I pray that each of you finds yourself in good health and soaring spirits despite the difficult and unsettling times this pandemic has brought to our doorstep. These lockdowns haven’t been easy for anyone; we are social creatures, not designed for isolation. If I could impart something to everyone, it would be to lean on each other, to stay busy and occupy yourself with a hobby, and to strive to focus on your blessings and all that is right in your lives rather than what you may perceive to be wrong. Remember that energy flows where focus goes. Above all, pray for our Almighty God to bless you with the grace of faith, the greatest antidote to any trial or tribulation we encounter.
I have been incarcerated since 1999, when I was sentenced to forty-nine years to life for two counts of attempted murder, one on a police officer and the other on a civilian. I was nineteen years old. I would like to say I was remorseful immediately after committing my crime, but the truth is I wasn’t. My actions spoke for themselves. I was immersed in the gang lifestyle, and to my shame and regret I got in even deeper during my first fifteen years in prison. Not even the negative reinforcement of ten years in the SHU (secure housing unit) was enough to deter me from such a destructive life.
But God Almighty is merciful and brought me out of the misery I was living in and subjecting others to, including the very people I professed to love. He did this by directing my siblings’ hearts to give me a surprise visit with my precious fifteen-year-old daughter. The pain, hurt, and deep sorrow in her tears, but also the compassion for me in her eyes even though I had done nothing to deserve it, demolished the layer of concrete that had enveloped my heart for so many years.
Her tenderness planted a seed in my heart, and as it grew it started my journey of self-reflection and change. It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy—my whole identity was based on my gang affiliations. But by God’s grace I found the courage to sever the ties that held me captive to a system of exploitation and selfishness and ruin. I realized it was a dead end, a waste of the life God has given me. Since 2015, I have maintained my commitment to my precious daughter and to myself. I have found strength in vulnerability and immersed myself in programs for my correction and rehabilitation. I’ve progressed successfully, thanks be to God!
Today I put my remorse into action as a peacemaker and a mentor to many in here who are on their own journey to reconnect with the fun-loving kid they once were. Among other duties, I spearhead the Youth Offender Program here at Avenal Facility-B, which consists of older prisoners, noted for their successful progress toward personal development, serving as mentors to young men just entering into the prison system. The goal is to help them address the issues that led them to harm others, so that once they are released they can contribute to society and its common good. Using a back-to-basics approach, we stoke the flames of altruism by encouraging awareness of the bridges we have burned and emphasizing the rewards of giving rather than receiving. It’s been a blessing to be able to contribute in this capacity.
One aspect of this program is voluntary participation in projects geared toward giving back to the communities we once took from. For instance, after hearing about people making masks at home, our team worked to obtain fabric and sewing machines to make masks ourselves—a gesture of the kindness we have yearned to show those communities we once victimized. With the help of kind people and organizations like Leslie Lakes at P.A.T.H. and George at G.R.I.P., as well as our families, we donated five thousand masks to local law enforcement and first responders, senior homes, homeless shelters, the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County, farm workers, and the staff here at Avenal. Being involved in programs like this has been invaluable to me and to many others.
It feels good to contribute, even just in small ways. I do so out of gratitude to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in the honor of everyone who has been affected by my bad choices, including my precious Mama.
I find comfort in knowing she’s in the heavenly place with Christ, a Celestial City where she is experiencing a joy the human mind cannot comprehend.
Showing my gratitude by giving back is something I will continue once paroled. God is good! I learned, eight months after I met my daughter, that due to revisions to the law people who were given life sentences before the age of twenty-three now have an earlier parole eligibility date. Though my first parole application was denied—the board said that they felt my change was authentic, but wanted to be sure in light of my extensive past of misbehaving in prison—I didn’t perceive this as a defeat, but rather an opportunity to strengthen my testimony and further prove how much I’ve changed. I have no doubt I will be granted parole when I appear before them late next year.
I thank each and every one of you for taking the time from your day to read this letter. I invite any questions or comments, and assure you I will respond candidly.
May our Almighty God shine His light upon your every step and grant you all the blessing of wanting to know him. GOD BLESS YOU!