Shawn, 44

Shawn, 44

Meet Shawn…

Laughter helps me remember the warmth of the sun when the chill of loneliness becomes almost too much to bear.

Shawn, 44
Incarcerated: 27 years
Housed: Green Rock Correctional Center, Virginia 

For the first twenty years in here, the only time I ever had the opportunity to encounter a dog was when I was being corralled or threatened by one of the canines to intimidate us. It broke my heart, being a dog lover my whole life, to see dogs barking and snarling at me daily simply because I wore denim. I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the Barks program. I requested to be transferred to a facility where they had this dog fostering program, thinking it would be fun to just be around dogs again. And it was, but it also turned out to be challenging, frustrating, and even sad sometimes. We were tasked with readying the dogs for adoption by teaching them basic obedience and socializing them, (pretty ironic, considering) as well as nursing them back to health when needed, and to keep them entertained. 

 All of the dogs came from shelters and a great many of them showed obvious signs of abuse, but sometimes the scars that mattered most weren’t the visible ones. Shelters are full of big dogs that are “aggressive”, because it’s hard to adopt a dog that seems to want to bite off your face. Indeed, most of the Barks handlers even prayed they wouldn’t get one when it was time to get new ones. The handlers who seemed to do well with the angry ones often talked and acted aggressively in turn in an effort to establish dominance over these dogs. I was in the program about a year and had been lucky with even tempered dogs until a shakeup in handlers required that I turn mine over to a less experienced handler and take a beautiful Pit/Boxer mix named Satin. Now I say beautiful, but I’d never been within ten feet of her because she hated the world. Her handler was labeled as being the go to guy with aggressive dogs but he couldn’t seem to do a thing with her. During that first week she bit me twice and attempted at least a dozen other times while her previous handler and those who had been there longer than me continuously suggested I find a way to show her who was boss. One afternoon I looked up from where I was sitting on the bed and observed her gnawing on an extension cord, and picturing electrocution, I snatched it from her. I realized my mistake before I even pulled my hand back because she barked viciously and jumped. I realized my mistake before I even pulled my hand back. My back was against the wall and her paws were on my legs as she bared her teeth and growled with intensity, inches from my face. I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life. Not knowing what to do, I apologized in the sweetest voice, “I’m sorry, sweetie, it’s okay, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you, it’s okay!” Amazingly, she dropped to the floor and ran in her crate. Relieved, I left her alone for a while and spent the rest of the day talking to her softly. Before I fell asleep that night I noticed that even though she didn’t come out, her little nub of a tail was wagging where it stuck out of the crate. I talked to her all day for days. I didn’t try and make her do anything or get her to come out, I just talked. On the third day, she woke me up by putting her muzzle on the bunk near my face. When I didn’t react, she slowly put one paw next to her head, then two. It took her five minutes but she eventually found the courage to climb up in my bed. I realized as we lay there that it was just that, courage. She wasn’t aggressive, she was terrified. She’d been abused by people with loud voices and heavy hands, corrected by people who wanted her to respond to fear, so she did. I empathize with her so much in that moment, she reminded me of many people I’ve met here, including myself. I’ve never loved another dog more. By the time she left, she was a different dog. She still got scared sometimes and would lean against my leg when she heard loud noises or saw sudden movements but allowed others to walk her and pet her without too much hassle. She also enjoyed (too much) the game of catch that spontaneously occurred sometimes when it was time to go inside. She was a good dog. When it was time for her to leave, she must’ve known because she whined when I had to say goodbye and walk away. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried and didn’t look back. I hope she’s okay and she’s happy and has somebody who loves her with a warm, safe place for her to sleep.

Keshia, 42

Keshia, 42

Meet Keshia…

If I only get the chance to be outside again, to get my freedom back, to be able to hug my kids,  I would never lose that part of my life again. I promise. 

Incarcerated:  5 years
Housed: Fluvanna Correctional Center – Troy, Virginia

I’ve been a nurse since 2004. I had two beautiful children. I was a hard working mother and the best mother I could be. I wanted to make them proud of me. I lived life trying to do everything right. I never thought for one second that I would have to live life without my kids. I miss being a mother. I have the best kids in the world, ones a mother could ever pray for! I love taking care of my kids. We were each other’s best friends. When I was outside my whole life was to work hard to become successful. To be the best mother my children could ask for. I realize the things I took for granted, memories that come to mind when I reminisce. They sometimes bring tears to my eyes. Being incarcerated makes me pray harder for myself and my children. I was so broken and so were they. I taught them to pray when all else fails. As a praying mother, I’m still a part of the outside through my children. I’m included in their life as if I never left. I’m now the grandmother of a beautiful baby girl. God has shown me that my kids would be awesome while I am gone. I am ;proud of them. Everything I taught them while I was on the outside would make them stronger and unbreakable with the unfairness of life. If I only get the chance to be outside again, to get my freedom back, to be able to hug my kids,  I would never lose that part of my life again. I promise.

 
Brandon, 38

Brandon, 38

Meet Brandon…

“It’s unreal to feel the hatred that a person has for you and they don’t even know you. It’s sad. I have mastered being patient in these past years.”

Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: Augusta Correctional Center, Virginia

Prison has opened my eyes to the strong racism that lives here in Virginia. I know it’s always been here, but I didn’t really see it, I didn’t care about it and wasn’t looking for it. This time here I’ve witnessed it first hand. It’s unreal to feel the hatred that a person has for you and they don’t even know you. It’s sad. I have mastered being patient in these past years. In here it’s a waiting game for everything. Getting food, phones, showers, commissary – everything, even mail. I had to learn quickly in order to deal with it. It wasn’t easy, because I was so used to doing what I wanted when I wanted. Then you have the younger guys acting crazy, gang members that want to run everything. Patience is a great tool to have. It helped me sit still so I could learn how to make money in the stock market. Something I don’t think I would have ever taken the time to learn about when I was free. Being patient and trusting in Yahweh has given me the ability to go home and make good money legally. I have met and grown to love a beautiful woman, since I have been here. I know she loves and cares for me a lot. She motivates me even more to learn, so I will have the know-how and means to take care of us and make money legally. I have two and a half years left and I’m trying to take in everything that’s benefitted me. I have learned to appreciate the little things that I took for granted because in here they are not little anymore. The free will to do what you want when you want is a blessing, I didn’t know how special it was. I now look at life differently. Once out, I will take every opportunity that comes my way. I’m going to be scared to try new things that are positive and good. 📸 Brandon’s

Michael John, 33

Meet Michael John…

I was going in Target and Walmart stores to steal electronics. To support my addiction. 

Incarcerated: 8 years
Housed: Augusta Correctional Center; Craigsville, Virginia

I was going in Target and Walmart stores to steal electronics. To support my addiction. At 14, I broke my arm in a dirt bike accident. Little did I know, I would become dependent on the painkillers. It led to me stealing and robbing, doing whatever to get high. I did jail time off and on since I was 16. After my first release, It wasn’t two hours after I walked out of prison that I found myself buying heroin. The pills were too expensive. Within a month my habit was up to four to five grams a day. Once, I was shot in the back of the head and it came out in front of my ear. By the grace of God, I’m still here. When I first started this prison sentence I was 24 years old. Still young and hard-headed. It took me until I was 30, to wake up and realize I’m getting too old for this lifestyle, plus I lost my little brother to an overdose. It’s a shame. It took this sentence and losing my brother to wake up and grow up. I’m going on four years this August without touching a pill or heroin. And that’s a miracle. I’d like to thank the Humans of San Quentin and my family for supporting me. Thank you and God bless you.

Angel, 42

Meet Angel…

…My time here is coming to an end. I’ve survived it all, and now freedom is within reach. I feel as though this is all I’ve ever known. I wonder if it will ever be out of my system. I’ve refused to let prison make me or shape me, I’ve stayed un-institutionalized.

Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Fluvanna Correctional Facility, Troy, Virginia

Survivors

Once we’re born, we struggle to survive in many different ways. We start by scooting in order to move around, and then we start to crawl. Before too long we’re off running. Sometimes we run to nowhere, sometimes everywhere, but other times we run for our life. We run to get away. We all perceive things differently, so often we don’t see or comprehend what the situation is teaching us. We just think the world is out to get us. Some stay on top of the water, scared to get wet, while others will get in, but then doggy paddle through. Few of us venture into the water’s depth to see what’s really there.

We are all united by pain and love. They don’t differentiate between races or cultures. They speak the same language. We were created by God to live, to learn and to enjoy life, but most of us continued to take everything for granted. Yes, most of us have known the hands or words of hatred, bigotry, racism or abuse of some kind.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a God or that He doesn’t care. God gave us all free will, and with evil roaming the earth, it, unfortunately, corrupts people’s minds, but God gives us the strength to survive, not to be anyone’s victims.

We are survivors who couldn’t be broken so we can share our stories and save the life of someone else who’s unable to see the light through the darkness. We all feel alone sometimes, but we’re not just reaching out a hand. Someone is there. So spread your wings and fly. It’s ok.

You are a survivor.

Grief and Pain, I’d like to let people know that there are people here who do understand. That there is a light in the darkness. I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to submit work.

Freedom

Freedom is such a simple word, yet it stands for so much more. People fight wars for freedom. People escape countries for it. As for myself, I didn’t realize the special gift it was until I got locked up. I was in a prison cell at the age 20, when I realized I’d been in prison all my life. I’d suffered abuse at the hands of the ones who were meant to love and protect me. I didn’t realize the shackles my mind wore from it all. I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror. I learned the hard way that no one could love me if I didn’t love myself first. I also quickly saw that I didn’t respect myself or know my worth. I hadn’t been taught any principles or values that parents are supposed to teach you.

I started a long journey of fixing and repairing broken pieces, trying to break free. My time here is coming to an end. I’ve survived it all, and now freedom is within reach. I feel as though this is all I’ve ever known. I wonder if it will ever be out of my system. I’ve refused to let prison make me or shape me, I’ve stayed un-institutionalized. I look forward to being really free, but everyone takes things for granted. To me, freedom means so much, but actually being free from even the chains of my mind will be a taste of heaven I’ve never known.

My first day out, I want real food, a nice shower to wash the prison away, to walk around without shackles or an officer, to watch the stars as they come out and breathe in the fresh air of freedom. I stand strong and healthy knowing I’m wonderfully made by God, who loves me and who I now know intimately. I will walk out these gates as a woman of God, a woman of worth and a survivor, I walk into freedom.

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