James, 64

James, 64

Meet James…

She said, “Write, write everyday.” I took her advice and it’s taken me on quite a journey. A year’s worth of my daily journal writing was posted by Cornell University on their website, I have a stack of poetry I’ve written and a couple have even been published.

James, 64
Incarcerated: 15 years
Housed: Corcoran State Prison, California

I don’t even know the person’s name who had a huge impact on my life. I found myself in a prison cell with little more than some writing materials and a book with contact information for colleges and universities from all across the country. I can’t say with any accuracy how many letters I sent out requesting an old text book that may be outdated or getting ready to be discarded. Out of the stacks of letters I sent out, I received one response. It came from someone in the English Department at the University of San Francisco. This person sent me three brand new textbooks on creative writing and poetry. I had written in my requests, that I wanted to turn my prison cell into a classroom. She responded along with the textbooks, with a note saying that she hoped these books would help, and offered her advice… she said, “Write, write everyday.” I took her advice and it’s taken me on quite a journey. A year’s worth of my daily journal writing was posted by Cornell University on their website, I have a stack of poetry I’ve written, a couple have even been published, I’ve been asked to write pieces for a couple prisoner advocacy publications, as well as earning an AA degree in Fine Arts, graduating with highest honors. All this and more developed from the kind heart of someone I don’t even know, almost 15 years ago. Her KWD started me on my journey of recovery and rehabilitation. She changed my life, and I’m continuously thankful to her.

Ebony, 30

Ebony, 30

Meet Ebony…

I prove to people left and right, that I am not a “danger to society” they have labeled me with. Going back to school, training dogs and by holding a job, I am proving I am a member of society.

Ebony, 30
Incarcerated: 9.5 years
Housed: Topeka Correctional Facility, Kansas

Young and wild with no cares and no worries. That was me about 9 ½ years ago. At the age of 21, I got charged with first degree felony murder in Wichita, Kansas. Doing me, not knowing any better, and loyalty had gotten the best of me. Just when I had wanted to turn my life around and do better than the gang and drug life, my life had gotten ripped right out of the good life. I was going to school, I had my own place and was working two jobs, it meant nothing in the courtroom. My family was devastated. Never in their life time did they think any of their children would go to prison, less alone to get accused of murder. Long story short, I have turned my life around even more. I prove to people left and right, that I am not a “danger to society” they have labeled me with. Going back to school, training dogs and by holding a job, I am proving I am a member of society. The saying goes, “Tough times never last but tough people do.”

Khiem, 41

Khiem, 41

Meet Khiem…

Through art I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way.

Incarcerated: 11 years

I have a son named Jason. Being a father who is far away, I needed to find a way to connect to my son. When I got locked up, he was nearly two. On his second birthday, I wanted to send him a card. I told myself I would learn how to draw so I could draw for him and everyone who supports me out there. I found that drawing was not only helping me build our relationship, It was also a way to express my emotions, a productive way to spend my time and it helped me focus and I’ve learned to be patient. It turned into a therapy which took me out of prison. I draw flowers, birds, koi fishes, and Spiderman, my son’s favorite superhero. I am also helping him to express his feelings through art. I could confidently say we finally found a common ground that we can talk about whenever I call home. Today, I would like to share my story and my little drawing. I hope by my sharing, it will help lift people up and help them find peace. I drew for peace in Ukraine, tensions in Southeast Asia, etc. I want to wish the world a peaceful moment. I was the kid who was growing up after the war. I’ve experienced that path and I had to move to a whole different country. I left behind everything and struggled for a new life. So peace is what I wish for, not only in the world, but for all of us incarcerated, who live in a negative environment. The blossom flowers represent a better life, better moments under the moonlight, under the darkest times. Even if the flower could blossom under the moonlight, so do we- right! 

Thank you for asking me to write and thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my feelings. I would say expressing feelings through art is one of the most powerful, positive ways which I wish I could have learned a long time ago (before I committed my crime). Through art I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way.

Through drawing I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way. He is now 13 and interesting in cooking, I am glad he found something positive to do and help cope with his daily problems.

Melissa, 42

Melissa, 42

Meet Melissa…

Family is everything and time is precious with them.

Melissa, 42
Incarcerated: 24 years
Housed: Albemarle Correctional Institute, NC

I was born and raised in Hawaii. A very peaceful place that didn’t have racism, social classes, or what’s in and what’s not in school. When the military moved us to North Carolina, they needed my dad, my parents said, “What fun!” I felt like he was taking me from all I knew and loved, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and animals! No matter how many times I tried to hide in my closet, he found me and so off we moved with my siblings and mother. It was a culture shock. I became an introvert and decided to figure life out by myself. That’s when I found Lisa Frank stickers and fell immediately in love with them. I was in 5th grade and in my young mind I believed that by her stickers I’d learn how life works. I went by those stickers to teach me how to fit in. It wasn’t until sometime in middle school that my mind was totally blown and I found out those Lisa Frank stickers lied to me. I thought that all cats were girls and all dogs were boys and when they got together and had babies they would have both cats and dogs in their litter. I found out all this was a lie when one of my friends told me his dog gave birth to a litter of 6 puppies! I was like, “What!!! there’s girl dogs too?!?!” I figured from that point on I needed to ask more questions instead of trying to figure things out myself. I was incarcerated at 18, a year after highschool. At 42, I still love Lisa Frank but know that life can only be learned by living it and doing your best and never give up, no matter what life may throw your way. Family is everything and time is precious with them.

Rebekah, 41

Rebekah, 41

Meet Rebekah…

My daughter is my role model, woman, sister, adult, even though she has no kids, she’s my parent at times.

Rebekah, 41
Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: McPherson Unit, Newport, Arkansas

The hood behind the walls.

From childhood into adulthood. From womanhood into parenthood. At 41, I am once again, behind these walls. The years I can’t get back are gone. My daughter is my role model, woman, sister, adult, even though she has no kids, she’s my parent at times. She stuck by me praying and helping. The one I call in my hood, when I need advice. The one who never abandoned me, as I did her as a child. 

This time these walls talk to me and have shown me the hoods. In one way or another it’s the hood to us all. This year is finally not wasted. All the things I never grew to know all these years. It can be the ghetto, where you learn to be bad. Or it can grow life, teaching us all the hoods. From childhood, adulthood, womanhood, motherhood. With the help of the hood and a special woman I look up to, my daughter, Kalie. This time I found life in the Hood.

Michael, 40

Michael, 40

Meet Michael…

We were called to love one another to value others more than ourselves.

Michael, 40
Incarcerated: 4 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison

It was another beautiful sunny day in Southern California that turned dark real quick. I am a father to three handsome boys Isaac, Ethan and Andrew. I am a happily married man of fifteen years to a beautiful woman named, Marissa. I was active in my church, our community and a manager at Costco. Unfortunately, I am also the reason for that dark day four years ago. My reckless actions and my selfish choice to disregard the lives of everyone else on the road that day, took the life of a fellow brother in Christ. Officer Steve was the victim of my conscious disregard for others. The impact of my decision to drink and drive created a ripple effect felt by his family, his friends, my family and those in our community. I pray daily that God’s saving grace, His manifested mercy and love has poured into the hearts of those victimized by my premeditated choice, to take my keys after four hours of drinking, and put them into the ignition. I know I don’t deserve God’s grace for the pain and suffering I caused. I do believe God’s grace changes people so we can do good works. Because of this unmerited gift do I have comfort, strength, love and support to get through each day. He alone can bring out prisoners, those who sit in darkness, and free us from the bondage of our sins. He gives me opportunities to exhibit grace daily, by educating many, that drinking and driving is not normal. It is like playing Russian Roulette, except your car is the gun, you are the bullet and everyone else is the target. The more you do it, someone will get hurt. Don’t let that be a choice you make or you too can take a life. I am writing to help raise awareness. I appreciate the many opportunities we have to speak on our crimes and our actions. I see the Humans of San Quentin as one of the platforms for the incarcerated to reach out to the free community. I knew little about the system and those incarcerated but it is good to bring an education to others. I hope the stories leave the readers feeling that we are people rehabilitating, maturing and gaining an understanding of the choices that put us in here. A humanness factor to the facade of a prisoner.