Growing up I never heard the words, I love you.
My crimes stemmed from my own search for love. I spent years in solitary confinement and heard those words from my mother for the first time at the age of 23. It was weird, uncomfortable. I thought she was dying. It was my first contact visit after I got out of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in Pelican Bay. When I was seven, my mother migrated to California. I was left to grow up on the streets of El Salvador during a civil war. I didn’t have time to be a kid or go to school. My stepdad spoiled me and I became the breadwinner of the family.
When I came to the states, I was behind in school and felt like an outcast. My mother was emotionally detached from me, but close to my siblings. As a child, my mom was physically and emotionally abused. I have learned that you can’t make someone love you. Love can be tricky, when you haven’t heard those words. The first time I heard them was from a fellow gang member, “Hey, I love you man.” My immediate response was “I am not gay” he told me he thought of me as a brother.
In solitary confinement, I taught myself to read and write. My “neighbors” in the next cells and I started a competition. We would show each other flash cards made from milk cartons with words from the dictionary and their origins. Whoever got them wrong did pushups. My arms got tired of losing so I wised up. Academically I struggled. Being the breadwinner from the age of seven. I never went to school, no exaggeration. I was exposed to countless acts of violence. I became desensitized to it. I was told I was “no good” by my stepdad. I felt like an outcast when I saw my other siblings being hugged and told that they were loved in my presence. I would just sit there motionless, wondering “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” As a result I grew emotionally detached.
Life taught me early that you can’t make someone love you. I feel love for and a responsibility to the Spanish community. It’s why I write for the San Quentin News and translate for Humans of San Quentin. I want to humanize myself and others. I want people to know that it is ok to call 911, to reach out for help, to speak up.