Michael, 40

Michael, 40

Meet Michael…

“What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family.”

Michael, 40

Incarcerated: 12 years

I’ve never felt so afraid, rejected, or abandoned in my life. The things I’ve endured no one, let alone a child, should have to experience. What makes matters worse is that my younger sister Connie, and little brother Josh, are also with me. We were in Sacramento, California, starving in an abandoned duplex our mother was renting before her arrest. The electricity was just shut off, there was no food in the refrigerator, and we were camped out in our mother’s room. The three of us were cold, hungry, and confused. What was I going to do? How were we going to survive? My 14 year old brain was overloaded with questions that I didn’t have answers for. My mother has been incarcerated for a few months now and our aunt, who was supposed to be caring for us, had abandoned us a couple weeks earlier. I was so hurt and angry at her. My other two siblings and their father had driven away leaving us all alone on the porch. I’m brought out of my thoughts by brother Josh’s voice, “I’m hungry, what are we going to eat?” Before I can answer, my sister Connie says, “Mike, I know where some money is. Remember when I dropped a dollar in one of the bedposts?” As she says this, she jumps up and heads to the room we shared before our lives were turned upside down. The three of us went to work on that white headboard with red trim as if we were a demolition crew. With the help of a wire hanger and some scissors we retrieved that dollar bill as it was a long last treasure. Along with some loose change we scraped up from all over the house, we were able to buy something to eat for the night. I’m not sure exactly what we bought from the store other than a bag of potato chips. What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family. I’ll never forget that night and 26 years later, myself, Connie, and Josh continue to beat the odds, we are there for one another, and we come out on top.

Greg, 49

Greg, 49

Meet Greg…

After the first bite, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I’m sitting at the table in a crowded chow hall with tears running down my face.

Greg, 49
Incarcerated: 27 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, California

I was really young when I moved to California and we lived right around the corner from her. Her home was my favorite place to be. The sun seemed to always shine on her house. She only had one daughter, so I was the son she never had. She truly adored me. I loved being in her house; there was an energy of love that wasn’t in my house. I remember helping her make sweet potato pies; my job was cutting up the sweet potatoes. It became one of my favorite things to do– help her make sweet potato pies. I remember when I was around seven and I was mad at my mother. I packed my bag,  ran away from home, and told my mother that I’d rather live with my auntie. She was a loving, beautiful, caring person. Her name was Ethel B, but we called her Aunt B. Even after I came to prison, we stayed in touch. She came to visit me a couple of times. But her health got worse and she couldn’t travel.

When she passed away recently, I was heartbroken after getting the news. I had a really hard time dealing with it; she was someone with whom I only had good memories. Also, there are no processes or opportunities for someone to grieve in prison. It’s hard. A few days after her passing, I went to dinner, and they were serving the prison’s favorite meal, chicken-on-the-bone. I grabbed my tray and noticed something strange on the tray. It looked like a sweet potato. I grabbed it and took a bite. It was in fact a sweet potato! After the first bite, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I’m sitting at the table in a crowded chow hall with tears running down my face. It reminded me of Aunt B. I closed my eyes and tasting the sweet potato took away all the pain. The taste brought back beautiful memories of her and her love for me, which got me through the grieving. It was the first time in 29 years that I saw a sweet potato being served in prison. I took it as a sign that Aunt B saw that I was struggling, and she sent me a message. ‘I got you, nephew.’ Instantly, I got better. I love you sweet potato pie! Rest in Paradise.

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