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Read Marcus’ original story HERE.

Marcus Smith, 23

Released after 5 years


Diane: Congrats on getting out! 

Marcus: Thank you! I am not going to lie to you, it has been rough. These last months, I am going through a lot but it’s just rehabilitating and getting on my feet again. That’s it.

Diane: I want to hear all about it. Let’s start from when you first found out you were suitable

Marcus: I cried. I cried a lot because it was difficult. They gave me sixty years to life. They cut it down to six years. And when I was fighting for my case, it was a struggle because I didn’t have anybody, and I didn’t have anything. It was just me and my public defender. It was a difficult time. I had no family to support me; I was just alone.

Diane: How old were you?

Marcus: I was eighteen.

Diane: Oh my gosh! How many years ago was that?

Marcus: Six years.

Diane: Congrats on reducing your time from sixty to six! How are you doing now?

Marcus: Absolutely! I am more concerned about myself than others. I like to help people a lot, which is a good thing, but at the same time, I have got to worry about myself. I have got to worry about how I need to transition and know how to be more successful by myself. Because I don’t think I have ever told you, but my adoptive parents recently passed away when I was incarcerated, and I have been trying so hard to get them out of my head and try to figure out how I am supposed to live without them. Being in prison and just thinking about them 24/7 has been difficult. So, right now, I am still suffering from it, but it is not as bad. I hope everything goes as planned.

Diane: Who is supporting you?

Marcus: I have just recently got a hold of my birth mom, which is a good thing because that means I finally got some type of support. But she is going through a lot. I just got a message from her that my little sister is in the hospital. She went through a panic attack. A lot of stuff has been going down in my life, but I just have to focus on the right thing. This last month, I have been highly emotional. Very emotional. I am just waiting for something good to happen.

Diane: How did you get through your incarceration? 

Marcus: It was a waiting game, to be honest with you. I am trying to do the right thing: get into some classes, get some time off, and hang around with some older people to give me some advice and show me some knowledge and wisdom on how to do my time peacefully without getting into arguments or fights or stuff like that. It helped to be honest with you because I like being by myself sometimes, but they just come out to me, ask me how I am doing, and try to get me to open up to them. Other than that, it wasn’t easy. Six years is a while, but how you will make it is up to you. You are going to make it a hard time, or you are going to make it an easy time. And that’s what I did. At first, I had a hard time, but once I got used to it, I just kicked back and did the time instead of letting it do me. 

Diane: How long have you been out now?

Marcus: A month and two days. 

Diane: So you were eighteen when you walked into prison?

Marcus: Yes, Ma’am!

Diane: Let’s walk back to how you were feeling the day before you were released. 

Marcus: I was crying all day. All day long. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t show it. I rolled up in a ball, turned in the opposite direction of where everyone was and started crying. I kept on saying to myself, “This isn’t real, this is just a dream, I got way more time to do this, and six years do not fly by this so damn fast.” It was very emotional and very upsetting, to be honest with you. It was upsetting in a good way, not a bad one.

Diane: Did you sleep much that night at all?

Marcus: No, I was up all night, because I already slept most of the day. Basically just crying and sleeping. That is basically how it was. I didn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t eat lunch. I didn’t eat dinner.

Diane: Paint us a picture of your cell. Were you in a dorm type cell? If so, how many people were in there? 

Marcus: It was a dorm. There were eight people in there. Two people, top and bottom. Right next to me, top and bottom. It’s like this, I will show you. You see that bunk bed right there? That’s how it was. We had bunk beds. I was on top facing the window. So every time a cop walked by, I just waved at them, and they rolled their eyes and shined their light or whatever just to acknowledge me. I was good with the COs, so every time they came by, doing their walk or whatever, I just waved at them, and either the females would roll their eyes or smile, and the dudes would just laugh and keep pushing. It was cool. They moved me so many times, so there were different people with different personalities. But the last cell I was in was the best cell I was in. I enjoyed it. The people actually helped me a lot get through the rough time I was going through. And they taught me a lot, to be honest with you.

Diane: What happened that next morning? Did an officer come wake you up?

Marcus: I was already at the door. The minute it hit five o’clock, I was already at the door waiting, and it took basically less than five minutes. Right at 05:05, they opened the door and asked me if I was ready. I showed them the parole docket they gave me, and he was making a joke. He said, “This is for next week, not this week.” And I basically got upset. I said, “Okay, okay, you got me.” He eventually let me out.

Diane: What happened next? 

Marcus:  I got my bags of stuff, said bye to everybody in my room, and got their contact information. Then, I sat down in the day room and breathed a sigh of relief. They took me to the hall, brought me something to eat, and I said goodbye to all the people in the building. Then I went to R and R, where they released and returned you to society. Over there, it was pretty rough because I got so excited that I upset one of the correctional officers. It wasn’t good. She told me if I didn’t calm down, she would take me back to my cell.

Diane: Oh my god! What were you doing? 

Marcus: I was excited and talking too much. When she let me out of the van, she told me, I know you were kind of excited and I apologize for being so aggressive to you. I guess it is just part of transitioning out of prison, people get excited,  but if you don’t mind I do apologize. 

Diane: Well that is not everyday you hear an officer apologize. Where did she take you? 

Marcus: She put us in a van, all locked up in handcuffs. We waited for two hours for the gate to open. So we were stuck in the van for two hours, chained up to our seats. That was a pain because I was in the back while everybody was in the front because I upset her. It was very uncomfortable. I guess she taught me a lesson to calm down. When I got to the train station, it was terrifying because civilians were around. I get out, I am in handcuffs, and these people are staring at me. So she uncuffs me, and there are people my age staring at me, and I am just nervous. I am like, “Damn! I am back in reality. Here I am.” I just looked at them and said, “I am just trying to get back on my feet,” they started laughing. That was quite a scary experience, to be honest with you. A lot of things I forgot about in society. I have been watching the news so much, and seeing those two

Diane: That’s crazy! What did you do for money?

Marcus: They gave me a $200 debit card. They told me I had to swipe up and down or something. I forgot how it worked, but I swiped up and down on the cashier, and that’s where I got my ticket. The ticket was to Fairfield to meet my birth dad. I waited for about thirty minutes. Everything went well. The train came. I went on the train. And then somebody sat right next to me, and that was quite the experience, too, because I was freaking out. He kept on asking me a bunch of questions like, “Are you from out here?” “You look familiar,” I told him. I just got out of prison, and he got scared because he thought I was going to do something to him, attack him, or whatever.

I kept telling him I was trying to get from point A to point B; you seem like a good dude; I don’t have a phone or anything; I am only 23 years old and I was in when I was 18. I told him basically how it was, how my parents got killed and stuff like that while I was in, basically my life story. Then he was like, “Oh!”  He let me play games on his phone, watch a movie that just came out, and stuff like that. It was a long trip. It took five hours to get from Chowchilla to Fairfield, so I watched movies all the time. It was a good experience. He was the first person I interacted with the minute I got out of prison. 

Diane: How did it go in Fairfield?

Marcus: I am looking around. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I don’t have a phone for GPS. And I had to go to the parole office to talk to my parole agent. I have nothing. And so I am walking around. I don’t know where I am going. Next, you know, I get to the parole office. It took me three hours. But it’s only fifteen minutes away. It’s just going straight ahead and then turning left. But I didn’t know because I have never been out here. So I was walking around the whole neighborhood looking for the parole office, but it was right there in the big shiny building in front of my face. The minute I got there, I asked, “I am here, my name is Marcus Smith BM5082, I am looking for my parole agent. Do you mind explaining to me where he is? Who he is?” and he said, “He is not here, he is on vacation, you are going to have to come back next week.” I am like “really? I gotta check in within 24 hours or I get violated.” I am looking around, and I am like, “I guess I have to stay here until next week then, because I am not trying to get violated.” And they are like, “Give me a second; we are going to type him up right now to let him know that you are here,” so they are like, “He knows you are here, come back next week.” I am freaking out. I left, and it was nighttime; I looked around and I had nowhere to stay. It was rough. I sat in front of the parole building and looked around. Mad the whole night, looking stupid in front of my parole office, because I knew something bad was going to happen. I knew if I didn’t check in, I was done. So, the next day, I was still at the parole office. The next morning, they came back and told me, “What are you doing here? Go home! Do something! Live life! Just come back next week, and you will be okay,” and I kept on telling them, “I have nowhere to live, I am by myself.” And they are like, “So you are homeless!” and I kept on telling them “Yes!”. And they said, “Take it easy, don’t do any drugs, and we will let your parole officer know that you are okay. I was walking around the neighborhood looking for a place to rest my neck; I found a place behind Target. It wasn’t anything good, but I met a dude who let me sleep in his tent. And that’s how it was all week, I was sleeping behind Target in a tent. Monday, I went back, and he was there. He said, “It’s good to see you. You look rough and you stink.” That was that. He told me, “Don’t do any drugs. Find a laundromat where you can take a shower. Get some fresh clothes because you look bad.” So I left. I came back Friday and my whole life changed. My parole officer said somebody was waiting for me to take care of me. I still had the same clothes on. I still had the same shoes on, head to toe smelling bad and some dude was waiting for me. He was like, “Mr. Smith, my name is Damon Cooke. I am here from the Uncuffed projects to take care of you and take you in. Do you accept this offer, or do you wanna be by yourself?” I am like, “I am down to do whatever. Excuse me for smelling so bad. I need some place to rest my neck and to shower because I stink.” I went to his car, and he was like, “Are you hungry, sir?” I was like, “Yes! I haven’t eaten since the 6th, it’s the 14th. I am starving. We went to a burger place and it took me a while to eat it. I had tears in my eyes because it tasted so good.  Then, he took me to a house. Next, you know, he is giving me stuff! He gave me a whole duffle bag, a phone, and the laptop I am using right now. He gave me a lot of stuff, and I am so happy.

Diane: I assume there are probably clothes and shoes in there.

Marcus: Shoes, hygiene, and stuff like that. I started crying again because I thought I was done. Right now, I am still at the house; I am progressing. It’s getting better. I got sick, though. I got sick the first three days of eating regular food because I wasn’t used to it. But now my stomach agrees with everything, so I am eating and getting ready to go to college. 

Diane: Tell me about your house.

Marcus: It’s a transitional home. I only get to stay for six months. There are five people in here. We all get along, we have a bathroom schedule that needs working because we get frustrated every now and then. It is just a place to rest my head; that’s about it. Get me from point A to point B. I can go back to a house and get some sleep. Other than that, it’s just a typical house. 

Diane: What do you want to study?

Marcus: I have always wanted to become a movie actor. I always wondered why I couldn’t be in movies. What’s so bad about a dude like me being in it? I am funny. I know how to memorize stuff, so what’s the problem, but I didn’t know how to. It took 20 years for me to finally be like, “This is what I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else.” I could do many things, but I need to focus on this. So, while I was in prison, I was making a TV show script. It’s 1,145 pages long.

Diane: What is it about?

Marcus: I have been writing for the last six years in my free time. It helps me because I suffer from depression, I have bad anxiety, and I get lonely now and then. Writing helps a lot. Now that I am out, I can finally get something going. The dude that took me to this house said, “Why don’t you sign up for college? You want to be an actor so much; why can’t you sign up and get something going?”  I didn’t even think about that. I was thinking, I am already in California; why can’t they just come to me? But I have got to take baby steps. I have got to apply. I have to sign up for classes to get the experience going. On the 20th, I applied, and I am good to go. 

Diane: What college are you enrolled in?

Marcus: Solano Community College.

Diane: Have you thought about vlogging?

Marcus: Not going to lie to you, there are a lot of people that told me I should do that and I just laugh at them.

Diane: Your story is so interesting, you should do it! What’s next?

Marcus: I just applied for food stamps, an ID, and a driver’s license to get housing and look for a job. I have been waiting for a while to obtain my ID and EBT card. They approved me, but I am still waiting for the actual card. After that, I can get my birth certificate, which I need to apply for jobs. I also need my social security card to earn money. It has been quite stressful because it has been three weeks since I applied for everything, and they still haven’t given me anything, so I am still on hold. Besides that, I have a lot of free time just writing my script. But once I get everything going, that’s when the jobs are going to pile in. My parole officer already said I have a job waiting for me.

Diane: What kind of a job, do you know?

Marcus: No, he just told me that this company hires felons so all I need is my ID and I am there.

Diane: I’m glad you have a roof over your head. Was is scary being on the streets?  

Marcus: I never told you this. I’m from Texas, and I was initially born in Redding, California, on May 14, 2000, Mother’s Day. My mom had a drug problem, and she couldn’t raise me, so she gave me away. She put me in a foster home in Bella Vista, and I was there for three years. That’s where I met my brother and my sister. And eventually, my adoptive parents came from Texas and moved us to Texas. I had a rough childhood. It wasn’t good at home, but it was pretty good at school. I love school. Even though many kids hated school, school was my favorite time of the day. I enjoyed it, but it was just a bunch of drama in the house, adopted kids, and we all had different families from different backgrounds. Then, we had strangers trying to raise us. They became concerned, “Why is he not leaving?” My foster mom took me by the hand and told me we were going to the car, But I didn’t want to go because I wanted to bring one of the other kids with me. I thought being adopted, you would love being adopted. And the foster mom said, “I don’t know, he’s never like this.” I ran straight to one of my buddies, grabbed him by the hand, and took him to my foster parents. They said, “Are they brothers?” They said, “No, they have been here for the longest time and come home like this. If you take one, you gotta take both. That’s how we do it. That’s how it works. See? He doesn’t want to go unless he is with him.” They signed the paper, and they got both of us. That was happy for me, and later, I found out that my friend, who was with me, had a sister. So, they adopted all three of us. It was a cute story until I moved later in life. It’s been rough. The reason why I came to prison was because of him. It isn’t easy. I’m still trying to process how my brother did me dirty and never gave me a chance, explained nothing to me, and never got a hold of me, which still hurts to this day. But I have to move on; I don’t know anything about where my sister is; I haven’t talked to her since 2018, and my baby brother passed away with his parents, and that’s taken a toll on me, my life.

Diane: Gosh, Marcus, that’s a lot of trauma and tragedy. I’m sorry. 

Marcus: If you were in my life when I was in Texas, like a neighbor or something, you would understand how difficult it was. And then, on top of raising teenagers from 18 to 13 at the same time, it is challenging. I didn’t understand teenagers could be like that, So when everything came down to me when I was in prison, everything just started popping up in my mind: ‘This happened, that happened, why did this happen? Why did that happen? They try to take care of me.’ But I wasn’t listening. I was a teenager. Teenagers do what they want to do. At 16, my brother was the first to move out. I like to say it changed my life for the better, but it ruined it because I had withdrawal symptoms. I suffered a lot of depression. I was upset. I was more aggressive. I started fighting my parents, both of them, and they had to put me in therapy for a while. But, ever since 2018, before I left, I came to California. I was perfect; I was in therapy, I was finishing up high school, and I was doing well. I had a job, I wasn’t upsetting them like I was when I was a kid, and I was living my life. Then, once I finished high school, my dad said, “We can take care of you while you stay in school or go into the military.” I said, “Okay.” Then he said, “Would you rather stay in Texas or meet your birth parents in California?” And out of the blue, I asked, “Where did that come from? I thought you liked me.” He said, “If you want to stay out here, you must join the Navy.” And I replied, “But I got a job.” I took some classes at the University of Texas in Arlington and was doing well. He needed more from me, so I said, “I guess I’m gonna just go back to California and meet my birth parents.” Three months later, he gave me a plane ticket, and I was out here. Homeless, nobody. I didn’t know who my mom was; I didn’t know where my dad was. I ain’t never met them before. And then that’s when my brother from Texas came and found me. And that’s where everything just crumbled up and got thrown up in the air. Everything fell apart. That’s been the most challenging part, the transition from what I had in Texas, so I’m here alone.

Diane: Did you meet your birth parents?

Marcus: I met my mom, not my dad. He was initially out here in Fairfield, like three days before I left prison. He was with my aunt and his sister and eventually found his place in Los Angeles. I asked my mom about him, and she told me everything. So that upset me, but I did meet my mom for the first time, and that was quite the adventure. It was not what I expected. I discovered I have more siblings than I thought, which was fantastic. Let me tell you how it was. 

Diane: Okay. Fill me in. 

Marcus: The parole office let me take a bus to Redding, California. She was waiting for me at the bus station, I didn’t know how, because I had never talked to her before. I didn’t understand what she looked like. I sat by the bus station because that’s where everybody meets. I was waiting. She was beside me the whole time, and I did not know it. I looked around; she had a kid in her hand, and somebody else was with her. I didn’t know, so I felt very uncomfortable. I’m waiting an hour or two, and she’s sitting beside me. Then her kid approaches me and says, “Give me a hug.” I’m in shock. I push her away like, “Look, I don’t know you. Can you please leave me alone?” She was 15, my baby sister. I said, “I’m good, I don’t know what you are doing, please stay with your mom.” But she said, “I know who you are, big brother, so stop playing stupid.” I was like, “Huh, what? Who are you?” And then the lady was like, “Honey, what the hell are you talking about? That’s not your brother; leave him alone.” She kept telling her, “Come over here.” She said, “I’m sorry, she doesn’t know what she is doing.” I’m like, I gotta put it together. I’m your son, you’re white, I’m black, I didn’t don’t know what my mom looked like. She cried and gave me so many hugs. It hurts, but at the same time, I felt something. It’s the first time I’ve met my mom since birth. I didn’t know what type of relationship I would have had with her the first time I met her; I didn’t know if she was going to ask me for drugs, I didn’t think she was gonna beat me, I didn’t know she was going to blame me for stuff. But she embraced it, and then she started crying, and then my sister was annoyed again and asked me many questions. It was one of the best moments in my life. I’ve been communicating with her back and forth, and we’ve been really close. She’s upset that my sister is losing her mind, she’s beating up on people and the police, she’s trying to do her best to get her situated in a residential home, she has been fighting for 12 years to get her stable help, because like I said before she lost all her kids. She has seven kids. She lost all of us, and people have been fighting to get us back, but now four of us are 18 and older, and the others are 13,14 and 15. She’s trying her best to get them situated, and it’s been a struggle. She’s been going through a lot, but I’m by her side, I’m her son, that’s my mom, and if anything, I love her. I do love my mom, and it feels great. I’m the only boy out of seven kids. It sucks because I have no brothers, but when I found out that her sister has been beating on her kids and my sisters, and she has been going in and out of jail to fight to get them out of the house. She’s been fighting for a long time to get them to safer housing. Still, now and then, they gotta go to my aunt’s house, her sister, and I guess they upset her and beat she beats them, but that’s in the past from like 2004 to 2018. She’s still going to court daily with my sister’s grandma and her lawyer, trying to fight for stable housing. She gets upset because they’re saying that Child Protective Services wants her locked up. She’s got ADHD, and I’m not trying to be mean, but she needs help; she does drugs, Fana, which I almost lost when she told me. She told me this morning, in fact. I’m just in pain right now because I don’t want to see my sisters die because of Fana. They can do the right thing like my older sisters do, and then everything will calm down, and my mom could live peacefully and enjoy the rest of her life.

Diane: How are you feeling about that?

Marcus: I’m just feeling like, damn, why can’t I be with her in this situation? Why can’t I help her out? One of my dream goals is to help my mom get situated. I want her to be successful because she’s been going through a lot for the last 20 years. Ever since we were all born, everything has been crumbling down, and it’s been tough for her, but now she is so funny. She also just recently lost her parents like I did. A day later, my parents talked to her. That hurt me because I had never met them, and according to her, they were agitated that she gave birth to a black person. I don’t know how to explain it, but I heard that her dad broke her jaw and broke her nose, knowing that I was born. That put me in tears; I didn’t understand that. She’s a fighter; that’s all I’m saying. Ever since then, she has been giving birth to black kids, and so that means they mean something to me because that’s one reason why I probably thought that she gave me away. Still, I was wrong, and I’m upset that I thought about it because of why I am and how it was at the same time when I talked to my sisters. They’re black. I’m black, and they’re just like their mom, aggressive and trying to fight.

Diane: Do you talk to your sisters? 

Marcus: I talked to my baby sister, the 15-year-old, today. She talks just like my mom, so it was fun; I thought I was speaking to my mom. But everything’s gonna come into place, and I hope for the best. My mom can retire in peace. She is 50, and I don’t know if she has a job or a stable house, but it has just been rough trying to get us kids situated.

Diane: Gosh, that’s a lot to carry, Marcus. 

Marcus: My mom has been trying to get a hold of me since I first moved to Texas, but nobody said anything. I believe she called the wrong address. She probably sent it to the incorrect address. The day I met her, I saw all the letters myself. She wrote two letters, and I still have them, they’re in my book bag. It hurts because I read them now and then, and I’m just like, wow! Someone cared enough to write to me. But she asked me if I was okay. I just looked at the letter to ensure she still has the love a typical mom would have for her kids. 

Diane: Did she know you were in prison?

Marcus: Yes, and she was distraught; literally the minute I went to prison, she got a phone call from my public defender saying what happened, and she was arrested and went to jail that same day. She had fought her sister and her father’s sister, and they called the police on her. She resisted arrest and went on a rampage for a good two years until she finally got a hold of me. She mellowed, was calm, and said, “I’m just waiting for you to get out, that’s all; you are my baby; I love you. Don’t let what your brother did define who you are; you’re your own person, and make your own choices, but be careful.” Ever since then, I’ve been in contact with her. She tells me about my sister acting up, she beat up somebody at school, your sister shoved a girl into the locker, your sister gave a dude a concussion, your sister beat up her teacher, your sister is goofy; I’m thinking “What is going wrong with these kids?” I’m in prison, she’s beating up people, my oldest sister has a DUI, my other sisters are in jail for intoxication, driving under the influence, and reckless endangerment, and it just goes down the list. All her kids have committed all these crimes, and she’s patient towards everybody in her path. It’s been difficult for me to contact her, but now and then, I do, and when I do, it just makes me happy.

Diane: Yeah, we only have one mom, right? Or, we can have lots of moms. 

Marcus: Well, I have lots of moms, my father’s mom, my birth mom, my adopted mom, and now I have another mom. Her name is Simone, and she’s so lovely. She has been helping me out, getting me stuff I need, like hygiene. And her brother took me out of the Fairfield area and brought me to a stable house. 

Diane: Was he the one at the parole office that day?

Marcus: Damon Cook and his sister Simone have been doing a lot for me. They love feeding people, and they feed me real good. They come every night to check up on me. They got some excellent food and ensured everything was in the house. They take me to appointments. They have been a blessing, and I’ve been doing well. 

Diane: How are you doing now?

Marcus: I’ve been happy and sad, sad that I lost my parents, but I’m glad I’m doing well. I’m not in the streets anymore. Damon and his sister are here for me. My parole officer lets them know whenever something comes up, and we all get situated. They’re basically like brothers, so I’m good now I’ve got the resources and help I need.

Diane: Thank you for being with me today. Do you have any questions? 

Marcus: Sharing my life story, basically, that’s what I want to do. I share so people know that life is what you make it. I want people to see that if you’re a prisoner, your life isn’t over; there is always one way to be successful. Going to prison and coming out is not the end of life; it’s just a new beginning, a new chapter. I also like to tell people that if you do lose your parents, there’s always somebody or someone that’s going to find you and lift your spirit. 

Diane: That’s fantastic advice, especially since you’ve been on the dark end of that; thank you for being you.

Marcus: I appreciate your trust in me.

Diane: The same thing here; we are taking your voice and putting it out there. So, it’s right back at you, Marcus.

Marcus: Thank you. 

Diane: Well, we’ll stay in contact, and let us know how everything’s going; I wanna hear every little part, bit by bit, so don’t be a stranger.

Marcus: You motivate me, and I appreciate you. 

Diane: Take care and thanks for today. 

Marcus: Yes, ma’am, thank you. 

Diane: We appreciate you. You’ve got our information if you need us. 

Marcus: Absolutely, thank you.

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