Felicia, 41

Meet Felicia…

Felicia, 41
Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York

Diane: What is the hardest part about being incarcerated?

Felicia: Not seeing my family.

Diane: Tell me about your family; who is that?

Felicia: My father is very supportive. I have siblings- my brother and my sisters are very supportive. 

Diane: Do you have any fears about your family or your loved ones?

Felicia: My dad, he’s old. My fear is that he’s going to leave me while I’m incarcerated. He’s hanging in there. I want to say he’s doing pretty damn good for being 82. 

Diane: Can he come visit?

Felicia: Yeah, my father is mobile, he’s not in bed or in a wheelchair. He drives and works.

Diane: How often do you see him?

Felicia: I used to see him every month, but now I see him every two months. Two-three months.

Diane: Do you have any message for anybody? Jennifer Fecu, who connected us?

Felicia: She’s my buddy. She’s wonderful, amazing and inspirational. She’s the reason I want to go further in life as far as education and things like that because she’s very big on education.

Diane: How did she inspire you to go to school?

Felicia: Jennifer does not give up. She keeps going and going and going and that’s what I love about her.

Diane: What have you learned about yourself that has surprised you?

Felicia: I’m starting to like school. At first it was… well school’s not for everybody. It’s really not. But I like school.

Diane: Tell me about your typical day?

Felicia: To start my morning, I take a shower, turn my music on and fill my hot pot. Then, I start my morning program, which is the yard. I go out and pick up the trash until we are locked in for count at 11am. When I come out, I use the phone… everyday, normal stuff.

Diane: Do you have a particular routine before you go to bed? 

Felicia: I read and I pray. 

Diane: What’s your cell like?

Felicia: It’s where I get peace of mind. I can tell the officer, “Lock me in.” And they lock me in. I’ll just be in there doing me. Whatever it is- homework, listening to the radio, crying, whatever I want to do. I put my curtain up on the window in the door, so no one can see in, and I do whatever I want.

Diane: Privacy is rare in prison. I only know a couple of people that have a cell to themselves. 

Diane: Is there something you would like to do when you’re released?

Felicia: I would like to get into doing hair, because I like doing hair.

Diane: Are there any kinds of classes like that in here?

Felicia: Yes, they had cosmetology , but the lady stopped coming so they stopped giving us the program.

Diane: Are you allowed to have any hair products?

Felicia: We can have blow dryers, flat irons, curling irons…

Diane: What kind of music do you like?

Felicia: I like R&B, rap, and some country. 

Diane: How do you make food?

Felicia: On a hot plate. We share them and sign up for a slot.

Diane: What do you like to cook?

Felicia: My favorite is fried chicken with tuna salad.

Diane: Do you actually get chicken on the bone?

Felicia: Yeah, but it’s not that good. It’s a Banquet, it’s not real chicken- it’s processed.

Diane: Is there a particular food you miss?

Felicia: Chinese food. 

Diane: And you haven’t had it in 22 years?

Felicia: Actually, in Bedford Hills, the maximum security prison I was in across the street, they do a ‘cleanest unit contest’ and we used to get Chinese food or McDonald’s…. but this was back in the day, I don’t think they do that anymore.

Diane: Has being incarcerated made you value something more deeply?

Felicia: Yes, my freedom.

Kimberly, 34

Meet Kimberly…

Kimberly, 34
Incarcerated: 6 years
Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York

Diane: What will you do when you get out?

Kimberly: I’m going to open my own hair salon because I like to do hair, nails, makeup.

Diane: Have you had help with any of that since you’ve been here?

Kimberly: No, I just do everything myself. My own hair, my own makeup, my own nails…

Diane: Who will you go home to?

Kimberly: To my mother, until I get myself back on my feet. She’s 64 and my biggest supporter. 

Diane: Do you have any other family?

Kimberly: Yes, I have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles.  They’ve all been very supportive in my hard times. 

Diane: Where is home for you?

Kimberly: Brooklyn, East New York.

Diane: Close. Do you get visitors?

Kimberly: Yes, my mom comes, my niece, my aunt, my brother…my friends. I usually get them once a month. Sometimes twice or three times if I’m lucky.

Diane: What do you miss about the outside world?

Kimberly: I just miss being able to feel like a woman. Not stuck and stiff. It’s hard to be questioned. I miss being free and doing my own thing, helping my mom, going to the nail salon… having a normal life. Being able to have a cellphone. Going out to eat, socializing with people that treat you right and don’t put you down, things that make you feel like a human.

Diane: What do you miss doing most?

Kimberly: I miss most being around my mom, my brother and working.

Diane: Is your family in Brooklyn?

Kimberly: Yes, well, my brother’s incarcerated.

Diane: Have you learned anything about yourself that has surprised you?

Kimberly: Yes, I learned patience. I learned to just do more listening than just doing the acting. I learned how to just humble myself.

Diane: How are the women you live with?

Kimberly: You would think being in prison you would probably not get along with your peers.

I might have things that they like, like getting their hair done, or painting nails, but sometimes I’m just a good ear for them. I’m someone that’s caring, kind and giving. I’m more for younger women –I don’t want to say ‘mother figure’ but someone they can look up to. I’ll teach them. It’s not always easy. We were locked down for 24 hours with one hour out, for over two years. It changed my life a lot. Now I just try to let things roll. I’m very humble and I try to walk in a straight line, but then someone’s just nitpicking, “What are you wearing? Where are you going?” Stuff like that. That’s why I’m really trying to carry myself well. It just kind of bothers you after a while, the overwhelming harassment. I’ve been through a lot but I’m holding up. I can only imagine what it’s like for Felicia and Kayla- they have done way more time than me and they’re young. Just keeping your head up is hard, but you do it. I try to guide young women, but sometimes it’s better just to say nothing than to let little things get you upset.

Diane: What are your days like? 

I’m still in school, I’m in college, which I didn’t have the opportunity to complete on the outside. The moment I started school I calmed down. I got into cosmetology and finished the vocational part and now I’m just trying to get a license, which is good because when I go home I can own my own business. I should be able to get my associate’s degree this May. I already had my high school diploma and a couple college credits from a community college. I did it online because I got married young or I probably would’ve just owned my own hair salon by now.

Diane: It’s interesting how education has changed you.

Kimberly: Yes, and I feel if I had more opportunities on the street, then I’d wouldn’t of been so worried about simple things like. I probably would have obtained my bachelor’s and had my cosmetology license.

Diane: How has your time here been?

My bid hasn’t been easy for me. I try to keep a smile on my face, but deep down inside I’m very miserable -as I’m supposed to be, and I get that part. But I feel like I shouldn’t always be feeling dehumanized. I should always feel like I still have an opportunity when I get out into the free world. I feel like I should always be angry or mad. It’s a tense situation. I’m very tense.

Diane: You seem like someone who’s really confident. It’s surprising to hear you say that.

Kimberly: Yes, because I’m strong. I hold in a lot. I don’t hang out with a lot of people. I know that a lot of the girls know me, and I’m nice and cordial with them, but I don’t hang out with a lot of people. I keep it simple. I hang out with one person every day. If you see me with someone else, it will be short because this is not my life. I try to keep my circle small, because if you allow too many people in, it becomes drama. Too much. And you’re in prison, so you want to keep it as simple as possible and try to work your way home and do better and not come back.

Diane: That is awesome advice at any time.

Kimberly: Yes, this is not the place to be. No matter what you’ve got, if your hair is done… there’s days where it’s not easy. You know, it’s a prison, it’s not supposed to be an all girls camp club. You’re supposed to be taught a lesson while you’re here. You just have to make the best of the environment, the officers, following the rules. That’s the biggest key. If you follow the rules, you’ll be alright. And even if you follow the rules there’s going to be tasks thrown at you, nit-picking. You have to make it through that because if you can make it through this, you can make it through anywhere. 

Diane: Do you want to tell us about that one person that you’re closest to?

Kimberly: Her name is Adrienne. She has a lot of time, too. She’s very smart. She’s about to get her bachelors. She taught me to humble myself. I feel like when I want to get angry, it may look from the outside like we’re not getting along, but a lot of the time it’s her trying to keep me calm, telling me, “Don’t act like that!” Looks can be deceiving a lot of times. She’s very inspiring. She’s going to the board soon, and hopefully things go great for her because she has a good support system. It gets hard after awhile, because prison can be expensive, and families spend money on food packages and little things. Prison is not the place to be. With me doing a shorter time, I look up to others who have done decades. That’s a long time to keep your head up and on your shoulder. Especially in the medium facility. Bedford Hills is a max- they have a mental facility for mental patients. If you weren’t mentally sane, you wouldn’t be able to make it here. They have housing for them. I feel like it’s a place where you learn never to come back to. It’s not easy. That’s what I took out. When I started my bid, the people I did say a few words to really schooled me and let me know it’s better to just keep your circle small, try to go to school. I never really had a problem with inmates, even when I was on Rikers Island. It’s more like officers…

Diane: Tell us about Rikers.

Kimberly: Rikers was good, I would’ve rather done my whole bid on crazy Rikers because I feel like the officers there were good. If you listened and they were seeing that you were trying to stay in your own space and lane then they wouldn’t bother you. I worked in intake and got to use the phone all day. I did not think it’d be easier upstate but it was easier. IN Rikers there were always fights but I didn’t get into that. I got along with all the girls. I was always able to get through to people. I was working in intake where people would be going home, coming in, or on bail and they’d be in their cell. The officers would be frustrated and I’d tell them to just stop, calm down, and they would listen to me.

My hardest time was when I first came in. I always got in trouble. Then I changed. They don’t really see because I’m quiet, but there’s just so much a person can take with the nagging.

Diane: Were you like that before you came in?

Kimberly: Yeah, I was just like this- humble. I’m more of a person that I don’t like to be angry or mad all the time, but I hold a lot in and then I have just a little episode. I don’t think anybody likes prison, except for the people who go back and forth. Those are the people who don’t have any guidance and maybe do drugs. I never did any drugs and I always worked. I was a bartender, and worked at a daycare at a naval base in Japan when my ex-husband was in the navy. I’ve always been a go-getter, so I’m ready to get out so I can catch up on what I’m missing. I’m older now, so I have better plans, better things to do. I try to keep myself low. It’s sad to dim your light in a place like this, but you have to because you’re always watched. I’d like to tell people that this is not the place to be. I’m about to cry. I may put on a smile, but I’m so miserable. I try to keep my composure, but this is the worst place to be. Not because we’re being held or being hurt or harmed, but there’s nothing like having your freedom or being able to go in your own space, being home. I hate it, every day I do. I try to smile because that’s just me, I’m a strong woman, but what I’ve been through is a lot, and no one can understand that or walk a mile in my shoes. I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve taken a lot. I’m a kind person, but people think that I’m young, or that maybe I’m living my best life because I put that face on, but deep down inside, I’m better than this. I have a life at home. I have a family that loves me, and I feel like I’ve been taken away from them. 

Diane: What would you say to people outside?

Kimberly: I would say to the camera, try your best to do the right thing out there because being in here may seem okay, and people might go home. But there’s people like Kayla or Felicia who have done like 20-30 years and they finally made it here, but they still had to go through hard times in a maximum security. There was nothing no one could tell me when I first came in. If I felt like something bothered me, I would just react, and that’s just not the way. People take your kindness for weakness. I don’t have issues with the girls. If they get me mad, I have that one friend that keeps me sane. Even if I have to argue with her, or we curse each other out, her goal is, “Listen, you’re better than that. Keep yourself calm, you’re going home, look at me, I have to go to a board. I have life. I don’t have a say-so, I don’t have a date. I have to go to someone and speak to them and say I’m trying to fight for my life and convince them that I have changed. You don’t have to do that, so why get upset?” I snap back quickly. At the same time I’m very emotional- I smile, but I hate it. I hate state prison. It’s not for women -or men- but female women we’re emotional. I wish the corrections would understand that. When we have to be locked in for hours on end, alone, those times in our cells are hard. We might come out and smile and fix our hair, but when you’re in there, it’s deep. You start thinking about a lot. No one knows that, especially with me. Some people get away with whatever they want, but they’re still miserable. I try to put a smile on my face with all the hardship that I go through. Prison’s not the place to be. Especially for people who have no help, it’s even harder, they’re even angrier. You’re away from your family. You have to do it right when you’re out there. You have to appreciate every little thing that you have. Just try to do it right. We have to follow the rules in prison, follow the law at home. Because if not, you’ll be in here, stuck, and it’s their way, not your way, it’s not your house, it’s their house. You have to do the right thing. You would never want to take your freedom away so someone else can tell you what to do. How to sit, how to stand, who to sit next to, who to talk to… you don’t want someone to have that power over you. You want to be able to run your world.

Miquan, 33

Meet Miquan…

Miquan, 33
Incarcerated: 8 years
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York

Miquan: I was 15 my first time being arrested. I pretty much grew up in and out of the system. Due to my learned behaviors and falling victim to the negative aspect of those behaviors. This is my first time in a maximum security facility. I never wanted to graduate to this, but you live and learn. I don’t glorify the negative things, but it’s a reality growing up in poverty. My reality is to transform negative into positive.

My father was incarcerated when I was young. He is still a great guy. I had a lot of great people in my family. I had a stepfather who taught me how to read and do things I appreciate to this day. I love him like he was my own father. How would my father feel about his son giving another man that type of appreciation? Having a dysfunctional upbringing, not having my biological father and mother, it did affect me. I was confused. As I got older and matured, I told myself I wanted to be the person to bring everybody together and to love those who loved me. I’m fortunate my mother and father are still there. My mother was always a churchgoing and righteous woman. My father also, even though he made many mistakes, he was always a righteous man. One of the biggest things my father gave me that’s kept me going to this day, is knowledge of myself. 

Diane: How did your dad’s incarceration impact you as a child?

Miquan: When my father talked to me on the phone and used certain words like “knowledge” and “wisdom,” I became interested and fascinated. As I got older, I became more conscious of what he was saying, but the hardest part was the understanding. It was the best part too. The understanding is applying what you know. Applying our wisdom to what you know. Applying the change of what you just learned. A learning experience, being the best teacher. A lot of things I began to learn while talking to my father while he was doing his time. I believe he did about 10 years, so by the time he came home, I was a teengager. That’s the positive way it affected me. The negative way is hearing a lot of the stories on the streets of who my father was or people wanting to emulate or glorify the negative qualities of him. I guess somewhere along the line I tried to live up to certain things, because that’s my father, but I wish I would’ve done things differently and only took on the positive things he taught me. I’m not here because of him, I’m here because of my own choices. Through it all my mom always stayed strong. I’m fortunate enough to say that for most of my cousins and my siblings, I’m the prime example for, “don’t come in here.” I’m fortunate for that because in here, it’s a whole different world of survival. I think one of the worst things is having a sibling in here because not only do you have to defend yourself, but they have their own mind and their own way of thinking. If they don’t have self control, you end up in situations helping out your siblings. That’s scary too. I always call them and talk to my younger siblings and tell them to be greater and better than me. Don’t be like me, but listen to the positive things I tell them from my life experiences, because that’s what a wise man does. A wise man learns from his own experiences as well as others. As a people, or as humans… “hue” means color. We’re people of all different types of nationalities, heritages and ways of life coming together for a common cause. The “man” part means intelligence. We have to learn from our human experiences. 

Diane: Is there one incident you remember that had a big impact on you?

Miquan: I would say my situation that led me in here. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from my family and my loved ones. I had to figure things out for myself, being in an environment where there is a lot of turmoil and struggle. If you’re not strong…they say that the strong survive. This situation impacted me so much because there were many times where other lovers supported me, I felt at times so weak and vulnerable and I overthink things. Many times, I wanted to give up and become a savage in pursuit of happiness, but that’s not the righteous way. So, I always speak on knowledge  of self because having a strong foundation, dealing with self, and seeing the good in people, even if they did me wrong. Love is the strongest force in the universe. It connects all living things.

Diane: What do you love that would tell us more about you?

Miquan: I first had to learn to love myself. My ego would say that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We were all born in perfection, but you won’t see that until you learn to love yourself and love all your imperfections. Even with my situation, you have brothers and sisters who are incarcerated all over the world, and they might not love themselves and that’s the thing that’s stopping them from being the best that they can be or stopping them from seeing their potential and their talents and being something greater than what they ever expected to be. Once you’re able to love yourself, then you’re able to love someone else. There’s a quote they say, “Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.” That’s one of the things I love to do. I love to do my best to help heal someone else with my words of wisdom. This platform right here is a way for me and other brothers and sisters to get that positive light out there that we feel no one sees, because we’re in here.

Miquan: To the youth and the outside looking in. If they’ve never done prison time, without a strong support system, it’s very hard for brothers to make it in here. At times, we have stereotypes of gangs or things of that nature. That’s not the case. Brothers of different cultures come together to survive. These are some of the brightest and most well-mannered men or even sisters that you can meet. The way the system portrays us is that we got incarcerated for what should be held against us forever. I know a lot of men that are serving many years and they change. While many of their family members die while they are incarcerated. They have no one to hear their voice or see the change in them. That is why this platform and just me being invited to talk here, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t speak on things that matter to me. Humans of San Quentin, when I got their email and letters and everything, I really took interest because I want to be somebody that speaks up for incarcerated individuals. To give a different perspective, a different spin, yes we made mistakes, but a lot of us have changed. There are those that may seem like they haven’t changed, they may just be struggling with the fact that they feel like their back is still against the wall, no one is listening to them, nobody is hearing them out. 

I want to give a shout out to the Humans of San Quentin for giving me this opportunity, to speak a little bit about my story, and how being incarcerated has affected me, the positive, negative, and more or less changing for the better. Changing the negative into positive, being powerful. To Sing Sing correctional Facility, I want to shout out to all the brothers that are staying strong in here, no matter which nation or portal. Keep loving yourself, and don’t give up. Self liberation.

Mauricio, 34

Meet Mauricio…

Mauricio, 34
Incarcerated: 2 years
Housed: La Paz Maximum Security Prison, Itagui, Medellín, Colombia

Diane: I want to hear about your tattoos because I hear you’re an artist.

Mauricio: My tattoos, well, I’m a professional tattoo artist. That’s what I do here. This is what brings me a bit of calmness and lets me feel removed from all the issues and troubles. 

Diane: What part of being an artist makes you calm?

Mauricio: One way is the sensation of the other person being happy with the tattoo when I finish and to see their reaction and happiness. Also, it doesn’t allow me to overthink things outside. I’m focused for a lot of hours on the tattoo. I tattoo myself when I’m super stressed.

Ivié, 55

Meet Ivié…

Ivié, 55
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, NY

Ivié: I was up until four in the morning. It’s normal for me. It’s quiet then, so I’m in my room and I’ll write, paint and play with my keyboard.

Diane: Tell me a little bit about how you’ve changed here. It seems like you’ve gone through a process. 

Ivié: It’s funny, after 28 years, with child abuse there’s still stuff I relive. That’s what recently has been woken up: abuse in upbringing, PTSD. I can share that PTSD is not attached to my sexual childhood abuse. It was attached to an instability of a domestic violence relationship with my parents marriage, death, abandonment and suffering. At first I didn’t want to deal with it, but I had to, so I didn’t shy away from it. It was a painful process. In order to heal, you have to feel it. I had to feel the emotions and realize I’m either going to live with these emotions to just survive and make it by or to truly live . Recently, there’s been stuff that opened up with my sister, who’s just a year older than me. I think we covered everything from my childhood, 10 years old and younger. I think just being able to not hide anyone and not be ashamed of my past that makes me who I am today, it gets me to know my authentic true self. I want to be somebody who can speak freely and openly and meet people where they are. That’s a big thing.

I still have a consecutive sentence of 30 years in New Jersey. I was like wow if they put me there, I’m going to feel abandoned. I’m not going to have the doctors and therapists that I have here. How can I fix myself? Give me some rights, you know. I wrote some self-therapy books. I gotta say that book did a lot. Doctor Jay Earley, PhD for self-therapy. The director picked up another book off the bookcase and I was like, let me see this, it said, Life’s Operating Manual. I was like, Oh my God, this is gonna fix my life! It’s by the director Tom Shadyac. One of the first things he says is, “This is not a 12 step manual to help you fix your life.” But I kept reading, and I think with the self-therapy book, for me, it also takes you deep if you go in. You not only learn about yourself and why some of the things you do, your actions and your behaviors, but you also learn about other people, and it all stems back to your childhood. So it’s a process.  I got a book a couple of days ago called Healing Together, that’s about how to approach survivors and other people who were sexually abused as a child or in domestic violence relationships and how better I can approach them. For two years, we’ve been doing a suicide prevention program. We learned to pick up on symptoms and their behaviors and reach out to people. So that’s a lot, but I like it. I have a passion for that.

Diane: Is there any of your art that you would like to share?

Ivié: So one of the ones I just did. I mean, I’d go up against King Kong in a heartbeat, but I have a really sensitive nature. I can cry at commercials and stuff. I was watching Ukraine and it was just moving. I had a thing though with high heels stilettos. So, I did a globe, and then I did 24 stilettos and I did them in rainbow colors. Then I inquired how to say the word “love” in 24 different languages and so that’s the heel part of each stiletto and then they’re circling the globe. And the first top two are Ukraine and Russia. And they’re very similar. There’s just one last character, and that’s very different. I had trouble getting those because they’re symbols, and when they tried to send them to me through an email it would come out all pixelated. I would have to go sit at the kiosk the next time I was able to sync and copy them down off the kiosk. So that’s that one.

I did- I’m not sure if they refer to her as the Lady Madonna or The Virgin Mary. I’m not sure, but there is one where she has long long strands of brown hair and she has her hand on her heart. So, I did one with her. She’s like one and a half by two and a half feet. I put my right hand on her heart, and I traced it with my left hand. That took me 3-4 days, but it’s pretty cool at the end. Then I gave her prayer hands, and then I took her face and gave her hand like this and I titled her “Pardon.” Pardon me, forgive me, I still feel it. Pardon me for trying to get your attention.

Diane: I noticed you mentioned something about your sister. Would you like to share anything about your relationship with her?

Ivié: We’re still processing our mother’s passing. It’s difficult for her, but I don’t think she has had the opportunities I’ve had with therapists, so she’s still hiding and still ashamed. Both of us were sexually abused as little girls between six and seven years old. She was also in a domestic violence marriage. I know she has not reached out for therapy. I don’t think she’s there yet. Even in here you learn that you can’t beat hatred with hate, or abandonment, or other people’s actions and behaviors. I can’t judge her. It’s best for me to meet people where they are and let them in where they fit in, and even if it’s an unloving situation, bring it to heart. It just makes this whole situation a little different. I try to send her as much positive energy as possible and pray she can find somebody she can speak to. I’ve been blessed. It’s really a blessing, and you have to be able to talk about it. You really, really do. It’s so true, you have to feel to heal. You have to address these emotions and know why you have them. I came across this magazine called  The Entrepreneur, and there was this guy on the front cover named Norman Reedus, the lead actor for The Walking Dead, and I was like “What? I’ve never seen it.” However, he begins his article with saying, “What you are hiding and what you are ashamed of may become or may be your greatest assets.” I read it and was really moved. He said the same thing that I got from a psychiatric evaluation: listen. Sometimes somebody just needs someone to listen. You have to find that person. Look to be that person because you can save someone’s life. 

Diane: All your hard work has really paid off. Just listening to you talk is very soothing.

Ivié: Thank you.

Diane: It’s nice to know that you’ve done the hard work and looked at it. 

Ivié: I wrote something that I do want to center, a piece I wrote called, “What are your dreams? What are your passions?” For me, I believe our world is broken, and my dream is that we can fix it. What if it’s not that we’re fallen but that we’ve forgotten our most greatest tokens, love, kindness and compassion put out unashamedly spoken forgiveness and second chances. Celebrating our doses, treating others as you would want to be treated. Our birthing of roses. Tell your story, own your journey. You have to reach out.

Diane: People outside do not know the impact we have on people inside. Tell us what you think of Humans of San Quentin.

Ivié: For you just giving us a voice and being able to share. We made bad choices, but for you to highlight and share with the world that we’re still human and that we can’t define a human being by making a bad choice. Things happen, and I don’t believe that there are accidents. But for you to just highlight our voices, our words, our feelings, our emotions and share them with the world. You give the world another side of who we are, a lot of people don’t know what happened or why.

 

Pamela, 55

Meet Pamela…

Pamela, 55
Incarcerated: 32 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Diane: What is it that makes you happy?

Pamela: What makes me happy is to play softball. I love to play softball- it’s one of the things I get to do here in the summer months, and that makes me really happy. Besides being with my family and friends, that’s one thing inside here that makes me happy.

Diane: How do you play here?

Pamela: We play in the yard. It’s kind of like a bootleg setup. It’s half grass, half field type of thing. When I play, I feel free. I feel like I’m in a game somewhere at some playground or park, and I feel extremely free. I totally concentrate on the game and forget I’m in prison. That’s my favorite thing to do. And I’m still hanging in there! I’m getting kind of old, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to play, but I’m doing alright. 

Diane: Do you have leagues or opponents that you play?

Pamela: No, we don’t. It seems when Covid happened, there were a lot of lockdowns here. People got lazy during the lockdowns, so there’s not as much interest anymore for sports.

Diane: Is there something in particular that you worry about?

Pamela: My mother. I worry about my mom all the time. Unfortunately, she broke her hip last week. She was at the hairdresser, and the guy forgot to lock the chair. When she got in the chair, she fell and hit the sink. She had to go into emergency surgery the following day, was in a nursing home, and just came home yesterday. That was very hard for me because I can’t be there to take care of her. My dad is taking care of her, but he’s 83. That was really tough. It still is really tough.

Diane: How old is she? Does she live nearby?

Pamela: She’s 81 and lives in Florida. She’s been unable to come due to her compromised health around Covid and not wanting to travel because of Covid. I haven’t seen either of my parents in three years and now that they’re in Florida, it’s a lot harder.

Diane: You sent us a poem that you wrote, which was so touching to me, about being a mother.

Pamela: Not being a mother.

Diane: It was touching to me that you were able to articulate what you felt about having a baby.

Pamela: I got sent to prison when I was 22. I did not have any children at that time. Because I had a life sentence without any possible leave for parole, one of the side-effects is that I could never have children, being incarcerated all of my life. I believe you are talking about a poem that is called, “Emptiness Inside.” I was speaking about wanting to be a mother and wanting to have a child and feeling like not a whole woman because I couldn’t experience that.

Diane: Do you want to read it?

Pamela: Sure.

Women are supposed to give birth
Therein lies their worth
Ultimate femininity
Expanding the human race
Leaving a piece of me
Forever multiplied in someone else
Infinity in the soft soil of a womb

Me
22 years old
Sentenced to life
Sentenced to be barren
My body a dry desert

Oh, child of my womb
I sometimes swear I feel your heartbeat
Your restless soul move
I see you in my dreams
A little girl
Ribbons the colors of cotton candy.

My baby girl
Trapped within me forever
Serving life in the prison of my womb.
I even named you
Epiphany
My awakening to womanhood

But I am just a girl
Never a woman
If I can’t let you out.

Diane: Thinking and talking about your life sentence without parole… What motivates you?

Pamela: Well, God. I have a deep sense of spirituality and I live a life of service here and I decided long ago I will try to make my life as rich as possible despite my circumstances. I do a lot of work with the other women here, in school, at the grievance office where I work, and advocacy work. I work all the time. I thank God I have the energy of a 12 year old, so I’m okay. I run around all day and it keeps me going because I’m busy. I feel like I’m doing things that are good and I see that I help and the changes and the results of my efforts. I feel like I want to keep my mind sharp and stay enjoying the life that I do have. I don’t want to be miserable, I don’t want to be angry. I want to be as positive as I can, so I keep myself involved in positive things. 

Diane: Negativity can really tear you apart.

Pamela: Well, I see what it can do everyday. There’s a lot of people that are angry, bitter, miserable and they’re still here. Only you have to live with yourself, and I don’t want to live with a person everyday that is that way. So, I do my best, focusing and hoping that one day, this will end.

Diane: And that’s probably why you feel so young, right?

Pamela: Well, I never take a nap, I’m always running, I try to stay in shape with sports. I keep my mind in shape going to school, writing, doing things…

Diane: That’s great to hear because I’ve been in prisons, and they can be so oppressive. 

Pamela: Yeah, it’s totally an oppressive environment, but I think that life is a choice. Everyday, you choose what you’re going to do with the day in front of you, and I choose to live and live in a peaceful state in the midst of the chaos that’s going around me. Honestly, it may sound corny, but I have the joy of the Lord in my heart, and my circumstances can’t take that away. They just can’t. I might lose it for a minute or whatever, but they can’t take it from me.

Diane: Would you want to share a typical day with us?

Pamela: A typical day. Well, this morning was really a typical day. Before 8 o’clock, I was called all over the place before the day even started because there are problems in the housing units. A sergeant was calling me, the officers were calling me because there was a lot of confusion about policy and procedure that was recently changed about the housing unit operations. I was called to get what the rules are, pull the rules, go back, talk to people, explain what’s happening, get some clarification from supervisors about how things are supposed to be operating. Pretty much my day starts: I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, I pray, I take a shower at about 6, then I handle what already happens or is coming my way even before I get to work at 8 o’clock.

Diane: What’s your job?

Pamela: I work in the grievance office. I’m the elected grievance representative for the prison. Every six months I have to run and be elected again in order to keep the job. I’m in my ninth term right now. So, I handle all complaints, and there are no shortage of complaints. So, I handle them, I try to resolve what I can in my head informally… It’s a lot of diplomacy. Speaking to people, trying to come up with solutions, working with on-site supervisors, sargeants, lieutenants. If it can’t be resolved it has to get filed and we go to hearings. I work every day from eight to four, but my job really never ends. Even if the office is closed, the job never ends. People just see me, and I’m the “problem lady.” So, every problem they have, whether it’s nighttime, morning, weekend, whatever, they come asking me, “What are the rules about this?” There’s rules about everything here. The rules are sometimes fluid, and that’s when there’s problems. Certain people interpret it a different way, and I try to get clarification.

At night, I try to play racquetball for at least an hour or an hour and a half every night. I make phone calls, do what I have to do for myself.  That’s pretty much a typical day. On the weekends I go to church, I visit sometimes throughout the day. I also just finished a PhD program. I was going to school for a while, and I’m hoping to start another master’s program in the Fall. I’ve been in school forever, and I’m still in school. I love to learn.

Diane: Are your programs in person, or are they in correspondence?

Pamela: Both. I did one master’s program through correspondence, another master’s program through in-person learning. I did a PhD through correspondence because of course that was during Covid. And this master’s that I just applied for, if I get in, will be in-person learning through New York Theological Seminary. That’s a pretty prestigious school. I’m hoping they won’t say that I’m over-qualified and that I’ll be able to do it. 

Diane: Tell me about the person you were before you came here, and the person that you are today.

Pamela: It’s funny because I’ve really always been the person I am today. However, I’m much wiser, much less naive. I feel like before, being that I was so young -I was 22- I was not as focused on other people as I am now. I did do some service work before I came into prison, but at the level that I do things now, very little has to do with myself. My days and my nights have to do with everyone else, so I have become a lot less selfish, although I wouldn’t have described myself as a selfish person. I’m just more aware of the needs of other people and focusing on that and how important that is. I think that’s probably the biggest change. And of course, I’m a lot more world weary- I’ve seen things I wish I never saw and experienced things I wish I never had.

Diane: Well that’s a gift that you’re giving back so much.

Pamela: I feel like the more I’m blessed with -the more I learn- I always end up giving it back to everyone. I never just learn and keep it all to myself.

Diane: Is there any relationship you want to talk about?

Pamela: I have great friends inside prison. I know people say you can’t find friends in prison, but you can. I have great friends outside of prison- people who have stayed by my side throughout the whole incarceration. Then, I have other families that I’ve created from friends and people inside here. A problem for me is that everyone leaves but me. So, my life is always about having friendships and then losing the physical person with me because everyone goes home. That’s rough for me, but a lot of the friends that go home stay in touch, and that to me is beautiful and speaks to the fact that you really can get friends in prison.

Diane: We only have three minutes, but I would love to open the floor to you and let you ask anything that is on your mind.

Pamela: I feel like a lot of times people in prison are seen as one-dimensional and we’re described or are forever frozen in our worst state. That defines everything about us, and we’re people. We’re humans. There’s more to us. Especially people that have been in prison for a long time. If you didn’t learn whatever you were supposed to learn in being sent to prison, you’re just never going to learn it. I think that there should be some way to reevaluate people who have served 20 or 30 years. All this time to determine if there’s a continued need for their incarceration, or if they could be doing something better outside of prison.

Diane: One last thing, because a lot of people have not heard about Humans of San Quentin. Is there anything you want to say about it?

Pamela: I think it’s a great program because it encourages people to write and find a voice. Not only to write, but then putting the writings out there. A lot of programs come into prison and they want you to write. You write in groups and then the writings never go out into the world. I think that it’s so important for people to read things by people in prison and to see themselves in those same struggles.