Aaron, 33

Aaron, 33

Meet Aaron..

“Taking care of puppies is like taking care of children; you have to be mature, responsible, and available at all times outside of being able to train puppies.”

Aaron, 33

Incarcerated: 9 years

Housed: San Quentin

I’ve been in San Quentin for three years now. When I heard they would have a dog program, I quickly applied for a transfer and was fortunate enough to be accepted. My dog’s name is Artemis, but I call him “Artie” for short, and he came to San Quentin at four months old. Artie came from Canine Companions, a service dog program that raises puppies for a year to become service dogs for someone in need. Being in this program has taught me compassion, awareness, and accountability. Taking care of these puppies is like taking care of children; you have to be mature, responsible, and available at all times outside of being able to train puppies. This has also helped residents like myself and staff communicate more normally versus the “us vs. them” old communication style. Canine Companions is an agent of change in San Quentin, and I’m glad to be a part of it. We have great camaraderie among all the trainers, staff, and San Quentin. When people see the dogs, it’s a morale booster for everyone, and I want to help advance this program in any way I can.

 

Chris, 53

Meet Chris…

“It was about the six seconds of compassion that my foster sister showed me and the courage to let her compassion flow through me.”

Chris, 53

Incarcerated: 17 years

Housed: San Quentin

I was shocked. My words had betrayed me. Words that rose from a place I didn’t know existed, “I’ll cut your hair,” I offered, and with those words, I violated the hard knocks street rule of minding my own business. Yet, it didn’t feel like I had broken a cardinal rule. It felt, well … right, like I was connected to this man’s suffering in a way that reminded me of my own. He was thin and unimposing. He had an unkempt afro and a long, ragged beard. All he wanted was a haircut so he could appear presentable before a judge the next day. Yet, none of the barbers would touch him. He couldn’t afford to pay for the store items they wanted. That’s when those four fateful words leaped from my mouth and landed in his ear. He turned to look at me and told me that he didn’t have any way to pay me. “That’s okay,” I said. I then spent the next three hours meticulously trimming his hair and beard. I had no experience as a barber, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was to humanize him to the judge, to himself, and to the barbers who had written him off. I know what it’s like to be written off; to be forgotten. My childhood and prison sentence tell me so. He shook my hand and thanked me, expressing gratitude towards a man that not even I had ever met. Something shifted inside of me as a result of that experience. It blessed me with a life-changing glimpse of the man I wanted to become: compassionate, connected, and courageous. Fourteen years have passed since that day and I have been cutting hair for free ever since. Each haircut lures me deeper, more intimately into my humanness and that of others. Every conversation reveals our sameness and stirs within me a deep sense of remorse for the harm I caused to people who were just like me.

Michael, 43

Michael, 43

Meet Michael…

After turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out.

Michael, 43
Incarcerated: 14 yrs
Housed: Alfred D. Hughes Unit, Gatesville, Texas

Months after turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out. By some miracle, I was barely breathing when they found me. After getting 16 stitches on both sides of my neck, I was sent for a mental evaluation. Back at my unit, I wanted to cry. I’ve never been suicidal! Looking at myself in a mirror, I realized I needed help. I’ve been raised up in the church, and that never got my attention. I’ve had homeboys and money, but still got into trouble. There were girlfriends in my life, but still something wasn’t right. I’ve gangbanged, been to parties and clubs, yet still I’ve had no peace. I’ve talked to doctors and counselors, still nothing good connected. Coming to prison, I’ve tried Islam, and my heart still felt troubled. It’s like I’ve done it all, and yet, nothing helps. In my desperate time of need, I felt hopeless.

Suddenly I felt an urge to pray. I didn’t know why, praying never done anything for me before. However, this urge seemed different. I fell to my knees in the middle of that cell and said, “If there’s really a God of all things, then I ask you Almighty God to help me understand the good and evil I’m going through, and I will give my life to you.” After saying amen, I got up not expecting anything to happen. Looking around my cell for some entertainment, my eyes landed on the Holy Bible and something led me to pick it up. I don’t know why, because I could barely read it. I’ve never understood it before. After picking it up, it fell open and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – there was a small image of a lightning display. It was just hovering between the pages. I assumed I was just hallucinating. So I closed my eyes and reopened them, and sure enough, it was still there. That’s when a notion came over me to attempt to touch it. So I led my left finger towards it in the hopes of feeling it, but to my surprise, it began to fade away. The urge came over me to go to the beginning of the Bible where I was led to read Genesis chapter one, two, and stopped at three. I hadn’t noticed how easy it was for me to read it as I’ve never done before until that moment. It truly scared me wondrously. My body didn’t feel the same. Something was happening.

I began to pray a new prayer. I said, “In Jesus’ name I pray, if you are real, then I’m asking you to help me beat my charges I’m indicted with. If you let me go home, I ask that you give me a son whom I will give to you. If you allow me to have a wife, please allow her to be someone you would come for, don’t let her be someone to impress the world with, and please let her believe in you. Then, give me a sign to know it’s her because I don’t want to be confused! Let our love join us together and take her away from the undeserving pain she’s receiving from perhaps her family, friends, or loved ones. In your mighty name I pray, Amen. I made it home. My brother Eric hooked me up with this Black girl days later. She became pregnant with my child, and we set a day to get married. But she went against the agreement once that day arrived, so I broke off from her, and told her I’d be there for my son when he arrived, but I couldn’t stand her lies. Days later, I met this Mexican chick who just out of nowhere came up to me and said, “I think you’d like my homegirl Scooter.” But she didn’t tell me what she looked like, or give me her number. Then she walked away. I didn’t dwell too much on it at the time. But three days later, I met a girl at my aunt’s place, and that whisper said, “She’s the one.” Me and the girl fell in love, then later I realized her a.k.a. was Scooter. The name was God’s sign to me. Then I found out that she’s not being loved by her family on her mom’s side, because her mom was full Mexican and her dad was a White guy. Scooter was only five years old when somebody in her family pushed her mom in front of a car and killed her because they were mad at her being with a White guy. It was hard for me to believe this at first until I met her family. Before, Scooter had told me how her Mexican grandmother had taken her into custody along with her two sisters and brother. She was not completely loved due to her being mixed. She said her grandmother allowed her mom’s brother to molest her. Then she told me that we had to elope if we wanted to get married. So we did! After getting married and God showed me he was behind our union, and finding out that she believed in Christ, I told her I was gonna take care of her problems, but she didn’t want me to go back to prison.

Now I’m doing 60 years. Sadly, Scooter is no longer with me, she has passed away due to being brokenhearted. My family thinks someone killed her, or perhaps she killed herself. And I’m wondering if I’ll ever know the truth.

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