Rocky, 43

My name is Rocky, I’m 43 and have spent the last 22 years in prison for murder. 

This is my story.

I was born in 1977 in the bay area to an Italian mother and Irish and English father. My early memories were great. I felt happy, loved, safe and hopeful, when I turned seven things shifted, a lot of drinking and arguing began. It became more and more frequent, until it reached an explosion when my father threw my mom through a screen door. It was at that moment that my innocence ended. My dad left us shortly after that. Since then It was just my mom, two brothers, and I. All the feelings of happiness, love and safety were gone; in their place was fear, hurt, shame, confusion, and a continuous sense of rejection. We became homeless, and had to move to a shelter. After being in the shelter for a long time my uncle took us in. 

I didn’t know it but my uncle was very violent, to everyone. He threw me against a wall, beat me with a bat, just for asking why he reset a video game, or for stepping on a flower. The pain devastated me physically and emotionally. I kept asking myself why am I being beaten like this, why is my mom allowing it, what did I do, where’s my dad, but most of all, what’s wrong with me? I never found out why.

By the time I left, I was a 10-year-old kid who had developed a very violent belief system; the only way to communicate, to get my needs met was through violence. There was a fuel tank inside me filled with repressed, unprocessed pain and trauma from  abandonment, abuse, and feeling unwanted by everyone. Because the pain came at the hands of my family, I believed I couldn’t trust them, I became withdrawn and felt I had to protect myself.

Today I am no longer a hurt person who hurts people. I am now a healed person who heals people. I know my story can never start over, I can never take back what I did, but maybe, just maybe it can prevent this from being somebody else’s tragic story…

LIfe for us wasn’t getting any better no matter what we did or where we lived. We went on welfare and I moved into the projects. Our new place now nurtured every defect, addiction, distorted belief and poor coping skills we all had. My three years in the projects, I suffered so much more abuse, mostly at the hands of my mother. She would beat me and my brothers with sticks, a belt and a horse whip. Violence had become normal and automatic behavior at home. 

By 13, I had become a full blown drug addict, my mom had abandoned her post as a mother, leaving us boys to find our own way. This crushed my self esteem. I hated my life, and who I was. I  didn’t fit in at school, and believed that every kid at school saw me as I saw myself, a poor, dirty kid with a drug addicted mom who nobody loved, and had no worth. I just wanted to be someone else. That year is when I drank my first beer. 

It numbed everything…allowing me an escape from the pain I kept internalizing. The moment of that realization, I fell in love with alcohol, it became the only thing I wanted. 

In high school, I should have been doing good,studying, getting good grades and playing sports. But instead I began hanging around the neighborhood gang more, searching for acceptance and approval—a place to belong, to be needed. Since I felt I couldn’t get any of that from home, I got it from my gang. I got their respect through violent, anti-social behavior that contributed to a false image. I found my way to be somebody else. I made others fear me, like I was afraid of my father, my uncle and mom. 

At 15, I was expelled from high school, I was drinking everyday to the point where I couldn’t function without it. I kept all my worth wrapped up in my false image. The neighborhood gang became my family and all I cared about. My home had become my mom’s drug house as I would watch her drug friends come in and out of my house all hours of the night. The amount of pain, shame, stress and frustration was overwhelming at times and it was what I walked out my front door with to face the world each day. I took all that hurt and shaped it into my anger and rage because that was the only emotion I knew how to express and wasn’t afraid to. I remember having all extreme emotions within me and feeling I had nowhere to put them. What happened is I exploded on others, transferring all that pain violently to them.

I was a hurt person who hurt people which brought more shame into my life. Within my environment my behavior was always met with approval and validation with little to no consequences. 

Over the next few years I continued in this downward spiral. My depression deepened especially after witnessing the murder suicide of my best friend at the time. 

One night I couldn’t take the pain anymore; and would transmit an eruption of it onto a man named Leo badly hurting him, but  justifying it by telling myself what he deserved for selling drugs to my mother. I was sent to Pittsburg, PA the next day; to be watched over by the love and support of my aunt Nancy. I found myself discovering my potential as I made the honor roll as a high school senior and being scouted by the Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team. 

Yet, I was 19, silently suffering, unable to put behind me where and what I came from. I was being shown the light of the greatness life had to offer but I was uncomfortable in it. I was tragically more comfortable in chaos. I left all that goodness, all that great family, healthy love and support, baseball career, endless possibilities for a life of drugs, alcohol, resentments, violence, unhealthy false love and acceptance. I thought it was the only place I belonged. Looking back it’s heartbreaking. A tragic choice I made, one I would come to regret.

Back in California, my addictions were still more powerful than I could control. I tried to do right but had no clue how. Everything I was wanting to do I was failing at. I needed help but my messed up beliefs wouldn’t allow me to ask. On May 7th 1998 after a chain of stressful events that had me on a downward sliding path of hopelessness and depression. I feel into my disgusting, horrific pattern of behavior,  looking to release my pain and frustration onto someone else. That night, my poor life choices led me to an innocent man who lost his life as I brutally assaulted him, letting out an entire life’s worth of pain, causing his death and a lifetime of pain and suffering on his entire family.

I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. After many years of avoiding everything, trying to hide from my shame, the reality of what I did with drugs, alcohol, gangs and criminal behavior hit home. Realizing how I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, gave me the strength to face what I did and take responsibility. 

When that moment came, it changed my life. I had a consultation with a deputy commissioner who with his words removed the last bit of denial I had left. I dove into self help, made myself sit in the fire and felt what the man I murdered must have gone through at my hands. It brought me to my knees, my empathic gate burst open and I cried. I thought of his family and all the pain and suffering I caused them and still cause them today, and again it shook me. Since then I have worked tirelessly to get to the core of my anger, rage and violence which was all that unprocessed pain, fear, shame, addictions and resentments I carried. I was able to address it and let go and get sober.

Today I love myself, love sobriety, have a healthy self-esteem, and returned to my authentic self. By the grace of God I am back on the path to being the man God intended me to be. My remorse for what I did, the life I took, and what I put his family through is the driving force for my change.  What drives me everyday is to be of service and live a non-violent life of love, compassion and forgiveness. Today,  I am a facilitator for our youth, I use my past in hopes to show them where their poor choices can lead. I do all I can to show them a different way, how to face and heal their pain and shame. I find my greatest joy in helping these young men as I see myself in all of them. I teach them how to ask for help, use different tools than violence, drugs and alcohol, to learn how to manage their emotions, develop healthy communication and coping skills, to be pro-social, things I wished I learned to do.