I am thankful and honored that your organization is interested in me sharing my truths
and experiences during my time incarcerated. From the first day of my incarceration, I
felt so angry with myself, filled with feelings of fear, hurt, and especially ashamed. I
feared that inmates would know the crimes I committed. I felt hurt for causing my victims
emotional pain; and I felt the shame of being convicted, undeserving to interact with
family and community. I made a conscious effort to become a better person regardless
of the circumstances. This effort began with finding a way to love myself. For to love
myself, I looked no further than those who love me…my family. My participation in
groups here at San Quentin revealed my lack of communicating effectively to those
willing to help me — particularly family.
I found that much of my problems stems from a tragic childhood event. On February 20,
1965, I accidentally shot my brother Jay (J.J.). I say accidentally now because for so
many years my thoughts was “I killed my brother.” It has taken me over 50 years to
make sense of that day. It was J.J.’s birthday, he was turning 6 and I was a year older.
We woke up that morning talking about all the fun we would have during the day. J.J.
was my best friend. I would share with him all the things I learned, answered all of his
questions and loved that he followed me.
I remembered seeing a small handgun under my mother’s bed that morning, and while she was still asleep, I crawled under her bed (J.J. behind me) grabbed the gun then crawled back to our room. I immediately knew the gun was real because I opened it up seeing bullets and feeling how heavy the gun was.
At that moment, I heard someone tell me to pull the trigger. So I did and shot my brother in the stomach. So much commotion ensued after the shot. My mother and older siblings came running into the bedroom; the smell of smoke was in the air; my ears were constantly ringing; and every sound became muffled. Soon after, the ambulance came for J.J. along with the police.
They asked me what had happened. I told them my brother crawled under the bed and grabbed the gun, that he began spinning the gun around his fingers like in the cowboy movies and the gun went off. I totally lied about what happened and for many years I wasn’t the same. I stayed depressed, felt ashamed, and kept isolated from everyone. I never did nor did anyone else in the family ever speak of this event. I loved my brother and I always think of him especially on his birthday.
It wasn’t until I came to prison did I have the courage to allow myself to be vulnerable and speak about J.J.’s death. While I was in the county jail, my mother and I really talked about J.J.’s death for the first time. She told me before J.J. died he told her that I was the one who got the gun and that he wasn’t mad at me.
When I was told this, I was so overwhelmed with grief I began crying from the guilt and
hurt I felt. The talk with my mother about J.J.’s death opened the door for a lot of family
healing. I was able to talk truthfully to my siblings of his death and to my children. I also
expressed to my children how important it is to talk to someone about tragic events. It’s
a shame that I had to live with such a horrific lie for so many years, when the truth of
J.J.’s death had already been revealed.
Every year on my brother’s birthday I take the time to reflect and pay tribute to his life. It
is comforting to know that some of the last words J.J. said was that he wasn’t mad at
me… J.J. actually has forgiven me.