from me returning. The rampaging thoughts of how the visit will be and how my mother would react to the questions drifted away. With empathy, I was ready to accept my mother’s responses as they presented themselves.

My family arrives shortly afterwards, we exchange hugs. But when I approach my mother for an embrace, I sense a hesitancy from her. After six years of incarceration it is still awkward to show affection between us. In that moment I  recall my life before prison. My parents had shown little to no affection to their children. Words such as, “I love you,” were never spoken in the home. Standing before my mother, I am willing to be vulnerable, even if it means rejection. Just as those fears begin to shroud my mind, they disperse in an instant as my mothers warm embrace envelops me. A stream begins to flow freely from each side of my face. My greatest fear has just vanished, with that one embrace my need for love and affection is met in this brief moment. Filled with joy, I blurt out, “I love you mom.” Silence fills the air as my mother struggles to respond. Yet, in this moment she didn’t need to say a word, her warm embrace was enough. This is the first time I said these words to my mother, and it’s the first time I felt a genuine connection to her.

We sit down as a family to eat, which is highly unusual in my family. I wait until our bellies are full and the dishes are done to grab my list of questions. I know this was a great opportunity to get to know my parents better. The questions pertain to my mother’s history as a child growing up in Vietnam and how she met my father. There were a few questions of her experience in the United States and the challenges she faced raising my brothers and I. I have hopes that she will answer my questions honestly and openly. As I present the questions to my mother, she seems quite skeptical at first. My mother asks questions like, “Who’s going to read all this?”, “Are they listening to us right now?” I hear the fear and paranoia in her voice, but quell them by reassuring her the questions are solely for my benefit and that we are not being recorded.

With my mother at ease we converse about her childhood. As a child she never had to lift a finger because her family was quite wealthy. All of that luxury came to an end when the Vietnamese government stripped away the wealth from her family. The following years were filled with hardship and she struggled to adapt. This illuminated why my mother had been so leery of authority figures. My mother met my father in her early teen years. She described him as an alcoholic and player. My father had experienced the same displacement trauma as my mother. Their homes had been ransacked and the people dwelling in them were left with the bare necessities. As the years passed, my parents’ relationship became more dysfunctional because each lacked trust and built up resentments toward each other. Despite my mother’s feelings, their relationship continued and my older brother was born. Her parents disapproved of my father, but with a grandson on the way they simply gave in.

Since my father’s eldest sister had married an American, his family was offered an opportunity to live in the United States. My parents took this opportunity immediately. My mother made the choice to leave her parents’ side of the family behind with the hopes that one day she could offer them a better life. Bombarded with hopes and dreams of success in the land of opportunities, my parents failed to think of the challenges they would face. They arrived in this new foreign country in 1989 and quickly realized the magnitude of their decision. The language and cultural differences were way beyond their wildest imagination. Faced with a choice to stay or go back home, my parents chose to stay in hopes of improving conditions for our family. In Vietnamese culture there is a tendency to sacrifice the individual for the good of the family. My mother’s insecurities and trauma made her defensive, and resistant to change. Her past resentment carried over to the new government, magnifying her sense of entitlement. She believed the government should support her for all they had taken away from her, even though hers was a displaced anger towards the United States. Behind her words I sense some guilt of her leaving her family behind and being the only one to have a better chance at life. In talking with my mother I discover that both my parents have their own unresolved traumas that continue to affect their lives today, and I choose to commend my mother in her moment of vulnerability.

My story helps create new connections with people and offers understanding to myself and those I have harmed. In every instance that I share my story I end with a quote that has a great impact on my life, “There is only one thing permanent in life, and that is change.” What a fickle thing life is. Pain and joy has become interdependent to me as I view the world through new lenses.

In those two days I had discovered more about my parents than in the twenty-nine years I had been on this Earth. I was grateful for the presence of my brothers and sister, who helped me to translate and interpret when there was a lack of understanding. What was most impactful was the bond we shared as a family and how we all had a chance to express ourselves. My younger sister had the opportunity to express herself to my mother. This became an open and safe environment now for her to do so. I sat with my sister as she cried out in pain, cried out how much it had hurt when my mother placed moral judgments on her. My mother’s expectations of her seemed impossible to fulfill, and the shame that developed from rejection and failure, diminished my sister’s confidence. I was present with her as I acknowledged the pain and shame of her experience

In return, my mother expressed her concern and the stress she had about my sister’s recent behavior. I continued to mediate between the two as my brothers assisted me. It was a painful experience, but at the same time beautiful, a true healing for us all. Like my sister, I carried a similar pain and resentment towards my mother. Mine was so great that I refused to embrace the native language that would have made communication with my mother so much easier. It was a way for me to disconnect from my parents. Yet, on those two days, as my mother shared her life story, I felt my long time resentment and pain fade away.

With insight into my parents lives, I cultivated an everlasting love for them. From my mother’s stories, I began to see and understand them both through a more compassionate lens. There was a strong stirring of remorse in me for how I treated my parents. This visit was a pivotal event in my life and set me off to do some introspection of my own.

Over the next few months in the cell, and with support from various treatment groups, I began dissecting my life. Taking pen to paper, I begin to map out a timeline of my life. It would be the blueprint I needed to start putting things in perspective. Starting with my childhood, from my first memory to about the age of 12, I began to write. But I could feel the resistance in me pulling me away from those traumatic times, telling me  I was not ready. The tremendous pain I had anticipated reared its ugly face. How many times did I ask myself, “How much do I want to examine my past?,” “Do I want to face it?,” “Am I going to give up?” All the pain and suffering that I longed to forget. However, with encouragement and patience from my peers and counselors, a strong stirring of courage came forth as I prepared to examine my life.

With the timeline structure, which consisted of significant life events, I began to write. The majestic pen flowed fluidly onto those sheets of paper as I began to go in-depth about my childhood. My face grew cold with streaks pouring down as those floodgates burst open. All the suppressed emotions bottled up inside of me erupted into existence. As I wrote about certain events, my mind created vivid films that flooded from it’s memory bank, putting me in a trance-like state, reliving what once was…

It’s been a long day and here I am playing cops and robbers with my brothers and cousins. As the bright sun goes to sleep and darkness approaches, we all run inside the house. It’s crowded inside with adults conversing loudly. Karaoke music is blaring in the background. Us kids know to go to our rooms and not be seen. I take off my shoes and make my way through the litter of shoes on the floor. I walk past my father and hear him call out, “Meo come here!” With excitement and joy I go to my father. I have never sat with the grown-ups before. I sit on my fathers lap and he tells me to open my mouth. At that moment I could not be happier. I comply with his demand as he picks up a shot glass and begins pouring alcohol into my mouth. With great disgust I begin to spit it out and cough. A rise of laughter explodes in the room as I am still struggling to comprehend what is happening. I glance at my father and all I see is disappointment and contempt written on his face. My stomach drops as my chest tightens up. It hurts to see that expression on his face. All I want is his love and approval. My father says in a quiet, menacing tone, “Go in the room and do not come out.”     His anger is fire to my ears as it burns up any hopes of me pleasing him. I walk away with my head held low,  in shame and guilt.

That night, I tell myself the next opportunity that presents itself to please my father, I will do it without any dissatisfaction.

Over the next few weeks opportunities present themselves again and again. Each time I go to where the adults are and pick up a shot glass and drink the shot without making a face. My father smiles and pats me on the head. And those moments I feel valued and loved. I even brag about it to my brothers and cousins, until one day my mother sees me drinking from a shot glass and scolds and beats me. My father did not come to my aid; instead, he laughs like everyone else did. Overwhelmed with shame, humiliation, and confusion, I do not understand what I did wrong, I do not know how to please both my parents. Between my father and mother, I receive mixed messages. However, one thing is certain, there are things I can do with my father, only to keep it secret from my mother.

My childhood continued on like this for some time. But the traumas I experienced as a child were exacerbated by the constant moving to different homes and new schools. Almost every year I was the new kid at school. Having made friends only to let them go as soon as I made them left me feeling unstable and disoriented. I was a child surrounded by people, and, yet, on the inside, I felt so lonely. Those “Good-byes” hurt deeply and had me questioning, “Why?” I blamed this pain on my parents and thought they were the sole cause of my suffering. This pain was compounded by the physical and emotional abuse I experienced at home. I felt there was no safe haven in my life, nowhere that I truly belonged.

My parents disciplined me with a broomstick. The more I cried, the more punishment I received. This helped to affirm my belief that expressing my emotions was dangerous. When I spoke my mind to my parents it resulted in a quick slap to my face. Yes, the physical abuse I experienced was painful, but the real scars existed in the emotional realm. During my elementary school years I asked my parents to attend school events, such as talent shows, science fairs, parent-teacher conferences, and graduations. Every time the response was, “Why would we go?,” What for?,” or, “We don’t have time for that.” Those words cut deeper than any physical pain could have. It instilled insecurity and created a negative self image. I wondered what was wrong with me. I attended those events alone, watching other kids laugh and smile with their parents. I often asked myself, “Why couldn’t I have had different parents?,” or, “Why are my parents not like theirs?” After elementary school I stopped asking those questions that resulted in painful rejection.

The year is 1998 and I am nine years old. At this point in my life I was about to experience a most terrifying event. The day begins as usual, but as the sun sets I hear my parents arguing on the other side of the door. Curious about the insidious uproar, my brothers and I open the door to see what’s going on. I hear my father accuse my mother of cheating and of desiring to leave. She responds by agreeing that she is leaving him. Those few words that I hear put me in a state of shock. As their quarrel continued, the fury in my father’s eyes grew stronger. My mother sits there firm in her stance. I had seen them argue before, but never like this. I barely make sense of their words as the fear inside me grows. My father suddenly darts to the kitchen drawer and pulls out a knife. Time slows down before my eyes as I watch my father lunge toward my mother like a hungry predator. My mother reaches for his arm to stop him as my father spews evil words through clenched teeth. Struck with terror I am frozen in my tracks.

My entire life was shattered in that single moment.

I wanted to help my mother and plead for my father to stop. Yet, my legs wouldn’t move and sound evaded my lips. As I stand there petrified, my older brother rushes to our mother’s aid, grabbing our father’s arm, begging him to stop. My brother had done what I had wanted. But I was too afraid. My brother was a hero to me. This chaotic scenery plays out before me through a veil of watery curtains. My legs finally move, but in the opposite direction, as I retreat into the closet nearby. I sit there crying into my lap and hoping that all this is simply a nightmare. I tell myself that I am a coward, that I could have helped. The fear inside anchors me down and paralyzes all my motor functions. In the time I fall asleep and when I wake up, the nightmare seems to have ended.

The next day no one spoke of what happened the night before. I watch as my father packs his things and walks right out the door never saying a word. There is a sense of relief, confusion, and sadness. All I hear from my mother is that my no good father is leaving me and that he isn’t coming back.

In the following years, my family moved twice and I was left wondering what man my mother happened to be dating would become my step father. I watched as my mother had relationships with multiple men, and how each one tried to bribe me for my acceptance. I saw the power of the manipulative attitude I had come to embrace. It rewarded me with money and gifts. In the next couple of years I would rarely see my father and his side of the family. My small world consisted of only a handful of people. They were my two brothers, my mother, her boyfriend (s), and I. This small world grew when I moved to San Lorenzo.

I remember that first day at Bohannon Middle School as any other day, I had been the new kid so many times that the fear was familiar. It definitely wasn’t my first time feeling awkward and shy. A year went by and I started to feel stable at this new home. For once in my life I would stay in a home for more than four years. It was in this town that I would make life-long friends and make a connection with others that I never had before. It was here that I took the reins on my life. I spent more time with my friends than anyone else. With them I felt loved and valued. I felt like I belonged. The time I spent with my friends was an escape for me from what was really going on in my family. I was embarrassed to bring my friends over because, on occasion, my mother would be right there giving me the death stare. My friends feared my mother, but they would never know the fear and pain I kept deep inside. I was scared to let them know. I was scared to lose them. I was scared to be vulnerable. I wore a mask that was only visible to myself. No one else knew when it was on, or off.

The life I chose to live has been a mystery to many. For I was living a double life. One moment I was the morally upright person, playing out all the positive characteristics my role models had taught me. People around me admired and adored me for my positive acts. On paper I excelled in academics and it seemed that my parents’ dream for me would come true. What my parents were unaware of was the darker side of me. A more rebellious side that was only being compliant so that I could get what I wanted. Because of the lack of communication between us, my mother could never tell what was on my mind. All she saw were the grades I brought home. Grades were merely a tool for me to escape my mother’s ridicule. Only those closest to me saw glimpses of this darker being.

My right hand seems to be possessed by an unknown entity as I tried to write the next few lines. There is a voice inside me that tells me to stop. A most sinister voice that wants to prevent me from healing and accepting the truth. I struggle to continue writing about the birth of such darkness. There is a clear connection between my traumas and the choices I make. The inner demon deep in my internal inferno cries out in pain every time I express emotions. The two sides of me that have been battling for years lead to constant conflict in my values, goals, and beliefs. I stop the writing process and sit in meditation. With eyes closed, I watch as thoughts and feelings arise and fade away. A light of clarity shines through my mind as the demon inside me reveals it’s true form.

There is a young boy no older than nine years old cowering in a closet. The closer I approach the boy the more I notice an aura of anger, fear, and pain emanating in this empty space. Standing before the boy, he glares at me like a hungry wolf, I kneel down to meet his gaze. I see all the struggles he’s been through in those eyes, all the pain. This poor child has been with me for decades, and in moments of stress he lashes out at the world. Words flow from my mouth as I whisper, “What happened in your life was not okay, but you’re going to make it and know that I love you.” With open arms I embrace the pain ridden child with compassion. The last thing I hear are his soft cries and the touch of warm tears on my shoulder. All that hostile aura dissipates in an instant. Bringing my consciousness back to the present moment I notice the tears flowing, and my entire being radiates with peace. With a most invigorating life energy the pen begins to flow again.

In high school I did anything to gain my friends’ acceptance and love. At times it came at the expense of hurting others, whether it was physical fights that I justified my way through or hurtful words that I inflicted upon others. All I was concerned with was how to get others to notice me. My academics were satisfactory and because of that I gave myself permission to act out. I manipulated people to do what I wanted them to do, I used violence as a way to show my friends that I would do anything for them. In my mind I was their protector, not that cowardly kid hiding in a closet. I told myself this was my time to be the hero. Over time, my aggressive behavior became a habit. I became a bully. My aggression gave me the control I always desired, so I latched onto it as a primary tool to assert myself in uncomfortable situations. I had become what I believed I hated the most. Drunk with power and delusion, I lost my rationale. My ego was inflated by praises and affection that others heaped upon me. Unable to contain my selfish ego, I allowed it to run rampant. By the time I became a senior I thought I was the shit and did anything to prove it.

In 2007, I left home to go to college and lived in a home filled with friends. I was genuinely happy at this time in my life. I used every celebratory event as an excuse to drink and go wild. It got to the point where drinking became a norm every weekend. My problem was that I wanted to stand out in everything I did. So I chose to drink the most and to be the loudest. Yes, even in my college years, the child in me from years past was still making the decisions.

So I continued harming those around me with little or no awareness of their feelings. Alcohol gave me the confidence I lacked. It was another tool I used to gain what I desired. Alcohol and my aggression went hand in hand. It was easy to blame my belligerent acts on the booze. In college, I saw alcohol and drugs as a way to gain people’s acceptance. In times of alcohol-induced delusions, I felt invincible, like I was on top of the world. Anyone who challenged me or those I loved would be met with violence. In college I was involved in several fights. Fights in which I used the justification that I was only protecting my friends. My view became even more distorted when I was drunk. I perceived threats where there were done.

In 2009, my little cousin was beaten to death at a party that I told him I would not attend the night before this event. I told him I had work early in the morning. Before college our relationship was as tight as brothers, but it deteriorated over time due to my actions and a resulting lack of communication. I blamed myself for not being there, as the pain, guilt, and shame surrounded my life. I could not protect my own cousin in his time of need. What was more disheartening was the fact I never got to tell him how much I loved him, and how sorry I was for disappointing him. I was a coward, just like so many years ago. I hated this feeling and dove deeper into my addiction. I spoke little about my cousin and did not want to be around his family. I felt intense shame and guilt around them. The more I used substances the less I felt these unpleasant feelings. I could not picture enjoying life as much as I did without substances. My addiction was at an all-time high after graduating college. My success in life once again was a justification for my behaviors. Behaviors that would lead to a lifetime of suffering for so many people, and ultimately a tragic loss of life.

December 20th 2012 was a day for celebration and joy. It was my girlfriend’s and friends’ graduation. We all lived under one roof. The twelve of us were preparing for a celebratory day. I woke up that morning with excitement and anticipation. This day was also the day I was to again meet with my girlfriend’s parents. To deal with my anxiety I took a xanax pill and watered it down with a couple of beers. Filled with a false sense of confidence and bravado, I put on that mask with the belief that the intoxicants would somehow help me impress her parents.

As the day progressed, I drank more and more. The joy was everlasting for me and I did not want it to end. I had gone from partying at home, to going downtown bar hopping. At the after party, things got out of control. My friend and a fellow party goer got into an argument and had to be separated. In this moment I was triggered to do what I had done before to protect my friends, at least that’s what I told myself. All the emotions I was running from as a child came to mind. In response to such unpleasantness in a now-hostile environment, I chose to take control of the situation by using violence. Being inebriated only helped fuel the anger that masked my discomfort. My mind concocted a threat, as thoughts of hostility ran rampant. Compelled by those thoughts and the brewing, unpleasant emotions, I decided to take it upon myself to physically assault two people and murder another.

Suddenly, the pen in my hand stops. My mind starts recalibrating and evaluating all the suffering I have created. I asked myself, “How many more must continue to suffer because of my selfish and impulsive decisions?” My body and its entire existence trembles as I am overcome with remorse. I recall the sorrows of others during my murder trial. All their pain that was expressed before my very eyes and ears. I close my eyes to sit with all that suffering. An endless stream of water flows from my eyes as I drown myself in the pain of those I have hurt.

A mother who lost her son cries out in pain. The sound of her voice still vibrates within me as I sit here. One by one, those I hurt take center stage and express their pain. In that moment I see myself in the courtroom hanging my head down, filled with guilt and shame. I can still hear the words of those I hurt as their pain and sorrow lingers in my mind. I am aware of what is alive in me and I try to connect with the needs of those I have hurt. With a deep intake of breath, I feel the cold air enter my nostril gates as I take in all the suffering. A long extended exhale follows as compassion radiates for all those whom I have hurt, including myself. This was part of the healing process for me and, although there was a tremendous amount of distress, it was a process that I needed.

As I finish writing my story I feel completely depleted. A sense of relief is draped over my relaxed shoulders. All the reluctance and fear of writing about my childhood or harm I’ve caused others is being resolved. I feel an openness and sense of renewed strength in being vulnerable. The guilt and shame I felt in regards to dishonoring my family by writing is exiled. This journey of writing was a rollercoaster for me. I was finally letting go of all the suffering I held inside. I found a peaceful acceptance of my past. The web connecting my past with the strategies I chose in life to meet my needs were all prevalent. All of my pain was displayed on those sheets of paper. I knew at that moment that my next task would be to share my story with someone who supported my new lifestyle.

Who would have thought I would find the support I needed within these prison walls. In 2015, I was convicted of second degree murder. At that moment I thought I had lost everything and would spend the rest of my life in prison. The feeling of hopelessness was adamant concerning the prospect of perpetual imprisonment. To diminish that feeling I sought help from others who could show me how to change my distorted thinking. Looking back, prison has helped me change into a better person. I did not lose everything as I imagined, but gained more than I could have ever dreamed of. Sure, there were difficult times where I thought it would not be able to come out of it, but time and again these instances have proven themselves to be an opportunity for growth. As the layers used to disguise myself fall away, I begin connecting even more with my true self. The process of change was slow and arduous, but with faith I persevered. I saw who I really was and no longer live that double life. Day by day the dark side of me fades away as I embrace that inner child with love. I found happiness within myself and I steer clear of the egocentric lifestyle.

There was clarity in my life and understanding of the interconnectivity of all things. With such insight into my own life I no longer shunned that scared child from within. He was a part of me and we would work together. This allowed me to express myself in a healthy manner. In doing so, I received positive feedback from my peers. The fear of speaking up for myself became a distant memory. The child without a voice was now given one. I felt powerful and courageous in being vulnerable. My shift in perception happened gradually with every experience compounding the next. What I told myself and what I now believed in created that shift. Compassionate self-expression gave me the control I had always desired but without harming others. My life was finally changing for the better and in such an unpredictable environment. Surrounded by hardened men and violence, I found peace and support.

At times I can still hear my mother’s voice, telling me how failure was not an option. She ingrained in me that success and a purposeful life meant making a lot of money and having status. Everyone I grew up with thought the same for me, so I thought. I felt the pressure to be something I didn’t even know how to be. Recognizing the pain and suffering that this ideal brought me, I had to let it go. I have never not given up on my dreams, but they have changed. Success and purpose to me is no longer equated with monetary value or status. Failure to me was now an opportunity to adventure beyond what I knew and to explore regions of the unknown. After years of contemplation and meditation there was clarity for me. I asked myself, “What is more purposeful in life than making connections with others?,” “Could it be that the younger me from years ago was simply lacking connection?” The more I dove deeper into my own self the more answers revealed themselves. My lack of empathy, compassion, security, peace and balance had led to a tornado of feelings twisting inside me that expressed itself with destruction on the outside.

Living that double life was a delusion in which I myself created in hopes of achieving my parents dreams and to reside in my own desire of pleasure. All that was short-lived because it was a mask to cover up the pain. As the spiral of feelings erupted inside of me, that double life came crashing down. My life history and lifestyle foreshadowed what was to come in the future, but I refused to look at my own problems. Entrenched in my own denial I saw the world in a shaded veil. Prison allotted me the time and freedom to look at what I had avoided. My past was no longer a mystery, as the process of exposure was under way. Recognizing my denial and coming to peaceful acceptance of all the suffering I have experienced and created was the journey that shed light on my dark side.

I am finally ready to share these sheets of paper. I know it is the next step in progress for me. I share my experiences and insights with a group of fourteen. This proved to heighten my own sense of wellbeing and was an inspiration to others. Over time the people who heard my story multiplied in numbers as I became more confident in speaking about my life. My story helps create new connections with people and offers understanding to myself and those I have harmed. In every instance that I share my story I end with a quote that has a great impact on my life, “There is only one thing permanent in life, and that is change.” What a fickle thing life is. Pain and joy has become interdependent to me as I view the world through new lenses.

The dilapidated bridge that separated my mother and I for decades is now taking on a new and beautiful form.
Anthony “Ant”, 37

Anthony “Ant”, 37

As I sat before two people who would determine whether I was suitable for parole, I was reminded of the jury of twelve that sentenced me to 102 years to life for the murder of another human being, exactly twenty years ago. I was sixteen years old then. I have since received a commutation from Governor Jerry Brown that reduced my sentence from 102 years to life, to 19 years to life. 

Before I tell you about the Board’s most recent decision on Dec 17, 2020, I need to back up and share with you my first experience at my initial board hearing. At 33, I was very hyper during that hearing and I received a three year denial. This meant I would not have another suitability hearing until three years later. I was told to stay clean from write-ups during this three year period and I did not.  On July 27, 2020, I used a pay phone to call my mother without permission. Here is my justification on why I called her, I was at work all day, 14 hours straight, cleaning 10 cells where people had tested positive for Covid-19. Secondly, no San Quentin staff clean cells, it’s up to the inmates. I am part of a voluntary team who chooses to give back to the men in blue, to our community; if we don’t clean, no one will. Lastly, after a long day of stressful work, I wanted to use the phone to hear the comfort that comes from hearing a mother’s voice. 

Stress, anxiety, depression and hope were all with me, when I went before the Board this second time. At 10:30 am, I nervously sat at a computer in the hearing room. I had not slept in two nights. Thoughts were racing through my mind about the write-up I received six months earlier for calling my mom on the pay phone without permission. The first question they asked was, “Do you know why you were denied the first time you went before the board?” I answered, “Yes, because I engaged in criminal thinking in 2015.” I felt entitled and impulsive, when caught using a cellphone. They wanted to know why I again used a phone without permission. I owned it and did not try to hide the truth. Both commissioners asked question after question after question about the second write-up, beating me up with their words.  

“Do you know how different this hearing would have been had you not had a write-up?” They asked. “Yes” I said. These two officials had so much power over me, I felt like I was failing and not representing myself. I wanted to point out that although I did get on the phone without permission, I was no longer a criminal. Before, I didn’t give a damn about rules and regulations. But today I do. For me to be a criminal nowadays is something that is disrespectful towards humanity, and today I appreciate humanity. I am not a criminal.

At this subsequent hearing, the commissioner told me it’s his job to make sure that my getting on the phone was not indicative of a pattern of criminal behavior. The questions felt so hard, maybe because I knew I screwed up by getting written-up. They asked about my crime and why I did it. I told them I wanted to be tough so I’d get praise from my peers in order to feel validated. And then he switched back to questioning me about the write-up, the phone call to my mom. 

I stood my ground, trying to show him who I was then, and who I am now. I felt intimidated. Small.

My intern did a great closing and I ended by saying I wanted to honor my victims. The commissioners went into deliberation for about ten to fifteen minutes. I talked to my attorney and thought I might get a split decision. But I trusted God. As much as I screwed up, I had to trust God. 

When the commissioners returned, one said he didn’t agree with my attorney that the phone write-up was not a connection to my crime.  He said that, by getting on the phone, it was a direct connection to the murder I committed at sixteen. I put my head down.

Then he said, however, based on the support letters I received from staff showing maturity, he saw my growth and believed the phone was just a bad decision. He also mentioned the fact that my honesty and acceptance of the facts was very important. Next, he said they had found me suitable for parole, that I did not pose an unreasonable risk to society. Everything else was a blur. I mean, wow! Two years ago I had 102 years to life. And now I might be going home. Who would have thought? But then there is my faith in God: that miracles can and do happen. When all else seemed impossible, my prayer was answered with the stroke of a whispered “Trust in God.” In that last-gasp moment of hope a sentence that began with 102 years to life just vanished into thin air.

Tommy Lee, 51

Tommy Lee, 51

My Name is Tommy Lee and I am currently residing at Sterling Correctional Facility in Colorado. I have served nearly fourteen years on a 32-year sentence and I grew up in the Berkeley Neighborhood, on the North Side of Denver. As with many life stories, mine is complex and could fill volumes. When you google me, you won’t find a full description of what I am passionately pursuing today. You will find legitimate productivity and a more law-abiding individual than the person I used to be. For most of my life I have been a violent, terrible screw up. You will not get full disclosure on everything I had done, but you will find a pretty serious collection of events that seem as if they belong in an action movie featuring criminals and their daily struggles.

Raised by my biological mother’s aunt and uncle, because my mom was only a child, herself, at the age of thirteen, when I was born. I was loved by these folks. I called them mom and dad, and they were very lenient. Don’t get it wrong, I’m not trying to say that it’s their fault I turned out the way I did. In their own way, they did try to raise me right—I was just such a hardheaded, strong-spirited little turd that nothing stuck. When I would get in trouble and receive a beating or end up locked in the bathroom with no light or supper (and listen, before someone goes calling Social Services, I’ve got to point out that this was the 70s and my parents were born in the 30s; it was a different time and disciplinary strategies were not the same as today), I’d make sure my next screw up was ten times worse because if I was gonna have to pay for it, I was going to make sure it was worth the punishment. Take this attitude and pit it against two people who were in their 50s and had raised two sons twenty years before I came along–then is it any wonder?

Punishment was completely abandoned and their strategy had become one of trying to reason with and guide me away from wrong choices. But, since they loved me so and could not see their adopted son suffer, they actually hid me from authorities and attempted to cover my wrongdoings when I was adamant about being the Antichrist. Imagine being a God-fearing redneck, born in Tennessee during the depression and raised in Kentucky, with a third-grade education because you have worked your whole life for an honest dollar, living in a Denver trailer court, raising a little heathen like me. I put this man through hell. Stealing from him and mom. The smell of pot coming from my room. Sometimes twenty to thirty of us would be in my room having a keg-party. Many others would often stop by outside my window. I would disappear for weeks on end before returning home. I had dropped out of school by the eighth grade because I had warrants for my arrest. Mom and dad helped me avoid being picked up by the police by sending away for the proper papers to change my identity to my given name at birth.

By the time I was sixteen, I exchanged gunfire with a Denver Police Officer. Since the cop entered through a window, it never became much of anything, but on the heels of this incident, my old identity and probation record caught up with me. I returned to probation, but with my age being what it was, I actually beat them out of a year’s time because I would only have to serve until I was eighteen. It was the 80s, what can I say? As a condition of returning to probation, I did have to serve ten days in Adams County Detention Center. Other than fourteen days in Gilliam’s Hall (thirteen spent in medical because of the beating I received from a bunch of gangbangers who knew each other and did not know me), this time in ACDC was all the juvenile time I ever did.

At eighteen, I ended up in Jefferson County Jail, facing aggravated robbery from a convenience store stickup when I was seventeen. Dad came to see me once during the six months. He sat there and cried during that visit. This was the second time I had ever seen tears come from those eyes. When I was nine years old, my uncle’s eldest son was shot and killed at the age of twenty-five. Basically, seeing me in jail was just as heartbreaking for him as the premature death of his son; that’s why he simply couldn’t handle a second visit. Again, I got probation but this time it was an eight-year suspended sentence courtesy of the Department of Corrections. I violated that probation about a year later while being caught outside after the curfew set by my PO, and for being in possession of a .357 revolver.

Young, first time in prison, 165 pounds,  6’1”. Yeah, I was intimidating. I was sent to ‘Gladiator School’ where I ended up gangbanging with the best of them. Insecure and scared, I spent most of my time proving myself by working out and fighting. The other whiteboys liked that about me, and even though they thought my straight edger, no drug policy was a little odd, the majority of them partook in the drug culture that I had abandoned years before, the fighting made me an acceptable individual within their structure.

Since 1989 I have been in and out of prison on numerous occasions. Each incident stemming from a robbery, even though I was not charged with robbery every time. Possession of a fully automatic machine-gun, attempted murder in the first degree (dropped to first degree assault),  and aggravated robbery. The last two run-ins ended in shoot-outs with the police, with the first incident leading to my being shot four times, while the second episode concluded when a K-9 police dog latched onto my biceps.

This time back in custody, I have done the longest stretch yet. I’ve been locked up for about fourteen years on a thirty-two-year sentence. I had been in for about a year before a pretty violent assault landed me in administrative segregation. Most of you probably know this as “solitary confinement,” or, “The Hole.” During my four and a half years locked down, I did some serious soul-searching. There really isn’t much else to do being locked in a 6’ X 8’ X 14’ cell twenty-three hours a day, with the remaining hour split between an exercise room the same size as this cell, small shower room and no outside time at all.

The thing is, they have got something for you when you act up—you cannot beat them this way. During a cell extraction (when the COs have to enter a cell by force to remove an inmate). I was bound so tightly with my arms behind my back that I couldn’t move them. This resulted in permanent shoulder damage because I was left in such restraint for fifteen hours straight. To this day the physical damage from that binding affects me worse than being shot four times and operated on. Yes, a person can become permanently hurt in these situations, and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing we can do about it because there is a labyrinth of bureaucracy that protects all the extreme and unneeded measures taken. Sure, I could let it all turn me bitter and resentful, and, yes, I have been very angry at the Colorado Department of Corrections, CDOC, staff and administration, the world in general and myself. Mostly, though, I have found that I was angry at myself. CDOC had all the reasons they needed to respond to their necessary extremes based on the way I continued to act.

Imagine being a God-fearing redneck, born in Tennessee during the depression and raised in Kentucky, with a third-grade education because you have worked your whole life for an honest dollar, living in a Denver trailer court, raising a little heathen like me. I put this man through hell.

LIfe for us wasn’t getting any better no matter what we did or where we lived. We went on welfare and I moved into the projects. Our new place now nurtured every defect, addiction, distorted belief and poor coping skills we all had. My three years in the projects, I suffered so much more abuse, mostly at the hands of my mother. She would beat me and my brothers with sticks, a belt and a horse whip. Violence had become normal and automatic behavior at home.

By 13, I had become a full blown drug addict, my mom had abandoned her post as a mother, leaving us boys to find our own way. This crushed my self esteem. I hated my life, and who I was. I  didn’t fit in at school, and believed that every kid at school saw me as I saw myself, a poor, dirty kid with a drug addicted mom who nobody loved, and had no worth. I just wanted to be someone else. That year is when I drank my first beer.

It numbed everything…allowing me an escape from the pain I kept internalizing. The moment of that realization, I fell in love with alcohol, it became the only thing I wanted.

In high school, I should have been doing good,studying, getting good grades and playing sports. But instead I began hanging around the neighborhood gang more, searching for acceptance and approval—a place to belong, to be needed. Since I felt I couldn’t get any of that from home, I got it from my gang. I got their respect through violent, anti-social behavior that contributed to a false image. I found my way to be somebody else. I made others fear me, like I was afraid of my father, my uncle and mom.

At 15, I was expelled from high school, I was drinking everyday to the point where I couldn’t function without it. I kept all my worth wrapped up in my false image. The neighborhood gang became my family and all I cared about. My home had become my mom’s drug house as I would watch her drug friends come in and out of my house all hours of the night. The amount of pain, shame, stress and frustration was overwhelming at times and it was what I walked out my front door with to face the world each day. I took all that hurt and shaped it into my anger and rage because that was the only emotion I knew how to express and wasn’t afraid to. I remember having all extreme emotions within me and feeling I had nowhere to put them. What happened is I exploded on others, transferring all that pain violently to them.

I was a hurt person who hurt people which brought more shame into my life. Within my environment my behavior was always met with approval and validation with little to no consequences.

Rocky, 43

Rocky, 43

My name is Rocky, I’m 43 and have spent the last 22 years in prison for murder. 

This is my story.

I was born in 1977 in the bay area to an Italian mother and Irish and English father. My early memories were great. I felt happy, loved, safe and hopeful, when I turned seven things shifted, a lot of drinking and arguing began. It became more and more frequent, until it reached an explosion when my father threw my mom through a screen door. It was at that moment that my innocence ended. My dad left us shortly after that. Since then It was just my mom, two brothers, and I. All the feelings of happiness, love and safety were gone; in their place was fear, hurt, shame, confusion, and a continuous sense of rejection. We became homeless, and had to move to a shelter. After being in the shelter for a long time my uncle took us in. 

I didn’t know it but my uncle was very violent, to everyone. He threw me against a wall, beat me with a bat, just for asking why he reset a video game, or for stepping on a flower. The pain devastated me physically and emotionally. I kept asking myself why am I being beaten like this, why is my mom allowing it, what did I do, where’s my dad, but most of all, what’s wrong with me? I never found out why.

By the time I left, I was a 10-year-old kid who had developed a very violent belief system; the only way to communicate, to get my needs met was through violence. There was a fuel tank inside me filled with repressed, unprocessed pain and trauma from  abandonment, abuse, and feeling unwanted by everyone. Because the pain came at the hands of my family, I believed I couldn’t trust them, I became withdrawn and felt I had to protect myself.

Today I am no longer a hurt person who hurts people. I am now a healed person who heals people. I know my story can never start over, I can never take back what I did, but maybe, just maybe it can prevent this from being somebody else’s tragic story…

LIfe for us wasn’t getting any better no matter what we did or where we lived. We went on welfare and I moved into the projects. Our new place now nurtured every defect, addiction, distorted belief and poor coping skills we all had. My three years in the projects, I suffered so much more abuse, mostly at the hands of my mother. She would beat me and my brothers with sticks, a belt and a horse whip. Violence had become normal and automatic behavior at home. 

By 13, I had become a full blown drug addict, my mom had abandoned her post as a mother, leaving us boys to find our own way. This crushed my self esteem. I hated my life, and who I was. I  didn’t fit in at school, and believed that every kid at school saw me as I saw myself, a poor, dirty kid with a drug addicted mom who nobody loved, and had no worth. I just wanted to be someone else. That year is when I drank my first beer. 

It numbed everything…allowing me an escape from the pain I kept internalizing. The moment of that realization, I fell in love with alcohol, it became the only thing I wanted. 

In high school, I should have been doing good,studying, getting good grades and playing sports. But instead I began hanging around the neighborhood gang more, searching for acceptance and approval—a place to belong, to be needed. Since I felt I couldn’t get any of that from home, I got it from my gang. I got their respect through violent, anti-social behavior that contributed to a false image. I found my way to be somebody else. I made others fear me, like I was afraid of my father, my uncle and mom. 

At 15, I was expelled from high school, I was drinking everyday to the point where I couldn’t function without it. I kept all my worth wrapped up in my false image. The neighborhood gang became my family and all I cared about. My home had become my mom’s drug house as I would watch her drug friends come in and out of my house all hours of the night. The amount of pain, shame, stress and frustration was overwhelming at times and it was what I walked out my front door with to face the world each day. I took all that hurt and shaped it into my anger and rage because that was the only emotion I knew how to express and wasn’t afraid to. I remember having all extreme emotions within me and feeling I had nowhere to put them. What happened is I exploded on others, transferring all that pain violently to them.

I was a hurt person who hurt people which brought more shame into my life. Within my environment my behavior was always met with approval and validation with little to no consequences. 

Over the next few years I continued in this downward spiral. My depression deepened especially after witnessing the murder suicide of my best friend at the time. 

One night I couldn’t take the pain anymore; and would transmit an eruption of it onto a man named Leo badly hurting him, but  justifying it by telling myself what he deserved for selling drugs to my mother. I was sent to Pittsburg, PA the next day; to be watched over by the love and support of my aunt Nancy. I found myself discovering my potential as I made the honor roll as a high school senior and being scouted by the Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team. 

Yet, I was 19, silently suffering, unable to put behind me where and what I came from. I was being shown the light of the greatness life had to offer but I was uncomfortable in it. I was tragically more comfortable in chaos. I left all that goodness, all that great family, healthy love and support, baseball career, endless possibilities for a life of drugs, alcohol, resentments, violence, unhealthy false love and acceptance. I thought it was the only place I belonged. Looking back it’s heartbreaking. A tragic choice I made, one I would come to regret.

Back in California, my addictions were still more powerful than I could control. I tried to do right but had no clue how. Everything I was wanting to do I was failing at. I needed help but my messed up beliefs wouldn’t allow me to ask. On May 7th 1998 after a chain of stressful events that had me on a downward sliding path of hopelessness and depression. I feel into my disgusting, horrific pattern of behavior,  looking to release my pain and frustration onto someone else. That night, my poor life choices led me to an innocent man who lost his life as I brutally assaulted him, letting out an entire life’s worth of pain, causing his death and a lifetime of pain and suffering on his entire family.

I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. After many years of avoiding everything, trying to hide from my shame, the reality of what I did with drugs, alcohol, gangs and criminal behavior hit home. Realizing how I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, gave me the strength to face what I did and take responsibility. 

When that moment came, it changed my life. I had a consultation with a deputy commissioner who with his words removed the last bit of denial I had left. I dove into self help, made myself sit in the fire and felt what the man I murdered must have gone through at my hands. It brought me to my knees, my empathic gate burst open and I cried. I thought of his family and all the pain and suffering I caused them and still cause them today, and again it shook me. Since then I have worked tirelessly to get to the core of my anger, rage and violence which was all that unprocessed pain, fear, shame, addictions and resentments I carried. I was able to address it and let go and get sober.

Today I love myself, love sobriety, have a healthy self-esteem, and returned to my authentic self. By the grace of God I am back on the path to being the man God intended me to be. My remorse for what I did, the life I took, and what I put his family through is the driving force for my change.  What drives me everyday is to be of service and live a non-violent life of love, compassion and forgiveness. Today,  I am a facilitator for our youth, I use my past in hopes to show them where their poor choices can lead. I do all I can to show them a different way, how to face and heal their pain and shame. I find my greatest joy in helping these young men as I see myself in all of them. I teach them how to ask for help, use different tools than violence, drugs and alcohol, to learn how to manage their emotions, develop healthy communication and coping skills, to be pro-social, things I wished I learned to do.   

Kevin, 57

Kevin, 57

Here on Death Row we have our own visiting room called ‘East Gate Visiting Room.’ We also have cages inside San Quentin’s mainline visiting room where we can visit on the days that our East Gate Visiting room is closed. This picture of me inside a cage  is one of those cages inside the San Quentin Mainline visiting room.

I have been in prison since I was twenty years old, I’ve never been married, no kids either. Yet, I am a self-proclaimed artist, poet, short story writer, philosopher, Christian and preacher. I began my fall to prison by freebasing cocaine. It completely ruined me. It took away my moral compass and made me into a Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde. People who argue others use cocaine and don’t do what I did—but they don’t consider how complex people are. Everybody who drives drunk does not crash. Everybody who gets slapped or punched does not feel a mandatory act of revenge/retaliation is necessary. Three people can grow up in the same house and one ends up famous and rich, one ends up doing life in prison, and one ends up dead. There is no saying that someone like me, who used cocaine and had it ruin my life, is inherently different than someone who uses cocaine and it does not ruin their life. I’m deeply sad I ever committed crimes and am equally sad I ever used cocaine. Some things you can’t repay once you take them, but a thief who apologizes for stealing is better than a thief who lies and says he has done no wrong. One is honest and ashamed of stealing, while the other is unremorseful and possibly a committed die-hard thief.

When I first got arrested on my death penalty crimes, back in 1984, I had a few different girlfriends at the time. I did a bit of letter writing in those times; I discovered I had a knack for writing poetry. At first it was all love poetry—and all rhythmic/rhyme type poetry. Later I began to write poetry about all kinds of topics, and different forms including sonnets, in various forms or anagrams especially anagram poetry using a person’s name vertically upright so that the letters of the name are the first letters in the words of each sentence of the poem. I also began to write some poems that do not rhyme.

I had a knack for doodling in my letters which grew into the really extensive type of mixed media artwork I do now. This is where my drawings and poetry came up together. I’ve made countless greeting cards for holidays, but mostly love cards which all had my original drawings and original poetry. In those times I was not as christian based as I am now and many greeting cards were X-rated. I sold a lot of greeting cards for years, and that’s the only money I’ve ever made from my poetry. I entered poetry contests which turn out to be the type of contests where you don’t win but they want to use your poems in books that they sell even to you that you get no proceeds from. I imagine my poetry appears in at least one or more such books. I honestly do not know how many poems I have written. I have been writing them off and on since the mid 1980s. I’m sure I’ve written hundreds of poems. Though I remember the name of a few, the only one I know by heart is the first one I wrote, titled, “Patience Is A Virtue”. The only reason I  remember it so well is because it was my first. Even though it’s a rhyming poem, it resonated with me like it was something special. It made me feel like I was unique  and articulate with words because of how it sounded reading the rhymes about love aloud. I sent the poem to my girlfriends, used it in greeting cards I’ve sold and shared it with many people—the only poem, of the hundreds I wrote and never kept a copy of, I know completely by memory is “Patience Is A Virtue”…


A poem by Kevin

They say that patience is a virtue,

There are such long nights I spend without you.

There is not a minute of the day you don’t cross my mind,

My love, in short, I think of you all the time.

Wanting a needing you as I do,

Makes the days longer that I ensue.

The minutes on the clock slowly fade,

An hour or a day is like a decade.

Each day and each week the waiting persists,

And to think of you is torture I cannot resist.

How much longer will I wait I wonder,

For my wants and needs to have turned to hunger.

Every time I think of you,

I think of the sadder things that time can do.

Once we regain time on our side,

We will take each other to the highest highs.

I’m hoping that day won’t be too far,

When I’ll join you my love wherever you are.

We will laugh, we will cry, and then we will kiss,

And do all the things together we both so miss.

We will talk about how things were with me,

We will picnic under a shady tree.

We will talk about how things were with you,

And eat peanuts and candy at the county zoo.

The most important things to me,

Are that I’m with you and that I’m free.

So keep in your mind that day anticipating,

The day we will spend no longer waiting.

They say patience is a virtue,

Soon I will be with you.

Patience and love, are two of many philosophies I’ve woken up to while I’ve been on Death Row. Every person should want to be the best person they can be no matter how the world may pull and tug us in negative directions. The world is going to come at us sideways sometimes, so we have to combat that by taking a proactive approach to contributing things to our inner good that ends up affecting our outwardly good and tolerance towards others.

During my time on Death Row I have written a bunch of short stories. I’ve written using such topics as a man’s experiences traveling across country on a greyhound bus, a slavery story, a western, a futuristic Sci-fi with  a giant space station the size of a city, etc, etc. My short stories are usually 5 to 50 pages in length. It’s been a long time since I wrote a short story. I have never sold nor even published any of my short stories. I usually write them and just give them to someone, like my friends or the fellas here with me. I could write a whole book on everybody I’ve known who passed away in the years I have been in custody. Losing anybody in prison who made life more cool in this messed up kind of way to live, and it’s a big loss…but a story I will remember forever.

I made a key for you all reading my story so that we can all know how close I was to some of these folks.




✳ Freaky Pete was like a pawn shop, you could buy or sell anything through Freaky. If you were bored he could tell you a million crazy stories that were really true about his life. Bad health problems.

✳  Taco was one of my basketball buddies. While I was away in Los Angeles on appeal he died. Heart Attack on Basketball court

✳  Ronnie Bell had some porn subscriptions he shared with me. That was before they took all the porn magazines out of prison and I started doing the christian thing. After his daughter got killed,  he changed and got really sick and never recovered from losing her. Bad Health Issues

✳  Stag was a friend I knew in L.A. County jail during my appeal. I never met nobody like Stag, he was cool. A diehard Crip. he knew everybody. He loved his daughter and the Raiders football team. He would give the shirt off his back to anybody—a straight out thug though. He died from bad health.

✳  Old Folks; This guy was a good friend to just about everybody. His last months of life he was in a cell about 10 cells away from me. It surprised me greatly that he was in his cell instead of a hospital. This dude was really, really cool and always a friend to me for many years. He really suffered a lot of pain, dying from Cancer.

✳  Wilbur was an old guy who still played basketball with us. He had a filthy mouth and was just fun to be around. He died of old age while he was out to court on appeal.

✳  Cuba was a basketball buddy of mines, a chess playing buddy of mines, and someone fun to talk to and kick it with. His health had been on the decline—almost all of us on Death Row including me caught that Coronavirus, but people like Cuba with declining health did not survive it. It was 20 or 30 Death Row inmates altogether who died of Covid-19 I think.

✔ Slim served time in California Death Row but got sent to another state where he also had Death Sentence. Slim was a basketball buddy—I enjoyed shooting basketball with him. He always had a perm he took real good care of, like James Brown. Slim got executed there in that other state.

✔  Sam and I went all the way back to L.A. county jail 8 man cell days, before we ended up on Death Row. Sam kinda lost his mind a little after coming to Death Row, but was still real cool, not a threat to your health to be around. Killed accidentally by prison guards on Death Row with too much pepper spray.

✔  Baby Kelsie: It blew me away when Baby Kelsie died. He had bought some of my greeting cards I made that same week. Bro had a fly perm and was one of the buffest muscle-bound dudes on Death Row. Suicide.

✔  Mario was a real cool Blood gang member that I knew from High Power high security area in Los Angeles county jail before he and I ended up on Death Row. We used to be in chess playing tournaments for money back in our Los Angeles county jail high power days. Drug overdose.

✔  J.D.  seemed like a happy-go-lucky dude. I was surprised to learn he took a bunch of pills. I talked with him on the yard a bunch of times—played basketball with him too.  Suicide.

✔  Tales Of The Crypt Suicide. Tales Of The Crypt got this name in jesting that he looked like the Tales Of The Crypt guy. I spoke with him about christian stuff, and even had one of my christian aunts write him—was surprised to hear he suffocated himself with a plastic trash bag. Suicide.

✔  Tom was a Vietnam vet. A real cool mellow white dude. He was one of the first one’s put to death when California started back executing people. Tom was one of the one who got put to death by gas—a torturesome process of breathing in ammonia laced with cyanide. Executed.

✔  Pride was hard like Stag, but Pride is from Northern California. Pride used the weights on the exercise yard like lifting weights was his religion. He was an alright dude though. I think we lost the privilege of having weights on the yard right before or right after Pride died. I always associate him with those weights in my mind. Shot & killed by prison guards during a fight.

⭕  Tookie Williams: Big Tookie was HUGE. I don’t bang, but grew up in Los Angeles in mostly Crip areas. I got to shoot basketball a few times with Tookie and was on the yard with him a few years. I’ve found him to be cool and the integrity of the yard and the yard’s mentality was mellow when he was here. Executed.

⭕  Lado: A latino gang member I knew in Los Angeles county jail during my death penalty appeal. He was a high ranking gang member but he treated me cool and called me by name. Drug Overdose.

⭕  Steven. Just like Old Folks, around the same time as Old Folks had his cancer, Steven had his cancer in a cell almost right above Old Folks. Steven was one of my best friends, so that made Steven cool with me. Cancer.

⭕  Malcom was the oldest black guy on my yard. He was Muslim, and cool to talk to. Old Age – Bad Health.

⭕  Richard “The Night Stalker”: Yes, this is the Night Stalker. I met him in the Hole when we both were there. I at that time was in my Super Christian Era and even talked to Richard about believing in Christ’s salvation. Drug Overdose.

Every person should want to be the best person they can be no matter how the world may pull and tug us in negative directions.

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