Larry White, 26 years inside
Diane: How long were you inside?
Larry: I was inside for 26 years.
Diane: How did it feel when you found out you were being released?
Larry: Oh man, it felt awesome. I had a mental obstacle to overcome because I told myself that I was gonna grow old and die in prison. In the back of my mind I had accepted that I would never get out. I was protecting myself, I didn’t want to set myself up for that hope, y’know what I mean? I was thinking ‘well I’m here and I’m not getting out, so Larry just make the best of what you have. You know what I mean?
Diane: Tell us what happened when you first heard you were getting out.
Larry: It was the best feeling, I got a phone call and said I got it! It was special since I’d been shot down by the Parole Board three times prior to being found suitable. What hurt the most in the past was telling my family I’d been denied. Everyone had their hopes up. I tried to be optimistic for them, even though I didn’t believe they’d let me out. Because of Covid, the hearing was not done in person. I tried to get my attorney to call my family, but he said I’m not going to take that away from you. Guys were already on the phones making their own connections with their families, but once they heard I’d got a date, they got excited for me and gave me their phone time.
Diane: Who was the first person you told?
Larry: My first call was to my mother. She’d been with me every step of the way. She never ever turned her back on me. She kept me out of trouble, even when I was on the inside. She’d say, I want you to go to school, take every class there is. I couldn’t say no to her, so I signed up, went to college, and self-help groups. I’m so glad she did that because while everyone was getting involved in the prison drama, I was in class bettering myself.
Diane: Take us to the night before you were released?
Larry: l had a lot of trouble going to sleep that night. I pretty much stayed up all night, trying to force myself to go to sleep cause I knew I was gonna be walking into the new world and I wanted to be rested, but I couldn’t go to sleep. My mind was racing. At the time, San Quentin was going through quarantine so I was stuck in a cell all to myself. I got up and pace, I’d lay back down, try to meditate, and get up and pace. Nothing worked. They don’t come and get you until four or five in the morning. The nightman already knew what time it was, as soon as he walked up to the door, he was like you ready? And I was like yes I am. I already had all my stuff bundled up and walked out of the cell. He said it’s going to take a minute to kick back. I asked him if I could run upstairs for a minute to say goodbye to a couple of people? I was lucky the C.O. gave me the chance to say good-bye.My friends’ gates weren’t open yet, so I had free reign of the building and ran around to say goodbye to people and give away the last little bits of my property. I’d been with most of these guys since I was 19, I grew up in prison. I mean they were like my second family. Men that I’ve met in prison actually became like my uncles and my brothers, we really developed a strong family bond. So leaving was bittersweet. It was so great to have the opportunity to leave, but then I’m actually still leaving people behind that I’ve grown to love.
Then we were taken to R&R for dressouts and locked in individual cells. Taking off my prison clothes felt like I was shedding my old skin. It was a new day! Once I put on my own clothes, getting out finally felt real to me.
Diane: Did you feel you were prepared to get out?
Larry: Yeah, but at the same time, I realized that society had moved on without me. I was apprehensive about technology. I never messed around with cell phones inside because I knew if I got a write up, I could be denied. My release was coming closer and closer. My nerves are jumping about because the day I thought was never going to occur is happening. I’m leaving prison behind. The place I grew up in since I was 19 years old. A kid. And now I’m a 46 year old man. The youth offender law that was passed gave people like me a second chance. My attorney Keith Wattley, is the founder and Executive Director at Uncommon Law, he told the board that I put in the time and work to change my life, so why was I still there? I was blessed to have Keith as my attorney. He took special notice of my case.
Diane: Did you have anyone at the gate?
Larry: I got on the transport van from prison to outside the gate. It seemed like it took forever. I saw parts of prison I’d never seen before, cars, the bay, people walking around outside the gate. It was awesome. The correctional officer opened up the back gate, that door in the van and we stepped out and this is the last. I can finally cut the tether between me and this prison. Now I can walk away from it and walk into the arms of my loved ones, hug them and grab them. Yeah, it’s beautiful.
At the time, I was married and my wife said she would be waiting for me. My mom also drove up, probably too fast, all the way up from San Diego and was waiting for me outside the gate. My mom grabbed me and hugged me. I was finally untethered from prison. Keith Whatley, my attorney was there too, he was filming my release for a documentary. I was a little camera shy so it was a bit awkward.
Diane: Where was the first place you went?
Larry: I got in my mom’s car. She said, “You’re skin and bones, I have to feed you.” We all went to Denny’s. I ordered eggs sunny side up, hash browns, sausage and french fries. I guess I kept overthanking the waiter. I kept saying every time he brought me something “oh thank you very much ” because this is the first time I’ve ever had someone serve me, you know what I mean. I don’t get served food in prison, it just gets slapped on your tray and you have to keep it moving. It was a new experience for me. The food was excellent, the atmosphere and the company was so nice, so I really enjoyed myself. Plus, everyone was so nice to me.
Diane: Had you been to San Francisco before?
Larry: Yeah when I was a kid. We used to go to Pier 39 and buy little wooden swords, me and my little brother would have fights. We’d buy churros and look at the water.
Diane: What happened next?
Larry: I got dropped off at my transitional house, called GEO, in San Francisco. I was free in my heart and my mind until I walked into GEO. I felt like I was incarcerated again. I was put in isolation to quarantine because of Covid. My wife bought me an iPhone which was really nice and helped me pass the time. I started to learn the functions of the phone, so for two weeks I’m playing with it. Having good conversations, texting, learning how to search for things on Google, and watching Netflix and YouTube. That was a similar concept of being in prison and having a cell phone. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have it and I kept trying to hide it whenever the workers would do a room check. I was so appreciative that I had it. When I heard the key hit the lock I would tuck the phone and after count I would pull the phone back out. Then I would tell myself this is okay, this is authorized, I’m no longer in prison.
Diane: How did you get food while in quarantine?
Larry: I was basically given the same style of prison food. They give you lunch, breakfast, and dinner, but they’re of a lot higher quality. Things like bologna and mustard. I made a promise to myself: I said once I get out of prison, I am through with bologna. I spent 26 years eating bologna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly, it’s terrible. I mean I still like peanut butter and jelly but I haven’t eaten it since. I keep telling myself that I can save money by making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and then I think about it and I’m all – hell no. The memories are too deep.
Diane: What’s the first thing you looked up when you got out of prison, do you remember? and you can take the fifth on this one.
Larry: Haha, a workout video, quarantine workouts. In prison, especially in the cells, they’re so small and then they jam two people in there. It’s basically a single-occupancy cell with two people in it; so they can’t really work out in there during quarantine. Before quarantine, I ran the track, hit the punching bag, did pull-ups, burpees, dips, and curls. Now that I finally had the space to myself so that I could actually move around, I felt better at exercising. I feel good when I exercise. I kept looking at the phone and thought to myself, man I bet they’ve got some great workout programs on there. One of the things that always motivated me to exercise and work out was that I had a workout partner. He would call out the workouts, the cadence, and do the count. So I looked it up online for myself. and set up my little phone.
Diane: What did you do when you finally got out on the street?
Larry: That was pretty cool matter of fact, I took a lot of pictures.
Diane: What did the world feel like? How were you treated?
Larry: After being locked up for so long, I’m happy all the time. Do you know what I mean? And I got to move around the city and cross paths with people. I was saying good morning, good afternoon, and some people would be very rude, like ‘why are you talking to me?’ and kind of rude and I would be whoa, no disrespect. I was just trying to be cordial. People looked at me like I had an ulterior motive, I made one lady crash into a door by accident. We were going shopping and she was coming out and we were going in. I saw her and I was like Hey, good morning and she looked right at me but kept walking and crashed right into the door. That’s when my friends are like ‘Larry quit saying hi to everybody.’ I think that was the most difficult thing for me to grasp. People are in their own little bubble, they want their own space. I was just being friendly and being happy and wanting to greet them. I know sometimes it just comes out too quick I can’t rein it back in.
Diane: What kind of emotions are you experiencing?
Larry: All kinds. It’s a steady elevation. I want out of my transitional housing, but I am grateful to be back in society. It was hard learning technology and I’m still working on it. I’m giddy when I wake up and I count my blessings every day. I love it. Every day gets better and better. I am a fast learner so I’ll get it!
Diane: What has it been like the first few weeks back into the community?
Larry: Once I was able to come and go, I learned how to get acclimated to the city. How to get back to GEO. I had no ID, no bus pass, no nothing. I’d get a two hour pass, but I didn’t have any funds except for my gate money. I walked a lot.
Diane: And Now?
Larry: At the time of my release I was married. My wife owned a bakery in Oakland and working there allowed me to leave GEO for long hours. But, I didn’t know her prior to my incarceration and I believe that led to our break up. She was a different person when I was out. It was really hard. Thank goodness I had good friends like Joe Krauter, he got me through my divorce. He used to be the librarian in prison. He would get so busy that he would let me come behind the counter to share with him and that became my therapy coach. He continued to be there for me outside of prison. That marriage wasn’t meant to be and I had to refocus my life.
Diane: What keeps you motivated?
Larry: Work, for sure. I want to learn more about psychology and counselling. Dealing with my triggers and stressors. They also help me understand other people.
Diane: What have been the highs?
Larry: Reconnecting with my family and my new girlfriend, Princess. I saw Princess walking by everyday on my lunch and one day we walked the same way and I got to introduce myself to her.
Diane: And lows?
Larry: My housing. Originally, I was supposed to go to The Dream Center in Oakland, but one of my victims lived in Alameda, so I was blocked from living there. So I’m at GEO until September 25th then I move into my own place. My marriage falling apart was really difficult as well.
Diane: What brings you joy?
Larry: Connecting with the community and especially working for Urban Alchemy. We provide safe passage for tourists, help the homeless find shelter and administer Narcan if we find people that have OD’ed. I want to be a Director at Urban Alchemy, I’ve already put in for a promotion. I saved someone’s life at my job by administering Narcan. It was an amazing feeling and gave me a purpose. Being treated like a human being and not a number or an animal. My girlfriend, Princess, brings me joy. She is beautiful. She stole my heart when she made me Edamame. She’s so adorable. Also, food brings me joy. I found the best place to eat, it’s called Krispy Krunchy Chicken, on Eddy and Taylor. I call it “Crack Chicken.” It’s that good and the prices are decent. My roommates were betting if I would come home with Krispy Chicken and laughed when I walked in with it. It is that good!
Diane: What surprised you about being out?
Larry: I’m happy everyday because I’m free, but I miss the camaraderie and the intense levels of respect that influenced me to be a better person. I have a strong sense of respect for others, especially my elders. I haven’t seen that so much out here in society. I really miss people being cordial to one another.
Diane: What are the biggest challenges?
Larry: Finding affordable housing and catching up to the digital age.
Diane: What are you most afraid of?
Larry: Overzealous police officers or parole officers trying to trip me up.
Diane: Advice for your peers inside?
Larry: Growing up in prison, the guys became my brothers, my second family. It was bittersweet leaving them behind, but it was my time. I’d tell them to take classes and participate in groups. Do the right thing. I earned the right for a second chance.