Darnell, 26 years inside

Darnell, 26 years inside

Darnell Washington “Mo”

Released after 26 years

Diane: How were you feeling when you first found out you were going to get released?

Darnell: When I went to the board and was found suitable, I was like… wow. I did it! I went in there with no expectations. I walked in as if I was going to have a conversation about who I was and who I am now. I wasn’t worried about what they thought of me because I know who I am, and that was the bottom line. I think sometimes people go into the board thinking of it as an adverse situation. They have their guard set with an attitude and facial expressions, voice or body language. I decided to let that go and go in with an open mind.

Diane: What was your reaction when they said you were found suitable?

Darnell: There was an emptiness… there was no pressure. I just marinated in what was said. When the committee told me, “Do what you said you’re going to do when you get out. Don’t disappoint us,” about what I said I want to do in my community, that hit me. That’s something I really remember that motivated me to stay on the right path. 

Diane: What happened next? 

Darnell: I went back to the yard. Everyone knew I went to the board and they kept telling me I would get a date. All my friends were there and they were clowning me, like, “I know you got the date.” I asked why, and they said, “We see you walking down the road looking like George Jefferson!” They were proud of me. They had so much confidence in me that I was going to get the date. That’s something I had to work on to understand. They saw the change in me, and I just hope they do the same thing. They kept asking me a lot of questions about what I did and I said, “I don’t have the answers. Only you know what you’ve been through and what you’ve got to do when you go in there. I’m not going to tell you. I can tell you what I said, but I have no answers. That’s the most important thing. They were like, “Okay,” and next thing you know, everyone was asking the things in my cell, my stuff.

Diane: How did you feel the night before you were going to be released?

Darnell: I was really calm. I went to sleep at a normal time. I did everything I normally do: my little prayer and meditation. I’m a practicing Buddhist, and it’s about being in the present moment. I wasn’t trying to look to the future or think about what I missed. I wanted to enjoy this moment right now and have the rest of my mind clear. The next morning when I woke up to go home, that was a great feeling, but also a sad feeling because I knew I was leaving a lot of friends behind that should be out as well. It was bittersweet. Once I got released and they drove me to where I was going, my mom and my children were there, and that was emotional. There was crying and tears. It took me a while. I’m still getting used to the fact that this is really true and I’m home after 26 years.

Diane: Tell me about the reunion with your family.

Darnell: As soon as I got out of the car, my kids came running up and hugged me. My older brother was there, my cousins, friends… I said, “Where’s mom?” They said she drove the wrong way. Before she got there, we had to leave the premises so we went up the street. My mom and my sister came, and there was a lot of hugging and crying. We have a video of us holding each other. It was really a blessing. I went to the board on the 4th, and my mom turned 75 on the 9th. I’m a momma’s boy, so that was really special.

Diane: What did you do next?

Darnell: We went to eat at House of Pancakes. That was nice. My first meal was fried chicken and waffles. Then, they took me shopping and I bought some clothes, before we went to the AirBnb. We were driving and all of the sudden, I told my friend to pull over because I had to throw up. It came from motion sickness because I hadn’t been in a car in so long. The rest of that week I was really nauseated every time I was in the car. I’m used to it now because I’ve been in the car a lot. 

 The day after I got out, I was sitting in my room, and I just broke down because of all the emotions from being out, all the love and support I received… I let it all out. I called my mom and talked to her and my kids about it. That’s basically what we prepare for when we get out in our prevention plan. I did exactly what I was supposed to do: call and talk to people about what I’m feeling and going through. Pre-release plans do come in handy so you don’t resort to drinking or whatever your vices were.

Diane: What do you remember about your first night being free?

Darnell: It was cool, being underneath my mom, with her and watching TV with her, being with my kids and hearing them say, “Dad this” and “Dad, that,” and taking pictures with them. My grandma and my grandsons were there. There were people coming by. My son got me a cellphone, and people kept trying to call. The phone kept ringing, and I had to throw the phone to the side. It was too overwhelming. I think that’s something we have to be careful with, coming home and being overwhelmed. I just had to be with my immediate family. 

Diane: Where are you staying now?

Darnell: I’ve been at the transition house. It’s nice, a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house. Living room, dining room. There’s eight of us here; most of them work. We have a beautiful backyard with a waterfall. It’s like a zen backyard. I can go back there and look at the Koi fish in the pond and relax. 

Diane: How long do you stay there?

Darnell: I have to be there for six months. After that, I can get my own place. I plan on going back to LA no later than a year. 

Diane: What are your days like?

Darnell: I don’t work yet. In the mornings, I work out in the backyard like I did in prison. After that, I sit and meditate. Then people come by and take me out to eat or to events. I’m building relationships with people and networking for my non-profit.

Diane: Have you been able to get your birth certificate, driver’s license and social security number?

Darnell: In prison somebody told me I could get my birth certificate right then, so I filled out the form and paid the notary $20 at the prison. They sent it to my mom, and she told me that they found my social security card in my grandmother’s Bible. Then I had to get my California ID. I signed up for that, it’s been over a month and a half and I haven’t received it. I went to the DMV and told them what happened. I had to fill out the form again, and they didn’t charge me. I went to one booth, and they told me to wait in line until they called my number. Then I went up, and the guy told me to do the exact same thing again. I’m like, “I just did this!” So I had patience, and did it again. They said I would get it in two to three weeks. I had a hold on getting my driver’s license, because it was suspended for something from years ago. I was waiting to get a hearing which wasn’t until June. I stayed consistent and kept calling, and they moved it up to last week. They took the hold off, and I should get the paperwork and be able to go get my driver’s license. 

Diane: Are you ready?

Darnell: Yeah, having people take me places is getting me used to the traffic. Looking over my shoulder, even though I’m the passenger, is really preparing me to drive. 

Diane: Where did you parole to?

Darnell: Castro Valley. All my family is in LA. I stayed up here and I’m going to ease my way back into LA. I’m like the pillar of my family and I don’t want to be overwhelmed. I’ve been networking with people like my big brother. I’m getting my non-profit started, so that paperwork is in process. 

Diane: What is your non-profit about?

Darnell: I want to start my non-profit called, African American Community Healing. I would be able to fund summer camps for kids in the community, bring yoga, art and mindful meditation to them and mental health classes. There’s a great park in our community I’d like to remodel. On a day that we have mindfulness, people could go see a psychiatrist or mental health specialist then. They would be more likely to go being in the community so it’s more convenient to them. I know people who would go which would lead to other people going, as well. That’s something we really need in our community. Our communities have a lot of healing to do. I thought about this alot, I’ve had to deal with it myself. For example, when I wrote that piece for you at Humans of San Quentin, I got a lot of positive responses from that. That reflection is exactly what we need in our communities and the issues I feel are  happening everyday in our communities.

Diane: Are you still doing yoga?

Darnell: Yes, four times a week, I do my strenuous workout, then my situps, then I close out with yoga. Then I listen to my Thich Nhat Hanh bell chant. That’s how I wind all the way down.

Diane: What are you looking forward to?

Darnell: Building my community up, building my relationships and bringing a change to our community, bringing unity, peace and harmony with our different communities.

Rahsaan, 22 years inside

Rahsaan, 22 years inside

Rahsaan Thomas, 50
Released after 22 years

Diane: How has it been going and what have you been doing?

Rahsaan: That’s a big question. I’m working for Ear Hustle. Working on getting funding for my films. Working on one of my films for a film festival. And I’m having some fun. I’ve been to two Warriors games, two Brooklyn Nets games, I’m going to a Giants-Dodgers game on Monday, and I just got back from New York after a 10 day trip. I got to speak at Columbia for a screening of a film called, What These Walls Won’t Hold directed by Adamu Taye Chan. I’m a co-producer, and it just made it to the San Francisco international film festival. It’s gonna be played on April 15th and 16th. We’re up against W. Kamau Bell and his documentary about growing up mixed-race. I’ve been to a lot of dinners. I went on a dinner tour with a whole bunch of people that supported me while I was inside. I got to see my family. I got to see my son and spend a few days with him when I was in New York. 

Diane: You’ve been all over the place!

Rahsaan: Yeah and a lot of Zoom meetings.

Diane: Let’s start from the beginning. Share with us your parole board hearing.

Rahsaan: I didn’t go with the expectation that I would get a date on the first try; since that’s really difficult. I didn’t let the fact that it’s difficult discourage me. I prepared for it, prepared for it, prepared for it… and it worked out. I went in there, and I was really honest in a way I thought they weren’t going to like, but I guess honesty is the best policy. At the end of the hearing, when they found me suitable, I was really happy. I think the six months wait to actually walk out the door is like a blessing because you know people don’t have a clear path to freedom. While you’re going through the review process there’s a chance they can change their mind, so you feel the pressure of that. And just not knowing the date- how do you plan and not have a date? When should family come? When do you do this? When do you do that? Not having the actual date is kind of nerve wracking. But it went pretty fast now that it’s over with. I went out the doors to a beautiful reception. There were probably about 40 people there. Got like 40 hugs the day I got out, a lot of hugs. Hugs used to be contraband and no longer contraband, so that was great.

Diane: Were you nervous the night before you were released?

Rahsaan: Not really nervous, just anxious. I just wanted to be out and done with the process. That morning there were five of us waiting to be released, and you can’t be released in front of the prison unless you have a ride. If you don’t have a ride, then they  take you straight to the bus stop. Reports were coming in that there were all these people out there waiting since 6am and it was 9:30 already and they didn’t let me go yet. I’m like, “Uh what’s going on? I got these people out waiting in the cold.” They were waiting for one guy. They didn’t know whether he had a ride or if they had to take him to the bus stop. He was supposed to have a ride, but his people didn’t check in. They weren’t there. They were doing all this stuff to try to find these people, and I was just like, “Can’t you just take us and come back for him?” Finally they made some sense and at about ten they took us, but I felt bad that the whole time people were out there waiting.

Diane: How did you feel stepping out of the van?

Rahsaan: I felt blessed. I never felt so much love in my life. Ironically, one guy did go straight to the bus stop and didn’t have that feeling at all. Other people got that feeling but from less people. It was just beautiful to have it from so many people and I am just trying to figure out how to duplicate that for everybody, because that was just beautiful to have that much love and support.

Diane: What was the first thing you wanted to do? 

Rahsaan: EAT! I went to the nearest restaurant and called my mom and my son on the way. I had an iPhone waiting for me in front of the prison, so that was amazing. I planned ahead. So I was able to call all these people on my way to the restaurant. I had french toast and steak, which I was dreaming about, and eggs and hashbrowns. It was delicious.

Diane: Where did they take you from there?

Rahsaan: Shopping! All I had was the clothes on my back. This program called No More Tears donated $200 dollars for me on a gift card so I could buy some clothes.

Diane: What change did you notice in 22 years?

Rahsaan: The homelessness in the Bay Area got really bad, and when I went to New York, how much cleaner and nicer it got. But the biggest change is that everything is online and you use your email and need a code for everything. 

Diane: Where did you spend your first night?

Rahsaan: In transitional housing in Oakland.

Diane: How did it feel to be in an actual bed?

Rahsaan: It was nice and soft. The bed in prison hurt my body. No matter what position I slept in, something’s going to hurt the next day. I just got used to having a hurt body. But now this body is healing and this bed hugs you. It’s totally different. It’s way nicer. I sleep on my side with no shoulder pain. I could sleep on my back without any back pain. It’s just nice. The best part: there’s no cellie! No cellie, ah so beautiful! No other human being in the room. If you want to fart, nobody complaining about it, nobody you got to compromise with, there’s nobody there snoring, there’s nobody to wake when you want to go to the bathroom… There’s room, there’s space, there’s privacy.

Diane: Are you still in transitional housing? 

Rahsaan: Yeah, I am stuck here for six months minimum.

Diane: Tell us about your work. 

Rahsaan: I get some time working for Empowerment Avenue and Ear Hustle. Those are the two main jobs. On Mondays and Tuesdays I actually go into the studio to work with Ear Hustle and then the rest of the week I’m mostly doing the Empowerment Avenue stuff working from home on the computer. 

Diane: How is work going?

Rahsaan: I’m pretty good at tech. I can kind of do the basics, but I keep running into little snags. For instance, I didn’t know that if you have your mouse in your pocket, it freezes your computer. I was thinking my computer was trash, but it was that the mouse was in my pocket. Just little things like that. I keep running into little snags. Other than that, the transition is going pretty smooth. I had a hold on my driver’s license from New York City from when I was a youngster and had violations. I had to take a driving improvement class. I just got it off today. It felt good to finally get a license. It’s still going to take some time- I’ve got to take a road test and stuff. I’m looking forward to getting a license and getting mobile.

Diane: You mentioned you went home to New York. How was it? 

Rahsaan: I had this advice to get there two hours early, but that just seemed ridiculous, so I checked in online the night before and got there 90 minutes early. It wasn’t bad. I was sitting around for an hour waiting for the plane. It didn’t take long to check in. It’s a new process- you have to take off your shoes, go through the X-ray machine. All that stuff was new. The flight just felt like a flight. I had a window seat, so as soon as I saw New York City from the plane, that’s when I got really excited. 

Diane: What was it like seeing your son?

Rahsaan: Strange. When I left, he was five, and now he’s 27! We hung out a couple of times, it felt good. My older son was supposed to come up and see me, but he wasn’t able to make it, so I only got to see my younger son. But it was great, we went to a Brooklyn Nets game. We established that connection and made some memories. 

Diane: Where do you want to be live when you’re off parole?

Rahsaan:  I don’t know; in a perfect world and if I had enough money, I’d live on both coasts. New York is amazing- on a whole other level. Shopping is better… It came with a course of gentrification. A lot of people don’t live in New York City anymore. They have cameras and speed trackers, so for safety, it’s a new and improved New York. It came at a hot price, but there’s neighborhoods that are still good and going strong. They’re still resisting gentrification. I’d love to live there again. I actually found employment in New York- a little consultant gig. And they’d fly me back home once or twice, so I’m looking forward to going back. Somebody wants me to speak at Columbia University in the fall, so I’m looking for any excuse to be in New York and see my family.

Diane: Do you have a favorite experience since being out?

Rahsaan: That’s tough… so many. The Brooklyn Nets thing was a different experience, and seeing my son and mom again. Going shopping in New York was fun. The whole New York trip. Everything. The Columbia screening. The Marshall Project. I’m overwhelmed with amazing experiences. The Warrior games. I got to hang out with amazing people. The Korean barbeque. This was my first time doing Korean barbeque, it’s amazing. I think I do have a favorite one: my mom threw me a fish fry reception when I got home. I had a whole crew from Oakland that was out there for the Columbia screening. I had these two families, the family I created and the family I inherited, come together and eat this amazing fried lobster and shrimp. We had all this music. It was really amazing to see my family’s vibe and show so much love. We had so much fried fish! Shrimp scampi, fried shrimp, seafood, catfish, bass, regular and fried lobster. My mom made it all.

Diane: We talked a little about plans. Do you have any immediate or long term plans?

Rahsaan: I have a long term dream to have a system-impacted film crew going around making films about us. Feature films, documentaries, fiction, an array of that. That’s the long-term dream. In the meantime, there’s this program called Empowerment Avenue. We empower incarcerated people through art and writing, because that’s the one loophole where we can make money while incarcerated. Other than that, you can’t have a career to get revenue. This is the one way we can get them paid for their work. Not only that, but we get them into mainstream publications. Their solutions, their voices, and their wisdom get out there and have a powerful impact. We had an amazing art show and gallery in Crown Heights in Brooklyn called Save the Flower. It’s about feminism. It was amazing, they did really well. It started with just volunteers. We want to give guys in San Quentin greater access to society. We’re hitting the ceiling. I want to get past the ceiling. I published eight articles in my eight years in San Quentin, other than San Quentin news. I wanted to go farther, but I didn’t have an email, call for submissions, permission to publish or anything. Anyways, for this grant proposal, my friend got a bunch of writer friends to do it, and the response has been so successful. We keep having more and more success. 

Diane: Anything else you want to share?

Rahsaan: I’m just blessed. I found out that, while I thought I was being a lousy friend, it’s really hard to get back to people. I constantly have calls coming in and my time keeps getting booked up. But, everybody is lousy in communication. Everybody’s so busy.

Diane: Have you been back to San Quentin? Do you have any plans?

Rahsaan: Yeah, I’m trying to get cleared. I’m going to go back for the Brothers Keepers. Ear Hustle wants me to go back in and do my duties there. I also want to volunteer to help the program I started that’s kind of fallen apart because of Covid.

Gerald Morgan, 25 years inside

Gerald Morgan, 25 years inside

Gerald Morgan, 70
Released after 25 years

Diane: Tell us about your parole board hearing?

Gerald: Most of the guys told me that since it was my first time going to the board, there was a 99% chance I won’t be found suitable. When I did get there, I found out they were going to ask me the type of questions where you don’t want to show too much body language because they’d see that as you being aggressive or something. I sat there and remained calm. They asked questions I wasn’t comfortable with. They came with bullets. I was prepared for them, but I didn’t believe that they’d ask them. In the end, they said that in 25 years I’d done so many things such as my degree, programs, work-studies, 3D machining and my art. Unfortunately, I thought I was a model system on the outside, but they said I was a model citizen on the inside.

Diane: Were your victims present?

Gerald: Yes, after being interviewed, they let the victim’s family speak. They really didn’t want me to be paroled. The sister didn’t think I should ever get out of prison. The whole time I was being interviewed by the board, she made it clear that she didn’t want me to have any form of concentration. She did everything she could to distract me from answering any questions. I was aware of what she was doing, but I didn’t react to it. When his daughter spoke, that’s one of the things that really got to me. If the situation had been reversed, and it were my daughter speaking on my behalf… I was trying not to have any reaction, but as soon as she started talking about her father and how much he meant to her and how that part of her life is not being fulfilled… The tears started coming to my eyes because I realized what I had done more so than before. It was unexpected that I would have been that deep into the whole board.

Diane: Had you ever talked to her before?

Gerald: No, I never even knew who they were. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone would be there from his family. Even when they went to recess, came back, and said I was found suitable, I was almost in shock. All that time I had no reaction. My attorney said I sat there for about 3-4 minutes. Then she got excited and said, “Mr. Gerald, they found you suitable! You’re going home Mr. Gerald! Why are you sitting there? Get up!” They actually thought I had done enough to be released. I was in shock- there was no joy or anything. It was as if they had something like, “The sky is blue.” I can’t even explain it.

Diane: Was there any reaction from the victim’s family?

Gerald: No, they just sat there on the monitors. Even right now while I’m talking to you, it’s like I’m reexperiencing the whole thing. 

Diane: What happened next?

Gerald: I started talking to other people who were going to go to the board because there were a lot of guys that have a theory about it. I immediately told them not to go in there without understanding what they’ll be asked. If they are asked some questions that they don’t have answers to, they might as well not go. I told them not to go in there with any attitude or like the board owes them anything. The  handful of guys I had spoken to were found suitable, too.

Diane: With all the internal and external work you have done, it shouldn’t have taken you 25 years to be released. 

Gerald: I basically told the judge at my trial that I wasn’t going to do any 40 years to life. I said, “You might as well give me the death penalty because I’m not going to do it.” And I had made up my mind that I wasn’t. When I arrived at San Quentin, in reception, they put me in the Badger Housing Unit on the 5th tier. There was a guy who always saw me looking over the tier. He walked up to me and said, “Whatever’s on your mind, if you do jump, nine times out of ten, you may die. But that 1/10 chance that you live, you’ll be all broken up and still have to do the time.” So I made up my mind and said I don’t really want to do that if there’s going to be pain involved. For about a week I kept thinking about how I could do it without any pain. A week later the same guy came up to me and told me, “Hey, I could get you a fix- something pure. You could just lay down and go to sleep. I only ask that I can use half.” I looked at him and said, “I have never used drugs in my life, and I’m not going out like that.” So he walked away. That week I was still preoccupied that I’ll be doing this for forty years. I saw him in one of the quarters and said, “Can you get me some heavy tape and one of the big plastic bags?” He said, “Yeah, give me a can of Bugler and I’ll have it for you within the hour.” I went into the cell and didn’t say anything to my cellie. He was on the top bunk. I took the tape and plastic bag, put it over my head and wrapped the tape around my neck, pulled the blanket over my head, and layed there. Everything was going perfectly. There was no pain. But then, all of the sudden, I ran out of air. I started tearing it off. I took some deep breaths and said that this is not going to work. The next day, I called my sister and told her what I had done. That’s when my whole life changed as far as prison goes. She told me, “What you did, you killed somebody. All that family asks is that you pay your debt to society and their family. Now you’re being selfish. Your life doesn’t belong to you anymore. Your life now belongs to your kids, family, friends, and people that love you. Quit being mad and stand up and do whatever amount of time you’re told to do. I’m tired of hearing about how selfish you are, and I’m letting you know that if you don’t know that you’re being selfish to everybody, now you know.” That’s when I made up my mind that I was going to make the best of the program, do whatever it took to get my time over with and get out. People kept telling me the laws would change, and they did. I never filed for an 1170 or anything like that, but they contacted me and said I’m elderly. I didn’t expect anything out of it, but here I am today. I still hear my sister’s voice- she passed eight years ago. I did what she asked. I gave what was requested by society. She made sure that I know how much they love and need me because they were doing their time with me. I didn’t even know that until I actually got out and was able to speak to them for her. Now I’m not only a father, but a grandfather. I’ve got five girls that love me. That’s where I am today. I wish I could be in contact with the guys on the inside because they supported me psychologically until I was able to go through that journey and come out on a brighter end. 

Diane: Was there a time that you felt you were rehabilitated?

Gerald: Not really, because I never allowed myself to be institutionalized. I did my job just like the COs had to do their job. Just like you have bad COs and bad inmates. I just tried to maintain a rapport with the people who gave me the same respect that I gave them. I didn’t even like to go out of the cell because I didn’t know anybody… I was a union rep for the post office, and I used to bring my boat up to San Quentin. I had 10 or 15 people on board. One day I pointed to San Quentin and said, “That’s where all the bad people live.” When I showed up at the front gate, I was shaking, I couldn’t believe I was getting ready to enter. One of my cellies said, when we moved in together, “ I see what you’re doing, you’re going to have to go out there because those are just other people. You’re going to have to go in the yard, find a spot to sit by yourself, and observe individuals. Then, you start picking out your perimeter of individuals that you could feel comfortable with.” So I did that the next day. I sat there for like three hours. I found a group of guys who were playing dominos. I kept doing that. I didn’t care if he was a gang member or what. If you were doing the right thing, you knew the job was to do the right thing, my job was to do the right thing, then it wasn’t going to be that bad. The bad thing was I couldn’t leave when I wanted to. I worked on it, and it got me through. I still do the same thing now in this house. The first thing I did was look at a person that I saw I could have a good rapport with and I said, “Hey, we’re going to be in this room together.” I still do the same thing I did on the inside, on the outside. 

Diane: Tell me about the first day you were out. 

Gerald: They tried to keep me! The day before I was supposed to walk out of there, they told me I tested positive for Covid and took me to what I call “the hole” the adjustment center. I asked what I was supposed to do because I was supposed to go out on parole. They said they’d probably get me a motel room. They asked me if there was anybody I knew that I could stay with or who could get me a room because the state wasn’t going to pay for it. They had in the past, but now they wouldn’t. My daughter stepped up and found a place for $118 a day. She also had three covid tests, which she gave to me, and they all came back negative. They wouldn’t test me again at the prison for another 30 days. I knew I didn’t feel like I had covid and it was a false positive. Anyway, my parole officer and my daughter talked and I stayed at the hotel. Finally, she told me if I’m not positive, they’d just take me to the halfway house. So that’s how I got there without staying at San Quentin for thirty days in the adjustment center. So, I was cool and felt good when I walked out. Mindy, my reentry transition support person met me on the outside, gave me my phone and made sure I was happy with my living situation. She had done a lot of writing and paperwork for the board. She was like my right hand woman.

Diane: Who met you at the gate?

Gerald: Mindy and my daughter.

Diane: How did it feel getting in a car?

Gerald: I was used to riding in cars and stuff. I recently had prostate cancer, so I had to be driven for six weeks to a healthcare center where I got my radiation treatment. The cars look like they’ve been cut from a cookie sheet. They don’t have character anymore. They’re just “cars.” With the exception of the electric ones. I rode in an electric car days ago. I didn’t even know it was electric! The whole time I thought it was a regular one. It even sounded like one. I asked, “Does it have any horsepower?” and he hit the throttle. It surprised me. I’ve got to get me one of these!

Diane: What was your first meal?

Gerald: Chick-fil-a. I could have been happy with just the fries and the lemonade. I was concentrating on eating them one at a time because they tasted so good. I learned instantly that after living on the mystery meals at San Quentin, I am still trying to adapt to eating real food.

Diane: What’s your favorite thing to eat since you’ve been out?

Gerald: I went to a place right here in Fairfield for breakfast and the food was excellent. I think it’s within walking distance from where I am right now. The price was right, that was my favorite part.

Diane: Tell me about your first night in a real bed.

Gerald: The first night in a hotel was nice. The bed wasn’t the main thing though. It was not having to shower in the village butthole. That was the thing! I was in the room all by myself for two days, and the bathtub… I just couldn’t get enough of that. I went to a church and that was a shock. It was like a production. They had the band in a bulletproof, glass room. Big screen TVs on the ceiling. Big commercial camera screens everywhere.  Some people came with their Sunday best on, I was able to go in my jeans like some of the other people. It felt comfortable: come as you are. When I sat there, I was able to adjust to my surroundings to the point where I could actually feel the spiritual part of the church. Before I knew it, there were tears in my eyes. That was nice. 

Diane: Where are you staying?

Gerald: I just moved from one house to another today. At the other house, I got along with everybody, but they were doing too much. It got to the point where I could see it being a place where I might wind up going back to prison. So I moved to this other house. Five guys that live in the house, three bedrooms, and it’s real quiet. Everybody doing their part, keeping things clean and neat, sharing their food and stuff. It’s just comfortable. The house is near GEO where I volunteer, so I walk around the corner to their office and help out any way I can.

Diane: How long can you stay there?

Gerald: I can stay here for six months, and a year if I don’t have anywhere to go. That’s the thing. My family is playing tug-of-war over me right now. My son and his wife just had a brand new house built in Stockton. They told me not to worry about a car; they’re going to put a BMW in the garage for me. Then I got to do a psychological evaluation with him. I’ve been away for 25 years. He has to get to know who I am while I’m getting to know who I am. My daughter wants me to stay with her, her husband and three girls in Tracy. I did the same evaluation with her. I said I’ll come by and help out around the house. My brother-in-law wanted me in his house. It’s a nice house, and he’s got a lot of stuff, but he’s a hoarder! He had a five bedroom house, and about eight bedrooms worth of stuff! I told him I’d go over there and help him with his yard and put stuff where they belong, but he wouldn’t part with anything! He’s a hoarder just like the ones on TV. I really don’t want to drop anchor anywhere until I get a feeling of what would be the best for me.

Diane: It sounds like you are getting to know yourself, your new world, who you want to be with, where you want to be and taking charge of your own life. You haven’t had that for many years.

Gerald: One of my friends told me, “Look, it’s not like you’re some spring chicken! You only have a little bit of life force left. What you’ve got to do is get into Senior Living!” I told her, “Senior Living is for people that are olllllllllllllld. I’m just old. There’s two categories there!”

Diane: Tell us about your roommates. 

Gerald: I had a roommate at my other house and the first thing he did was try to challenge me. He looked at my age, seeing I was 70, he assumed I’d just bow down to him. But I wouldn’t have made it this far if I crumpled just because somebody was trying to be tough. It scared him when he found out that I wasn’t the one. He went and told the counselor of the parole board that I had tried to hit him with a chair or something. He was looking at the possibility that I would return to prison on that alone. He had already gotten kicked out of three other houses. They knew about him, and they also knew about my prison record. They brought us together, and he went on and on about how “I hit him with the chair” and “how could they put him back instead of me” and I just sat there and watched him self-destruct. They looked at me and turned back to him and said, “It looks like you’re going to be sleeping in your car tonight.” I had to speak up for him. I said, “There’s a bigger problem here. There’s something wrong with him, and you guys are kicking him out of the house. That’s not going to solve the problem, that’s only adding to his problems.” They reevaluated their decision and said, “If you do anything else, you’re out. You might as well get yourself blankets and put them in your trunk.” A couple days later, the house manager asked if we had any bad feelings towards each other. My roommate said he didn’t want to leave the house and have something jump off and the police would be there when he comes back. So he started talking to him and the guy went off on the house manager again! Then,  I knew he had psychological problems. I said to the house manager, “Hey, all of you professionals talked to him, and you all got the same response. I want to talk to him, man on man, without any of you guys around, but I want you to support that. Is it okay?” He said, “Yeah.” I talked to the guy, we shook hands and gave each other a hug and everything. I still knew there was a problem, but I neutralized it as far as in our room. Anyway, they moved him to a room in the garage by himself. He wanted to be alone. I gave him one of those stress balls that you squeeze, and I said, “Before you open your mouth, take that ball and squeeze it. When you get ready to say something negative, instead of talking, squeeze that ball.” He was supposed to be going to a new job and  had been smoking weed. When the police pulled him over, not only did they find weed, but they found a scale and another drug. They took his car and sent him back to jail; he’s back in prison now. Here’s the funny thing: they took him back here to the house to get his stuff, and he left the ball on top of my bed, I guess as a message to me. Another guy was going to jump on one of the counselors. He didn’t go to the weekly meetings, so they told him he couldn’t get a weekend pass. What he heard is that they wouldn’t let him go out on a weekend pass for a month, so he went off and wanted to jump on the counselor. I came out of the room after the counselor had left and said, “What’s up man, are you trying to go back to prison? You’re talking about a month not being able to go out on a weekend pass, what about years? If you put your hands on that man, you’re going back for years.” “I gotta talk to him anyway!” I said, “I tell you what, we’ll walk up there.” It was about two and a half miles. By the time we got there, he was calm. The parole officer and the staff were all talking about how I was a mentor. I gave back just like I said I wanted to to keep people from going to prison. They know he was on his way. The police department is only about a block away from the G.O. office. He had told his sister that by the time she gets there, the police would be there and he could say goodbye. And I had neutralized the whole situation. That shows I could be a counselor in some way if I get my degree and choose how I apply it. Because I get it. I understand these guys. Even today, I had nothing to do, so I went to G.O. and helped clean up- emptied trash cans and made up those little snack packs that they give guys when they check in everyday. I told them I’m not doing anything right now, I’m waiting for social security, medicare and all these other things that I’m supposed to be eligible for, but I’ve got to stay busy. 

Diane: Did you request to leave your first house?

Gerald: No, here’s what happened: the counselor and G.O. had been watching me since day one. Even my parole officer. I told them, “Don’t let me fall through the crack. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that I maintain a level of respect, make all my meetings and everything else. Don’t be light on me, just keep my nose to the grindstone. 

He told me at least 40 times that they’re opening a brand new house about a quarter mile from G.O. I said, “No, these guys over here need me.” He kept on asking me. So, the day before yesterday, I told him no, and he still asked me. He told me the address and said I’d be one of the first people there. I asked if I could be a house manager, and he said, “No, but you could be an assistant.” I said, “That’ll work.” He said, “That way, you can set the stage on how it should be at that house.” I liked it. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulder. I didn’t have to deal with all those different situations there: guys that don’t clean up after themselves, things like that. This is where I’m supposed to be. My counselor was laughing. He said, “I was wondering how long you were going to fight that.” He knew I didn’t belong over there.

Diane: Yeah, it’s too much work.

Gerald: No, I like work! But I was doing it all. There was one guy there, and I hate that I had to leave him because he was doing a lot of the dirty work too, just like me, and he’s still there. I gave him my number in case he needs anything, and I left with a good rapport with all the people there. They didn’t want anything. It was like it was a house, but not a home. The guys here respect each other and want to live among each other as if it were a home, and that’s the difference between a house and a home. So I’m in a home condition now. 

Diane: It’s so wonderful to hear that you have a family that’s successful, that loves you, that wants you back… that must be comforting.

Gerald: I hate that a lot of guys in prison have a tendency to burn bridges. They’re always expecting something. They don’t even say they love someone. They’ve got hands like cups, they just say they want something, they need something… I never was that person.

Diane: What was it like shopping? 

Gerald: I asked myself, what has happened in the last 25 years?! When I go shopping with my family, they tell me, “Whatever you want, get!” and I’m looking, I’m walking… They’re like, “Get this! Do you need these?” I say, “Wait, let me check the price.” They say, “Don’t worry about the price!” I look at the price, and it’s like four times what I would’ve paid 25 years ago. I don’t even like to go get a hamburger! When I went in, a hamburger cost about $1.99 or something. We went to a place, and a hamburger was $13! I tell them, “Nah, nah, I’m cool. Let’s go.” “What else do you want? You want something else?” “Nah, let’s go.” I scrutinize every place I go. I went to iHop the other day, and the guy walked up to me and gave me two menus. He said, “Is this take-out, or for here?” I said, “I just want to look at the menu; let me see.” I looked at the menu and said, “I’ll never come back here again!” The world has changed. I’ll have to find my spot in it, but until they give me an oil well, it ain’t happening.

Diane: What differences have you noticed about life outside in the past 25 years? 

Gerald: Well, my sister sits around all day long ordering stuff. She told me yesterday that she ordered me some tennis shoes. I said, “Well, thank you Linda, I’ll probably pick them up in a couple weeks or so.” She called me back today and said she ordered something else. I said, “How is she getting this stuff? She can’t drive!” She said, “Amazon!” What does she do, sit around all day ordering stuff? She said, “Yeah, they bring it to the door.” They made jobs for thieves; they could beat you to the door. I don’t get it. Everybody has an oil well! You know the $200 of gate money they give you when you leave, and I only kept like $600 of the stimulus, I had given the rest to my grandkids and stuff. To this day, on that card alone, I have $690 something out of the $800 I had. Since I’d been out, I spent like $80. There were three times I went to the store, and back when I was out of prison, they’d have cost $10 or $12, but they averaged like $30. So I won’t go to the store. Even my food stamp thing, I had $490 on it, and I haven’t even used it. They said they’d put another $200 on it every month. But I still won’t go to the store. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m a miser from way back! 

Diane: Do you have a significant other?

Gerald: They don’t want me in any relationships, but I’m scared of that anyway. I was just incarcerated for 25 years; I’m not going to come out and be incarcerated all over again! This girl, a friend of mine asked, “How long are you going to be on parole so we can get together?”  I told her my parole officer said, one to three years. She said she’d wait. I told her no, its probably three years and again, she said she’d wait. 

Diane: Aww, she’s a keeper!

Gerald: No she’s not! Her whole family is f*cked up. I have to talk her into respecting her mama, because she talks to her like they’re friends or something. I can’t even introduce her to my 97-year-old aunt. So, that’s not going to happen. I’m hoping she’ll fall off on her own so I don’t hurt her feelings.

Quincy Paige, 8 years inside

Quincy Paige, 8 years inside

Quincy Paige, 36
Released after 8 years

Diane: Tell us about your parole board hearing.

Quincy: I had a determinate sentence and was only sentenced to eight years. I didn’t have to go to the parole board. They did have a parole hearing, but not to find out if you can get out or not. It was just them saying the parole conditions.

Diane: How were you feeling the night before your release?

Quincy: I didn’t go to sleep! Which seemed like bad juju, because when I went to start the whole release process, they told me that my ride got a flat on the freeway and would be here two hours later. Past that, my paperwork got lost, so they had to redo it all. You usually leave at eight in the morning, and I wasn’t released until almost three o’clock. 

Diane: Were you worried that you wouldn’t be able to leave?

Quincy: Yeah, I was like they’re going to do something and tell me I can’t go today. It was crazy because the correctional officer that was taking me is the one that put this in my head. He came and got me, and the lights started flickering and just went out. He was like, “Oh, shoot! Do you believe in omens?” I was like, “Don’t do this to me!” Then, as he stepped out, he stepped on the thing and the whole stairs broke! The stairs just crushed under him. He was like, “See? Omens, man.” I said, “Don’t you talk like that! I’m getting out of here.”

Diane: What happened after your papers were complete?

Quincy: They said, “Good luck. We don’t want to see you back here” and gave me a card with $200 on it. “  The moment I got in the car, I kid you not, I got carsick. I told him, “I need a bag,” and started throwing up. It seemed very overwhelming. I was sick for a whole week.

Diane: I often wonder how it would feel if you haven’t been moving in a vehicle for so long.

Quincy: Yeah, and eating real food, too. They took me straight to a Mexican restaurant, and I had street tacos. I scarfed those things down like it was my last meal. Instantly, I got sick. The food tasted too good. It was too much.

Diane: What a rough reentry, getting sick in the first hour!

Quincy: Yeah, I was like, “This is gonna be horrible! Something is going to happen! I’m going back!”

Diane: What did you do after you ate Mexican food?

Quincy: They drove me to a reentry program in Santa Barbara. They had a bed for me and everything, so that’s why I went. I stayed the night, dog-tired and sick. The next morning, I went to my parole office to check in, and they said they had no records that I was supposed to be there. So they called my parole agent who was supposed to look over my stuff. She was like, “We already sent all that.” They said, “They must have gotten lost in transit. You have to come get him because he can’t be here.” So I was on the road again to Bakersfield.

Diane: Why did you go to Santa Barbara to begin with?

Quincy: They had a program I needed to complete in order to start my job at Sirius XM.  I had to be in stable housing so they could send me all the equipment in order for me to start working remotely. My parole agent said, “Well, it’s already too late to try to find you a program and everything in Santa Barbara. We’re going to parole you as a transient to Bakersfield and put you in a homeless shelter that will help you get your own place. You can either stay here and get your own place, or we can transfer you to LA. Well, I already met the love of my life here, so I was like, “Don’t you dare send me to LA!”

Diane: How did you meet the love of your life so quickly?

Quincy: It was weird how we met. We were both living in the homeless shelter and I had been there for almost two months. I was working for a paper called The Beat Within. I was writing and waiting for my shower time. I heard this voice behind me I didn’t recognize. I turned around, and this woman had the hugest, most beautiful smile on her face. I was like, “What? Who is this?” Then she had a little attitude, cussing people out. I was like, “What! And she’s feisty!” She’s the cutest thing ever. She’s so tiny, but she’s got this mean face. She’s like a pitbull puppy. What got us to start dating was actually a horrible incident. A transgender woman was upset and Chelsea, my girlfriend, has very long hair. She went behind her to try to cut it. Chelsea was so livid. I had just walked into the building and she was standing there bawling her eyes out. I was going to leave it alone, but something tugged at my heart. I went back and made a joke and she started giggling through her tears, so I was like, “Alright, she’s not too far gone.” I said, “Would you like a hug?” She said “Yeah,” and we stood there hugging for 45 minutes. I asked her, “I’m about to watch some movies. Would you like to watch with me, and we can talk?” She said, “Yes!” and that’s how we met. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

Diane: How were you first introduced to Sirius XM?

Quincy: While in San Quentin I took an audio engineering class, with a program called The Last Mile Radio and they were talking about helping us outside the walls, to get a job. A week before I got released, Jason, the director, came to me and said, “We’re doing a fellowship with Sirius XM. Would you like to be the first one in a trial run?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Would you like to work with Sirius XM, doing audio engineering? You’ll be working on everything you learned in here.” I said, “Yes, I would love that!” And he set it up. They actually waited until I got into my place to send me the equipment and everything. They sent me letters of support to my parole agent to try to get me housing. They sent letters to my employer, my rental place. They did everything. It was phenomenal.

Diane: How is your job going now?

Quincy: I was out three months before I started with Sirius XM. Being an audio engineer doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we actually do. I know you’ve heard of Pandora and Stitcher and all this kind of stuff. We actually compose and produce a lot of those shows. All the content you hear, whether it’s commercials, anything, we are behind them. We put in orders so the artist gets paid. Everything you can think of that happens with that radio station, we do. I work for the music department, producing the shows, but they’re not actually my shows because I’m still part time. When I’m full time, they’ll give me shows. What I do fully is The Last Mile Radio show. I’m working to be the producer. It’s going to be solely my show that I help produce.

Diane: How long have you been with XM now?

Quincy: Going on five months.

Diane: Where do you see yourself in the future?

Quincy: Near term, I see myself getting a full time position with The Last Mile Radio show and at least one ideal spot in the music department. Long term, I want to produce my own podcasts and radio shows. They have platforms for people who work for them to put their stuff on there. I want to do my own podcast called, “Tales from a Tall Boy,” where I  talk to the homeless and get them to tell their side of the story, to humanize these guys and get them to realize that they’re not all just crackheads and drug dealers or addicts. I want to talk about the things people don’t want to talk about or face, whether it’s crime related, trauma related… I want to dig deeper and start healing. 

Diane: Your work is soul filling. You’ve told me you’re going to get married. How did you propose? 

Quincy: I took her out on a date. Like I said, we lived in a homeless shelter. I went in her room, took her out to eat, wined and dined her. We were laying down. She was like, “Hey, I’m going to get in the shower.” She yelled for me to join her, so I did, and she started pouring out her heart to me. “I respect you, I love you, I can’t believe somebody cares about me this way…” Like I said, she’s like a pitbull puppy. She’s very closed off to everything. When she said all that, I realized she actually started caring for me. She said the magic words. She said, “Nothing could make this moment any better,” while I was holding her. I said, “Oh okay.” I pushed her away, got on one knee, and proposed to her. She instantly started crying! I said, “Will you marry me?” She said, “Yes, you idiot! In the shower? You’re going to propose to me in the shower?!” I’m so lucky I found this woman.

Diane: Do you have any wedding plans?

Quincy: I got clearance to go to Santa Monica. I’m going to marry her on Santa Monica beach. I have everything going for it already.

Diane: Do you have a spot where you want to live?

Quincy: We’re going to move to LA once I’m off parole for a year because I have to do a year inside the studio at Sirius XM. They told me I can go to Nashville or DC and they have all these places because they have studios out there. But since I love LA and Chelsea has never really been, I figured let’s go!  I actually have a meeting with Michael “Harry” O’Harris, the cofounder of Death Row Records. His studio is out there. Why not go to LA and shoot my shot?

Diane: It is remarkable to be able to have a job you love with a life partner!

Quincy: I know, she’s so amazing. She’s my #1 fan. She supports me through everything. My brothers love her. They call her. In the beginning, they asked me, “Is this the right step for you?” I said, “Yes.” “Then we support it all the way.” Then they met her, and they were like, “Can you find us one?”

Rob Seidelman, 6 years inside

Rob Seidelman, 6 years inside

Rob Seidelman
Released after 6 years

Diane: How long was your sentence and how many years did you serve?

Rob: I served six years and three months of a twenty-five year sentence. Twenty-five years was my second offer. My first offer was forty, and that’s not an offer, that’s a sentence, so I turned it down.

Diane: Is it true they give you a release date, then have the ability to take it away?

Rob: Yeah. When you go in for your interview, if they don’t like what they hear, they ask you questions about the case, about your past and about where you’re going. If they don’t like it, they tell you to come back anywhere from four months to a year later.

Diane: Do they tell you what you need to do in that amount of time?

Rob: Yes ma’am, if you don’t have your classes finished, they tell you, “Finish up that class and we’ll see you in four months. Stay write-up free.” That’s all they ask. And if you do what they ask, they let you go. A lot of people get caught up in the chaos of the drugs and the gangs. They continue to go to the board and they continue to get what’s called “set.” They’ll set you up and set you up. They end up finishing their sentence and get what they call “discharging.” They split the sentence in half. You’re only required to do a quarter of that before you see the parole board, but if you continue to go back and back and don’t get it right, you’re going to do half your sentence.

Diane: Is it customary to get a parole date after you serve 25% of your sentence?

Rob: Yeah, it’s kind of complicated though. It’s 25% of a flat sentence. They give you one number of years for your sentence. If you get a range for your sentence, they can be 1-15, 2-10 or 3-15 years, those are the most common prison sentences. 

Diane: Do West Virginia still have the Three Strikes law?

Rob: Yes, we do. I weaseled out of that one. I squeezed through the cracks.

Diane: In California if you’re a lifer, you have to do twenty years.

Rob: It’s fifteen in West Virginia. 

Diane: Tell me about your experience during your parole board hearing.

Rob: I was very nervous because of my sentence. I had a violent crime, a robbery. I went in there with my classes done. They asked me one of three questions and the question I got was: Why do you think we should give you parole today? I gave probably one of the oddest answers ever, and I think it may have had something to do with my release. “This state is riddled with drugs; it is horrendously, horrendously bad. I have my classes done. I haven’t had a write-up in awhile, and I’ve achieved something that not many people achieve here.” He said, “What is that?” I said, “Well, I currently stand before you having never done an opioid drug and I’m not strung out.” He said, “You have your parole plan set?” I said, “No, I’m waiting right now.” He said, “Alright, we’ll be back on the screen in a minute.” He came back on the screen and said, “Where are you going to? What kind of program is it?” I said, “Faith-based.” It was all pretty quick. He said, “Alright, well I’ve consulted with my other two members, and we’re going to give you parole today. You have 30 days from today. You have a hold on you: you can’t go anywhere until everyone is notified.” They have to notify anyone that had anything to do with your case.

Diane: What was your re-entry like, and what does typical re-entry look like in West Virginia?

Rob: It is mandatory you have a home plan. If you don’t have one, they have counselors who work on getting you a home plan. There’s no money or any financial aid that you get. If you get a bus ticket, it comes out of your money. I had a home plan that just got approved after parole. I had 30 days to get that done, and if I hadn’t, I’d have gotten a setup. And you stay there. You just have to have a home plan.

Diane: Is that easy?

Rob: No, in the place I was, it wasn’t. I went through almost four. 

The first one said they didn’t have any beds. It sounded like an inmate got a job at the place. 

The second said that I have to have parole in your pocket before they allow any parolees. You have to actually have parole granted before they accept you. 

The third backed out in my second interview, I don’t know why. She said she’d have an answer that’d show up by the time I saw the board, but they  just didn’t. It was a really nice one, too. There’s only a few in West Virginia from what I hear. There’s a lot of drugs and chaos here. The state’s in bad shape. I’ve seen a lot in six years, guys get stuck. People are building sober living homes for financial gain, which is not what you’re supposed to do. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

Diane: How were you feeling when you were found suitable, and what happened next?

Rob: I was feeling elated. After that, I still had another thirty days. I made phone calls to family and friends, letting them know that I made it. I started making plans and giving stuff away. If you have a home plan, you can start giving stuff away that you don’t need.

Diane: What kind of things are you talking about?

Rob: Just extra stuff you don’t need. CDs, CD players, stuff you don’t need in the free world. Stuff you were only using to survive. Extra shower shoes, extra tennis shoes, extra jogging pants, stuff like that. Extra stuff that you’re not going to want to bring out here.

Diane: Did you have a cellie?

Rob: I lived in a six-man cell with five cellies. It’s called the cage. We are set up like dogs, in cages in Stevens Correctional Center down in McDowell County. It is the armpit of the state, the very bottom. It’s a joke of a prison. It’s run by the county- it’s not even run by the state of West Virginia. They lease it out. Since there’s overcrowding, that’s where I got stuck. I got put in a one-fencer, but if yours is a really serious case, then you’ll go to Mt. Olive or a medium or max security where they’ve got more fences.

I did my thirty days. Then, they put me on a Greyhound bus, out of my own money, and sent me to Breckley, West Virginia, a place I’d never been.

Diane: How did you feel the night before your release?

Rob: All kinds of stuff. I wanted to make sure I took the things that I needed because I didn’t know if I’d be able to get to a store and buy stuff. One of the biggest issues was trying to envision where I was  going. What is it going to look like? Is it clean, as far as drugs go, or is it like most of the ones I’ve heard of? Is it going to be laid back or crazy? Am I walking out of here into a crazy place? I was nervous, filled with lots of thoughts and my mind was racing.

Diane: How did your release go?

Rob: At 5 o’clock in the morning, my doors opened. The correctional officer said, “You got all your stuff?” I said, “Yeah.” I went downstairs by myself. I walked in with my final papers for the halfway house and medicaid papers. The night before you take a urine sample. She gave me all my papers with parole instructions, the officers I had to see and what time I needed to see him.  An officer came out and said, “You ready?” And I was put in the van. They took me to the Greyhound station.

Diane: What did it feel like being outside?

Rob: It felt new and great. They dropped me off at a bus station I had never been to and told me to wait.The driver said,  “The bus comes at this time. I’m gonna leave you right here, but I’ll be driving around for a while before the bus comes.” He had to wait to make sure I got on the bus. After that, the race was on. I was just standing around waiting at the bus stop, exhilarated, mind racing a bit. Some man was at the bus stop, so I bummed a cigarette off of him. Instantly, I connected with two people: one was from Chicago and the other was from West Virginia. The guy from Chicago offered me a snuff pack (chewing tobacco) that you put in your lip, and the guy from West Virginia offered me a cigarette. He was a plumber. I didn’t like chewing tobacco, so I spit it right out! The guy from Chicago and I had a lot to talk about. I’m from Aurora, just outside of Chicago. He was 28 and plays for the West Virginia basketball team. I gave him a little piece of information from experience right off the top because I write about the lows and the turmoils of prison. I gave it to him because he looks like he’s headed in the right direction. I told him, “Whatever you do, stay away from drugs and stuff, because you don’t ever want to end up in a West Virginia prison.”

Diane: How did you know which bus to get on?

Rob: Well, the buses were late. When they finally started showing up, one of the drivers opened the door, and was like, “Robert? Kevin?” I said, “My name’s Robert.” She said, “Well, come on!” How’d she know? It didn’t make a lot of sense. I’d never been on a Greyhound bus before, plus I’m nervous. I’m fresh out. There’s a clear plexiglass door that I had to pull to get on the Greyhound. I went to push it, and she was like, “Come on! Go on back!” I said, “Will you give me a second? I’ve never been on a Greyhound before.” She was a bit of a snob to me. It’s kind of crazy. I sat on the Greyhound and it was half full. There were a lot of people passed out asleep, slumped over. The next stop was the Beckley Greyhound station. I was just thinking about what it’s going to look like. I was seeing all the mountains and stuff. I came out here and got to see the state a little before I caught my case. It’s a nice view. It’s a beautiful country and state. I was just curious about where I was going.

I was told I had until three o’clock before I had to check into my house,  so I told them I wanted to go buy a coat because I didn’t have one. The manager told me that was fine, but I just had to be there by three. I asked if it’d be easy to get a taxi or an Uber and it wasn’t, so I walked.

Diane: Where did you go to buy a coat?

Rob: Walmart.

Diane: How did it feel after not being in a store for so many years?

Rob: Crazy. I felt like everybody was looking at me. I’m seven feet tall and littered with tattoos. Some people were checking me out, but most of them weren’t really looking at me, I just thought they were because I felt like I stood out. I felt like the lights were on me. I went to McDonald’s and talked to a guy and a girl. Once I initiated contact with them, two human beings that weren’t inmates, that was the moment I started feeling human again. It’s hard to explain. I feel like “This is the real world.” I was a little bit nervous. The guy asked me about my tattoos. He said, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of tattoos.” Then the girl turned around and said, “Yeah, I need to get new ones. I work out, too.” There was no conversation about working out! Later I thought I should’ve said something else, but I was just nervous. A woman there let me use the phone to activate my money card. Then, I got myself a chicken sandwich, fries and a coke and woofed it down. 

Diane: How did that chicken sandwich taste?

Rob: I didn’t even taste it, to be honest. The french fries were good, but I don’t remember that chicken sandwich.

Diane: What happened next?

Rob: I went to the gas station, and a woman there tried to call me an uber or a taxi, but said she couldn’t get through. Then I called the guy at the house. While I waited I bought my first pack of cigarettes and a lighter and smoked my first real cigarette. I really felt different, because I was the only one standing outside. She said, “You can’t hang out there too long because they’ll be on ya.”

Diane: Who was she referring to?

Robert: The police. Apparently, one of the hottest spots in Beckley, West Virginia is the Greyhound Station. It is terrible. When the guy from the house pulled up, he said, “Man, I thought for sure I was going to find you in the bathroom, overdosed.” I said, “I’m not about that, that’s not how I roll. I don’t do drugs anymore.” Everybody at the house was really really really welcoming. I got patted down and took my third drug test.

Diane: How did you get a cellphone?

Rob: I was using regular phones at Walgreens, and Walmart. I was feeling really helpless and like I was a burden, or stranded. 

Diane: What is the house like?

Rob: It’s huge. It’s an old church from the 1900’s. They made the actual worship part of the church our living room. It has stained glass windows so the sun doesn’t shine through and all you see is praying hands. It has a big, soft, L-section couch, a love seat, two other couches, a 52” TV, a pool table, weights, books, telephone, a computer and a table. 

Diane: Do you have a room to yourself, or do you share?

Rob: I have my own room. The house holds 12 guys. 

Diane: Are you free to come and go? 

Rob: No, I get one pass a week. I’ve been here for three months. After two months you get one eight hour pass a week. They still give you a ride, like to the doctor. But no, you can’t come and go as you please. We can go outside. There’s a perimeter to walk, and that’s as far as you can go. You get a 24 hour pass after four months, and the program is six months long. After six months, you can get a job.

Diane: Are you taking classes until then?

Rob: I’m taking classes right now. It’s a faith-based program, so we have Bible study every morning, and church twice a week.

Diane: What do you do in your free time? 

Rob: I listen to music and work on my writing. I’m putting ebooks together with my poetry. I’ve been singing for the church. I’ve done a couple songs already. I’m getting ready to sing a song by Josh Turner “Long Black Train” this Sunday. I’ve met a couple people, I keep in contact with friends, I play pool, and work out. I just try to stay busy. It is really nice. I was referred to this place by another inmate. He said, “I highly recommend this place. It is where God is at.” He’s correct. There’s a church we go to up the hill that funds this place. After being here for 16 days I got a brand new pair of pants and a nice dress shirt from the church. We all got cosmetic kits. There’s always a ton of donations. It’s a humongous place. It’s an incredible way to come out of an institution. I don’t know, I’ve never been to a half-way house. This is the place to be, I highly recommend it.

Diane: Have you had a memorable meal since you’ve been out?

Rob: I had BBQ pork chops, baked potatoes and sweet corn. We have chores to do, and there’s one guy that likes to cook so he’s been doing all the cooking. He’s amazing. I’ve had a few memorable meals. He makes a roast every two weeks. We all share the dishes. We have five refrigerators. There’s two-man rooms and only two single rooms, so I just got lucky.

Diane: How long can you stay there?

Rob: Until my parole is up, one year. After six months I can get a job and come and go as I please. At ten months I could probably get off early if I mind my p’s and q’s. 

Diane: What are your future plans?

Rob: Right now, it’s hard to say. I’ve signed up for a couple job programs. I’m certified in a couple different places from my past. I might do construction or horticulture. I’m working on getting my driver’s license. Now I’m just getting closer with God, going to church, singing. I’m making a poster for church. We have to make one about any women that have impacted our lives and have passed on. My plans are just to succeed. I’m following my gut instinct, since that’s what brought me here.

Déjà vu 

by Rob Seidelman

I saw on the evening news tonight,

how a meteorologist was giving insight.

 It was a serious, somber, scary tune, 

he said a big storm was coming soon.


Mother Nature sent her wrath,

Louisiana in its path.

All Their dirt has turned to mud,

 another dreaded earthly flood!


So much rain; so much pain,

Another unwanted visit from a hurricane!

Vicious winds to uproot trees,

Bringing locals to their knees,


Downed power lines and telephone poles,

bleeding hearts and broken souls.

A neighborhood turned into a pile of rubble,

Who could have imagined this much trouble?

Bourbon street has disappeared,

Just what everyone had feared.

For such a famous part of town,

Now there’s not anyone around.


Once again, they must all rebuild,

I wonder how many this one killed?

Families searching for their kin,

They wait for the rescue to begin.

How many tears must one state shed?

Only future hardships lie ahead.

Nothing is easy when everything is wet…

From another storm they won’t forget.