Sarah, 37

Meet Sarah…

“She was a more sophisticated, stoic type of woman. She wouldn’t have to be loud or speak anything really; her presence alone demanded attention and respect. You wouldn’t second guess it. She installed in me a type of quality of how to carry myself as a woman. Even though I could be animated or rambunctious, even obnoxiously loud at moments, she used to chastise me. She could be so stern, ‘You know we’re not about that. I love you unconditionally; that’s natural. However, do I like you acting like that? Absolutely not!’ It turned her off, but in some moments she’d crack up and laugh because her sense of humor is a bit much. 

Her love was unconditional, so I didn’t know how much of an impact I’ve caused during my teenage years or that rebellion stage. On one of the visits that I had with my mom, once again, my sister was with her and I spoke to my sister after the visit, and she explained to me that mommy broke down crying, putting your mail in the mailbox. Publicly she’s not a scene maker so everyone knows that she’s suffering or going through pain. She was very well at masking that, and that broke me. That broke my heart so much. And still, in all, knowing that it broke my heart to hear it, to know that I’ve caused pain in my family. I still wasn’t too connected with how much of an impact I’ve caused for not just my family members but with my community and my friends. Up to this day, I talk to my friends and they reach out to me, and they’re like, ‘What you did changed my life, my journey. You know, I’m married, I’ve got kids.’

Another thing about my mom: she came to one of my visits, and I started getting misty-eyed and emotional a little bit. She was like, please don’t do that. I complained about what my son was wearing. He was about three or four at the time, and he had a pair of corduroys on and I was like, I would never have my child wearing anything like that. And then my son was three or four years old so he didn’t really care. That’s when I started crying. She was like, ‘You’re still vain thinking that we’re not suffering or going through whatever we’re going through, and you’re worried about how your child is dressed. We came- we took 2 ½ hours to get here. It cost gas money.’ It’s a struggle for me to accept a situation where someone else is telling my kid what to do. She held it together just to keep afloat and help to keep my sanity.”

Sarah, 37

Meet Sarah…

“When I was arrested, I’m in the courtroom, the judge is reading off my charges and my sister is sitting right next to her she’s my younger sister her name is Debbie. She cried out so loud- this is a sibling that I grew up with. It wasn’t like we didn’t grow up with each other or we don’t know anything about one another. I’ve never heard her cry out like that. It was just so painful. On one of the visits that I had with my mom, once again, my sister was with her and I spoke to my sister after the visit, and she explained to me that mommy broke down crying, putting your mail in the mailbox. Publicly she’s not a scene maker so much so everyone knows that she’s suffering or going through pain. She was very well at masking that, and that broke my heart so much. I still wasn’t too connected with how much of an impact I’ve caused for not just my family members but with my community and my friends. Up to this day, I talk to my friends and they reach out to me, and they’re like, ‘What you did changed my life, my journey. You know, I’m married, I’ve got kids.’ But it was so significant for me.”

LaShawn, 44

Meet LaShawn…

LaShawn: My name is LaShawn. I’m 44 years old. I’ve been incarcerated for five years, and at Bedford Hills for four. I’m happy to be here.

Diane: I would love to ask you- it seems like in all your writing to us, you talk about your mom and what an impact she had on you. You attribute so much to her. Do you want to tell us a little about your relationship with your mom?

LaShawn: My mother was my best friend, and she and I were inseparable prior to her death. I have two children, and both of my children, son and daughter, are named after my parents. I was fortunate to be raised with both parents in the same household. It was very different amongst my peers growing up because they didn’t have that. I kind of took it for granted until I got older. Honestly, until I had time to reflect and come here and get back to my real self.

I’ve been given a 25 year life sentence for the murder of my mother. I found her murdered in August of 2005, and 12 years later, I was arrested for her death. It’s really traumatic for me. Considering the reasons for my conviction or why even after that 12 year period of time, there was no DNA, no eyewitness. There was nothing but theories that weren’t even proven. No factual findings whatsoever.

My mother taught me so much. The strength that I have is due to her. She kept me focused. She was an amazing role model, provider, friend, confidant. All of the above. And I have to stay strong for her. 

Diane: Oh my gosh, that’s an absolutely incredible life to live through. What keeps you going each day?

LaShawn: Let me just say this. If, when growing up, my mother wasn’t okay, I wasn’t okay. So even being away from my children, I know if I don’t stay strong, then they’ll fall apart as well. And that’s not an option. I know the truth, so no one is gonna fight for me like I’m gonna fight for myself.

Diane: So, tell me about your children.

LaShawn: So my daughter is 24, she’s going to be 25 in a couple of weeks. My son is 17. When I left and I was incarcerated my son was 12. Actually, on June 17th this year was my first time seeing him.It was amazing. He’s grown so much. I miss him a lot, but I do communicate with them- emails, telephone conversations almost every day. And just hearing their voices, being able to be a parent from afar, because although I’m here, I’m still a mom. So any and everything that I’m able to do, whether it’s small monetary things that I’m able to send in gifts, or my advice and listening ear is still required of me. Just being here doesn’t excuse me from my responsibilities, so they play a big part of my life.

I have 3 grandchildren- grandsons from my daughter. Her oldest is five, and she has a set of twins who are 3 1/2 and I have yet to meet them. But when we talk, they talk to me as if they know me, I guess because we talk so much and pictures. It’s the most interaction I could have. I always do anything and everything I can for them.

Diane: I want to talk a little about your poetry. Is there something that you would like to share that you haven’t so far?

LaShawn: It’s not that I’m a writer of poetry; I love quotes. Quotes help me on the day-to-day basis. My most positive quote that I chant every day is that I’m stronger because I have to be. Smarter because of the mistakes I’ve made. I’m happier because of the sadness I’ve known. And I’m wiser because I’ve learned. That hits home for me because obviously I’ve experienced tremendous sadness upon being the one to actually find my best friend, my mom, murdered and in a horrific condition. Horrific state. And now to be here due to just simply finding her… I’m happy because I’m strong enough to make it, to maintain it, to keep my sanity under the situations. I’m smarter because I’m still going strong.And I’m always going to be wiser due to this situation and circumstance. No one can ever take this from me.

Sometimes, I say, “Well, maybe I did need to come to prison.” No, not for what I’m here for, obviously, and not for the amount of time that I’ve been given, but after finding my mom, I lost myself. There wasn’t a script to finding anyone, let alone your mother, murdered. So I lost myself. I was getting into a certain lifestyle that I wasn’t proud of, and had I not come to prison? Who knows, I’m maybe dead or strung out on drugs or living a creepish type of lifestyle. Unhealthy, ungodly. So I needed to come here to find myself to get back to the real me. I guess you could say I accept the fact that I’m here because it’s out of my control, but I can just continue to do everything possible to gain my freedom back. I’m the greatest advocate for myself.

I found religion. I found a sense of peace and really getting to know God. I’m a Protestant Christian. Had I not come here, I may not ever have grown or gained the relationship I found with God. And it’s healthy, it’s motivating, it’s uplifting.

Diane: I personally want to thank you, and you bring me to tears hearing about what you’ve gone through.

LaShawn: No tears required. I’m all cried out, you know. There’s no room for tears anymore. You know, I just thank you guys for coming. It’s important to me that you guys came. Yes, I’ve sent you information about myself, my history, where I’m going through, but to actually be here sitting in front of me physically.It’s really nice. It’s a way also for my voice to be heard. And I believe once someone really takes the time to hear and see the facts and the lack of. It’s gonna make a big difference. 

Diane: Do you have questions you want to ask us?

LaShawn: I tried to think of some, but I believe everything happens for a reason. Some good might come from this at the end. 

Diane: And it’s a voice for your whole family, too. It’ll be up on all our social media channels.

LaShawn: Yes. They believe in me, but I just need for someone who has the reach, the connections, the conviction to take the time and reach out. And I’d be more than happy, more than cooperative, actually, probably overwhelming in the assistance and the help and the information and what I’ll be able to provide to whoever.

LaShawn, 44

Meet LaShawn…

“After finding my mom, I lost myself. There isn’t a script to finding anyone, let alone your mother, murdered. So I lost myself. I was getting into a certain lifestyle that I wasn’t proud of, and had I not come to prison? Who knows, I’m maybe dead or strung out on drugs or living a creepish type of lifestyle. So I needed to come here to find myself to get back to the real me. I guess you could say I accept the fact that I’m here because it’s out of my control, but I can just continue to do everything possible to gain my freedom back.”

Lovette, 48

Meet Lovette…

Lovette: My name is Lovette, I’m 49 years young, I’ve been at Bedford since 2013, and I’m glad to be here!

Diane: It’s nice to finally be in person. Tell me who you are.

Lovette: Thankfully, I’m a living, breathing, thriving human being. An empowered woman. A woman, a mother, peer… I’m just thankful.

Diane: And what brings you joy in here?

Lovette: Helping people. Helping people make it through this difficult thing called incarceration. Bringing a little joy into their atmosphere. Sharing my experience, sharing what helped me make it through the difficult days. Just being there as much as I’m able to, even in spite of my own circumstances.

Diane: What do you do to bring joy here?

Lovette: Most of all I love to be present. I like to crack jokes. If I see somebody down, I like to come and try to cheer them up. I like to talk to people to hear their stories. I like to listen. Sometimes people just need somebody to listen to them. It gets very lonely being incarcerated, just to know that you have someone that can be there for you in these trying times.

Diane:Would you be able to describe to us the person that came to prison before and Lovette now?

Lovette: Well, Lovette- when she first touched state grounds was very frightened. She was very abandoned, she was very lonely, she was very mentally incapacitated almost. She was not doing well at all. She was suffering from a lot of stress. She was facing estrangement, you know, I was estranged from my family due to my crime and I was not in a good space at that time. 

Diane: And who are you today?

Lovette: Today I’m a transformed individual. I was able to utilize different means in order to get myself back on track- in order to get in touch with who I am and my emotions,to pull myself out of that dark place that I once was in. I’m very thankful for that, and I’m very thankful for my experiences that help strengthen me, that help fortify me, that help give me purpose, meaning…just a means for me to not only help myself but to help my fellow peers.

Diane: Would you say there was a moment of transformation?

Lovette: Yes, it was like I had an epiphany. It was like the lightbulb came on. It was just a shift in my whole life. It was a turning point. It set me on the right track.

Diane: Will you share it with us?

Lovette: Yes! I basically was sitting alone with a pamphlet that one of the chaplains gave me, and I started doing an inventory. I started saying to myself, “You know what…” I started writing down on paper all the things that I was grateful for. All the things that I had. All the blessings that I had. Then I was like, “Oh my gosh, here I am, dwelling on who doesn’t come to see me. Who doesn’t this- who doesn’t that. But lo’ and behold, I had this huge list of all of the blessings and the good things. So let me start dwelling really on the good things!” and like I said, it was like an epiphany. Poof! It was wonderful!

Diane: Will you share some of those blessings with us?

Lovette: Oh my gosh, number one: I’m grateful to be alive. I’ve had hard times where I’ve felt like I wanted to not live anymore, but I said, “If I take my life, that’s like a domino effect. It affects others, too. Let me fight through and just hope that good things will be on the other side. I’m fighting to live, fighting to make it through.” I’m very thankful for all the blessings, especially in this environment. I’ve got a roof over my head. I’ve got somewhere to lay down. I have food. I’m thankful for the tablet program. I’m so thankful because it could always be worse.

Diane: Is there something that you would like to share?

Lovette: I would like to share that I’m very thankful for San Quentin. I’m thankful for the work that’s being done there. I just feel like this may be the starting point of something really fantastic. I believe prison reform is really coming along. I feel that me, being on the inside, I have a lot of insight, and I contribute to that in many ways. I feel we all have parts to play in truly wanting to be able to rehabilitate individuals. This is not the end of the story- it is only the beginning. I really feel good about that.

Diane: Thank you for recognizing that and being willing to share. Without you in here sharing your voice, people wouldn’t be able to learn. So, from the bottom of my heart- and we have a staff of 10 men inside San Quentin so I’d love to have a staff  or a team in here who is sharing voices and doing everything that they do in there- and in other prisons too, obviously.

Diane: Looking ahead, how would you like to use the gifts that you have? How do you think you could use those?

Lovette: I would like to be able to share my gifts and talents with the most individuals possible. I would like it to have a butterfly effect. I think that goodness, positivity, resilience, caring, spreading around kindness no matter what the situation is- that will always be a wonderful thing.

Diane: Do you want to talk a little bit about your writing process?

Lovette: Usually I get inspired by a lot of different things. It could be something someone says. It could be a concept that I really want to delve into, like currently I have what I call- I call them Rosshill’s Realisms, and they’re basically wise sayings. I just kind of let my experience here influence what I’m going to write a lot of times. It’s very enjoyable for me and I get a lot of joy out of the creation process.Some of my writings take longer than others, but for the most part, they just kind of come like that! I’m very thankful.

Lovette, 48

Meet Lovette…

Diane: Would you say there was a moment when you were in here of transformation?

Lovette: Yes, it was like I had an epiphany. It was like the lightbulb came on. It was just a shift in my whole life. It was a turning point. It set me on the right track.

Diane: Will you share it with us?

Lovette: Yes! I basically was sitting alone with a pamphlet that one of the chaplains gave me, and I started doing an inventory. I started saying to myself, “You know what…” I started writing down on paper all the things that I was grateful for. All the things that I had. All the blessings that I had. Then I was like, “Oh my gosh, here I am, dwelling on who doesn’t come to see me. Who doesn’t this- who doesn’t that. But lo’ and behold, I had this huge list of all of the blessings and the good things. So let me start dwelling really on the good things!” and like I said, it was like an epiphany. Poof! It was wonderful!