Ivié, 55

Meet Ivié…

Ivié, 55
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, NY

Ivié: I was up until four in the morning. It’s normal for me. It’s quiet then, so I’m in my room and I’ll write, paint and play with my keyboard.

Diane: Tell me a little bit about how you’ve changed here. It seems like you’ve gone through a process. 

Ivié: It’s funny, after 28 years, with child abuse there’s still stuff I relive. That’s what recently has been woken up: abuse in upbringing, PTSD. I can share that PTSD is not attached to my sexual childhood abuse. It was attached to an instability of a domestic violence relationship with my parents marriage, death, abandonment and suffering. At first I didn’t want to deal with it, but I had to, so I didn’t shy away from it. It was a painful process. In order to heal, you have to feel it. I had to feel the emotions and realize I’m either going to live with these emotions to just survive and make it by or to truly live . Recently, there’s been stuff that opened up with my sister, who’s just a year older than me. I think we covered everything from my childhood, 10 years old and younger. I think just being able to not hide anyone and not be ashamed of my past that makes me who I am today, it gets me to know my authentic true self. I want to be somebody who can speak freely and openly and meet people where they are. That’s a big thing.

I still have a consecutive sentence of 30 years in New Jersey. I was like wow if they put me there, I’m going to feel abandoned. I’m not going to have the doctors and therapists that I have here. How can I fix myself? Give me some rights, you know. I wrote some self-therapy books. I gotta say that book did a lot. Doctor Jay Earley, PhD for self-therapy. The director picked up another book off the bookcase and I was like, let me see this, it said, Life’s Operating Manual. I was like, Oh my God, this is gonna fix my life! It’s by the director Tom Shadyac. One of the first things he says is, “This is not a 12 step manual to help you fix your life.” But I kept reading, and I think with the self-therapy book, for me, it also takes you deep if you go in. You not only learn about yourself and why some of the things you do, your actions and your behaviors, but you also learn about other people, and it all stems back to your childhood. So it’s a process.  I got a book a couple of days ago called Healing Together, that’s about how to approach survivors and other people who were sexually abused as a child or in domestic violence relationships and how better I can approach them. For two years, we’ve been doing a suicide prevention program. We learned to pick up on symptoms and their behaviors and reach out to people. So that’s a lot, but I like it. I have a passion for that.

Diane: Is there any of your art that you would like to share?

Ivié: So one of the ones I just did. I mean, I’d go up against King Kong in a heartbeat, but I have a really sensitive nature. I can cry at commercials and stuff. I was watching Ukraine and it was just moving. I had a thing though with high heels stilettos. So, I did a globe, and then I did 24 stilettos and I did them in rainbow colors. Then I inquired how to say the word “love” in 24 different languages and so that’s the heel part of each stiletto and then they’re circling the globe. And the first top two are Ukraine and Russia. And they’re very similar. There’s just one last character, and that’s very different. I had trouble getting those because they’re symbols, and when they tried to send them to me through an email it would come out all pixelated. I would have to go sit at the kiosk the next time I was able to sync and copy them down off the kiosk. So that’s that one.

I did- I’m not sure if they refer to her as the Lady Madonna or The Virgin Mary. I’m not sure, but there is one where she has long long strands of brown hair and she has her hand on her heart. So, I did one with her. She’s like one and a half by two and a half feet. I put my right hand on her heart, and I traced it with my left hand. That took me 3-4 days, but it’s pretty cool at the end. Then I gave her prayer hands, and then I took her face and gave her hand like this and I titled her “Pardon.” Pardon me, forgive me, I still feel it. Pardon me for trying to get your attention.

Diane: I noticed you mentioned something about your sister. Would you like to share anything about your relationship with her?

Ivié: We’re still processing our mother’s passing. It’s difficult for her, but I don’t think she has had the opportunities I’ve had with therapists, so she’s still hiding and still ashamed. Both of us were sexually abused as little girls between six and seven years old. She was also in a domestic violence marriage. I know she has not reached out for therapy. I don’t think she’s there yet. Even in here you learn that you can’t beat hatred with hate, or abandonment, or other people’s actions and behaviors. I can’t judge her. It’s best for me to meet people where they are and let them in where they fit in, and even if it’s an unloving situation, bring it to heart. It just makes this whole situation a little different. I try to send her as much positive energy as possible and pray she can find somebody she can speak to. I’ve been blessed. It’s really a blessing, and you have to be able to talk about it. You really, really do. It’s so true, you have to feel to heal. You have to address these emotions and know why you have them. I came across this magazine called  The Entrepreneur, and there was this guy on the front cover named Norman Reedus, the lead actor for The Walking Dead, and I was like “What? I’ve never seen it.” However, he begins his article with saying, “What you are hiding and what you are ashamed of may become or may be your greatest assets.” I read it and was really moved. He said the same thing that I got from a psychiatric evaluation: listen. Sometimes somebody just needs someone to listen. You have to find that person. Look to be that person because you can save someone’s life. 

Diane: All your hard work has really paid off. Just listening to you talk is very soothing.

Ivié: Thank you.

Diane: It’s nice to know that you’ve done the hard work and looked at it. 

Ivié: I wrote something that I do want to center, a piece I wrote called, “What are your dreams? What are your passions?” For me, I believe our world is broken, and my dream is that we can fix it. What if it’s not that we’re fallen but that we’ve forgotten our most greatest tokens, love, kindness and compassion put out unashamedly spoken forgiveness and second chances. Celebrating our doses, treating others as you would want to be treated. Our birthing of roses. Tell your story, own your journey. You have to reach out.

Diane: People outside do not know the impact we have on people inside. Tell us what you think of Humans of San Quentin.

Ivié: For you just giving us a voice and being able to share. We made bad choices, but for you to highlight and share with the world that we’re still human and that we can’t define a human being by making a bad choice. Things happen, and I don’t believe that there are accidents. But for you to just highlight our voices, our words, our feelings, our emotions and share them with the world. You give the world another side of who we are, a lot of people don’t know what happened or why.

 

Pamela, 55

Meet Pamela…

Pamela, 55
Incarcerated: 32 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Diane: What is it that makes you happy?

Pamela: What makes me happy is to play softball. I love to play softball- it’s one of the things I get to do here in the summer months, and that makes me really happy. Besides being with my family and friends, that’s one thing inside here that makes me happy.

Diane: How do you play here?

Pamela: We play in the yard. It’s kind of like a bootleg setup. It’s half grass, half field type of thing. When I play, I feel free. I feel like I’m in a game somewhere at some playground or park, and I feel extremely free. I totally concentrate on the game and forget I’m in prison. That’s my favorite thing to do. And I’m still hanging in there! I’m getting kind of old, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to play, but I’m doing alright. 

Diane: Do you have leagues or opponents that you play?

Pamela: No, we don’t. It seems when Covid happened, there were a lot of lockdowns here. People got lazy during the lockdowns, so there’s not as much interest anymore for sports.

Diane: Is there something in particular that you worry about?

Pamela: My mother. I worry about my mom all the time. Unfortunately, she broke her hip last week. She was at the hairdresser, and the guy forgot to lock the chair. When she got in the chair, she fell and hit the sink. She had to go into emergency surgery the following day, was in a nursing home, and just came home yesterday. That was very hard for me because I can’t be there to take care of her. My dad is taking care of her, but he’s 83. That was really tough. It still is really tough.

Diane: How old is she? Does she live nearby?

Pamela: She’s 81 and lives in Florida. She’s been unable to come due to her compromised health around Covid and not wanting to travel because of Covid. I haven’t seen either of my parents in three years and now that they’re in Florida, it’s a lot harder.

Diane: You sent us a poem that you wrote, which was so touching to me, about being a mother.

Pamela: Not being a mother.

Diane: It was touching to me that you were able to articulate what you felt about having a baby.

Pamela: I got sent to prison when I was 22. I did not have any children at that time. Because I had a life sentence without any possible leave for parole, one of the side-effects is that I could never have children, being incarcerated all of my life. I believe you are talking about a poem that is called, “Emptiness Inside.” I was speaking about wanting to be a mother and wanting to have a child and feeling like not a whole woman because I couldn’t experience that.

Diane: Do you want to read it?

Pamela: Sure.

Women are supposed to give birth
Therein lies their worth
Ultimate femininity
Expanding the human race
Leaving a piece of me
Forever multiplied in someone else
Infinity in the soft soil of a womb

Me
22 years old
Sentenced to life
Sentenced to be barren
My body a dry desert

Oh, child of my womb
I sometimes swear I feel your heartbeat
Your restless soul move
I see you in my dreams
A little girl
Ribbons the colors of cotton candy.

My baby girl
Trapped within me forever
Serving life in the prison of my womb.
I even named you
Epiphany
My awakening to womanhood

But I am just a girl
Never a woman
If I can’t let you out.

Diane: Thinking and talking about your life sentence without parole… What motivates you?

Pamela: Well, God. I have a deep sense of spirituality and I live a life of service here and I decided long ago I will try to make my life as rich as possible despite my circumstances. I do a lot of work with the other women here, in school, at the grievance office where I work, and advocacy work. I work all the time. I thank God I have the energy of a 12 year old, so I’m okay. I run around all day and it keeps me going because I’m busy. I feel like I’m doing things that are good and I see that I help and the changes and the results of my efforts. I feel like I want to keep my mind sharp and stay enjoying the life that I do have. I don’t want to be miserable, I don’t want to be angry. I want to be as positive as I can, so I keep myself involved in positive things. 

Diane: Negativity can really tear you apart.

Pamela: Well, I see what it can do everyday. There’s a lot of people that are angry, bitter, miserable and they’re still here. Only you have to live with yourself, and I don’t want to live with a person everyday that is that way. So, I do my best, focusing and hoping that one day, this will end.

Diane: And that’s probably why you feel so young, right?

Pamela: Well, I never take a nap, I’m always running, I try to stay in shape with sports. I keep my mind in shape going to school, writing, doing things…

Diane: That’s great to hear because I’ve been in prisons, and they can be so oppressive. 

Pamela: Yeah, it’s totally an oppressive environment, but I think that life is a choice. Everyday, you choose what you’re going to do with the day in front of you, and I choose to live and live in a peaceful state in the midst of the chaos that’s going around me. Honestly, it may sound corny, but I have the joy of the Lord in my heart, and my circumstances can’t take that away. They just can’t. I might lose it for a minute or whatever, but they can’t take it from me.

Diane: Would you want to share a typical day with us?

Pamela: A typical day. Well, this morning was really a typical day. Before 8 o’clock, I was called all over the place before the day even started because there are problems in the housing units. A sergeant was calling me, the officers were calling me because there was a lot of confusion about policy and procedure that was recently changed about the housing unit operations. I was called to get what the rules are, pull the rules, go back, talk to people, explain what’s happening, get some clarification from supervisors about how things are supposed to be operating. Pretty much my day starts: I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, I pray, I take a shower at about 6, then I handle what already happens or is coming my way even before I get to work at 8 o’clock.

Diane: What’s your job?

Pamela: I work in the grievance office. I’m the elected grievance representative for the prison. Every six months I have to run and be elected again in order to keep the job. I’m in my ninth term right now. So, I handle all complaints, and there are no shortage of complaints. So, I handle them, I try to resolve what I can in my head informally… It’s a lot of diplomacy. Speaking to people, trying to come up with solutions, working with on-site supervisors, sargeants, lieutenants. If it can’t be resolved it has to get filed and we go to hearings. I work every day from eight to four, but my job really never ends. Even if the office is closed, the job never ends. People just see me, and I’m the “problem lady.” So, every problem they have, whether it’s nighttime, morning, weekend, whatever, they come asking me, “What are the rules about this?” There’s rules about everything here. The rules are sometimes fluid, and that’s when there’s problems. Certain people interpret it a different way, and I try to get clarification.

At night, I try to play racquetball for at least an hour or an hour and a half every night. I make phone calls, do what I have to do for myself.  That’s pretty much a typical day. On the weekends I go to church, I visit sometimes throughout the day. I also just finished a PhD program. I was going to school for a while, and I’m hoping to start another master’s program in the Fall. I’ve been in school forever, and I’m still in school. I love to learn.

Diane: Are your programs in person, or are they in correspondence?

Pamela: Both. I did one master’s program through correspondence, another master’s program through in-person learning. I did a PhD through correspondence because of course that was during Covid. And this master’s that I just applied for, if I get in, will be in-person learning through New York Theological Seminary. That’s a pretty prestigious school. I’m hoping they won’t say that I’m over-qualified and that I’ll be able to do it. 

Diane: Tell me about the person you were before you came here, and the person that you are today.

Pamela: It’s funny because I’ve really always been the person I am today. However, I’m much wiser, much less naive. I feel like before, being that I was so young -I was 22- I was not as focused on other people as I am now. I did do some service work before I came into prison, but at the level that I do things now, very little has to do with myself. My days and my nights have to do with everyone else, so I have become a lot less selfish, although I wouldn’t have described myself as a selfish person. I’m just more aware of the needs of other people and focusing on that and how important that is. I think that’s probably the biggest change. And of course, I’m a lot more world weary- I’ve seen things I wish I never saw and experienced things I wish I never had.

Diane: Well that’s a gift that you’re giving back so much.

Pamela: I feel like the more I’m blessed with -the more I learn- I always end up giving it back to everyone. I never just learn and keep it all to myself.

Diane: Is there any relationship you want to talk about?

Pamela: I have great friends inside prison. I know people say you can’t find friends in prison, but you can. I have great friends outside of prison- people who have stayed by my side throughout the whole incarceration. Then, I have other families that I’ve created from friends and people inside here. A problem for me is that everyone leaves but me. So, my life is always about having friendships and then losing the physical person with me because everyone goes home. That’s rough for me, but a lot of the friends that go home stay in touch, and that to me is beautiful and speaks to the fact that you really can get friends in prison.

Diane: We only have three minutes, but I would love to open the floor to you and let you ask anything that is on your mind.

Pamela: I feel like a lot of times people in prison are seen as one-dimensional and we’re described or are forever frozen in our worst state. That defines everything about us, and we’re people. We’re humans. There’s more to us. Especially people that have been in prison for a long time. If you didn’t learn whatever you were supposed to learn in being sent to prison, you’re just never going to learn it. I think that there should be some way to reevaluate people who have served 20 or 30 years. All this time to determine if there’s a continued need for their incarceration, or if they could be doing something better outside of prison.

Diane: One last thing, because a lot of people have not heard about Humans of San Quentin. Is there anything you want to say about it?

Pamela: I think it’s a great program because it encourages people to write and find a voice. Not only to write, but then putting the writings out there. A lot of programs come into prison and they want you to write. You write in groups and then the writings never go out into the world. I think that it’s so important for people to read things by people in prison and to see themselves in those same struggles.

Tiona, 26

Meet Tiona…

It is helping others understand life from a different perspective in hopes that we stop fighting each other and come together. Unity is the answer to everything, the ultimate key to love and peace in hopes of mending our differences.

Incarcerated: 7

Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York

During my 26 years, I have come to realize what it is to love and to lose, what it is to grow and be stagnant. Every step of the way has shaped me into the woman I am today. I have learned from a young age what it feels like to have someone love me and then have them ripped from my life; leaving me to fend for myself as everyone around me abandons me.

I learned  just because you have parents. does not mean they have to love you, and their version of love might be quite different. 

I learned life is never what you expect and it will constantly surprise you. We may not understand our pain, struggles and suffering until later in life when things begin to fall into place or sometimes when it is too late. It is all the aches and heartbreaks that make you grow, which leads your heart to guide you in a different direction. 

I learned that what you hear or see as a child makes you believe certain values, and growing up and becoming one with yourself  makes you change those same beliefs. 

I learned  you might never see life the same as the person next to you, but you have to try to walk in their shoes in order to understand life differently. 

I learned to listen to my heart as it cries out in agony, because it is with love that we heal and heal others. 

I learned  even if you did nothing wrong, you will be viewed as if you are guilty because they lack the capability to analyze what is beneath the surface. 

I learned what it felt like to be my son’s first heartbreak when I received my 16-year prison sentence. 

I learned to survive in a jungle meant to destroy you and to find love in this strange place. 

I learned how all the evils of this world can consume you. 

I learned how to find myself while I watch others closely to divide the real from the fake, and to take heed of what they hide behind their masks and in their hearts.

I learned how to stop hating life, and how to start living it. We need to see we are not defined by our mistakes, because while they cannot be undone they show our willingness to get back and try again. 

I learned my passion is to free others from their mental imprisonments, and to live up to my life purpose. I want to spread love endlessly. 

I am learning to remind myself someone out there has it worse than me. While learning that even though we are all human beings, we are not looked at as such. Society creates these “norms” and labels and once someone does not fit in, they ‘X’ them out, alienating them. 

I am learning it is extremely difficult to be a woman and even harder to be a woman of color, that society expected me to fail because of the color of my skin. This may be ’The Land of The Free’ but every life born or migrated here has paid the price. 

I have learned to fear for my child every time I watch the news and see another black body lying on the ground at the hands of law enforcement. I know now it is those who are meant to help you that are often the ones who hurt you. 

I am learning our constitution continues to fail us, resulting in our growth being stunted. 

I am learning that while I am just an ordinary person, I want to make the best of my time here for both those around me as well as myself. It is helping others understand life from a different perspective in hopes that we stop fighting each other and come together. Unity is the answer to everything, the ultimate key to love and peace in hopes of mending our differences. Our world would be such a peaceful place if we thought of others, if everyone’s soul was inclined to help the next individual; I am learning to be thankful for today because tomorrow may never come. 

Sarah, 37

Meet Sarah…

“She was a more sophisticated, stoic type of woman. She wouldn’t have to be loud or speak anything really; her presence alone demanded attention and respect. You wouldn’t second guess it. She installed in me a type of quality of how to carry myself as a woman. Even though I could be animated or rambunctious, even obnoxiously loud at moments, she used to chastise me. She could be so stern, ‘You know we’re not about that. I love you unconditionally; that’s natural. However, do I like you acting like that? Absolutely not!’ It turned her off, but in some moments she’d crack up and laugh because her sense of humor is a bit much. 

Her love was unconditional, so I didn’t know how much of an impact I’ve caused during my teenage years or that rebellion stage. On one of the visits that I had with my mom, once again, my sister was with her and I spoke to my sister after the visit, and she explained to me that mommy broke down crying, putting your mail in the mailbox. Publicly she’s not a scene maker so everyone knows that she’s suffering or going through pain. She was very well at masking that, and that broke me. That broke my heart so much. And still, in all, knowing that it broke my heart to hear it, to know that I’ve caused pain in my family. I still wasn’t too connected with how much of an impact I’ve caused for not just my family members but with my community and my friends. Up to this day, I talk to my friends and they reach out to me, and they’re like, ‘What you did changed my life, my journey. You know, I’m married, I’ve got kids.’

Another thing about my mom: she came to one of my visits, and I started getting misty-eyed and emotional a little bit. She was like, please don’t do that. I complained about what my son was wearing. He was about three or four at the time, and he had a pair of corduroys on and I was like, I would never have my child wearing anything like that. And then my son was three or four years old so he didn’t really care. That’s when I started crying. She was like, ‘You’re still vain thinking that we’re not suffering or going through whatever we’re going through, and you’re worried about how your child is dressed. We came- we took 2 ½ hours to get here. It cost gas money.’ It’s a struggle for me to accept a situation where someone else is telling my kid what to do. She held it together just to keep afloat and help to keep my sanity.”

Sarah, 37

Meet Sarah…

“When I was arrested, I’m in the courtroom, the judge is reading off my charges and my sister is sitting right next to her she’s my younger sister her name is Debbie. She cried out so loud- this is a sibling that I grew up with. It wasn’t like we didn’t grow up with each other or we don’t know anything about one another. I’ve never heard her cry out like that. It was just so painful. On one of the visits that I had with my mom, once again, my sister was with her and I spoke to my sister after the visit, and she explained to me that mommy broke down crying, putting your mail in the mailbox. Publicly she’s not a scene maker so much so everyone knows that she’s suffering or going through pain. She was very well at masking that, and that broke my heart so much. I still wasn’t too connected with how much of an impact I’ve caused for not just my family members but with my community and my friends. Up to this day, I talk to my friends and they reach out to me, and they’re like, ‘What you did changed my life, my journey. You know, I’m married, I’ve got kids.’ But it was so significant for me.”