Ben, 51

Ben, 51

Meet Ben…

My 11-year-old son saved my life with his unconditional love. I kept telling him I was sorry for not being there. We had a great visit. Afterwards I wrote to him telling him sorry again. He said, “Dad, you can stop telling me sorry. I forgive you. All I want is for you to do good and get out as soon as you can so you can get to know me.” I felt this weight lift off my back that held me down all these years. I’d always wanted and searched for unconditional love.

Ben, 51
Incarcerated: 6 years

It started when I was young. I was put in the special needs class. A stepbrother came to live with us. I felt unwanted, unloved, stupid, different, and he groomed me to help him burglarize homes. I was small and could crawl into houses and unlock the doors. He took me to the mall and showed me how to steal. I was good at it. He showed me how giving stuff to people made them happy and made them like you. I loved to make people happy. That’s how I made friends and got women: stealing. I was a giver and a pleaser, so the drugs and fast women came with it. I ended up using booze, weed, and other drugs at a young age. By 13, I was sent to a boy’s home. At 16, I was kicked out and moved in with my dad. I went from being on welfare in a trailer park to living in a million-dollar home. I became a “boy toy” to my stepmom. When my dad found out, he blamed me, we fought and I ran away. I ended up in the California Youth Authority and then prison. I hated my dad and told myself I’d never be like him. I fell in love with a woman in jail. She got pregnant. My daughter was born in a cell in a women’s prison. I got out of prison and picked my newborn child up and took care of her. Here I was, 25 with a newborn. I’d never even had a pet before, but I crushed it. After a year I went back to prison for petty stuff, and was taken away from the first thing I ever loved. It hurt; my hair fell out and my mom adopted her. I was in and out of prison. I got another woman pregnant and we both went to prison. She got out and had our son, Blaze, and while I was in, she lost custody of him. My mom, God bless her, was again there to take my child. I got out and CPS said I could not see him, so I decided to go to court to fight for the right to be a dad. I showed up to court with certificates from Father’s First anger classes, letters of support, a clean drug test, and a job, but found out it did not matter. Because I had had no contact with my son for more than 14 months, my parental rights were terminated. Losing my rights hit me hard, I copped out and went back to committing crimes and using. I felt life was not worth living and my kids were better off without me. For the next 10 years I went back and forth to prison, mostly in, seeing my kids here and there. I could not forgive myself for being the kind of dad that mine was. I hated myself for that. I asked my mom if she could bring my son to visit me. She said she was done visiting me and being hurt, but she would ask my son. He wanted to see me. My 11-year-old son saved my life with his unconditional love. I kept telling him I was sorry for not being there. We had a great visit. Afterwards I wrote to him telling him sorry again. He said, “Dad, you can stop telling me sorry. I forgive you. All I want is for you to do good and get out as soon as you can so you can get to know me.” I felt this weight lift off my back that held me down all these years. I’d always wanted and searched for unconditional love. I always thought it would be from a woman. With his forgiveness I was able to forgive myself. In turn I prayed to God and told my dad I forgave him. I learned to break the chain with my son and heal myself. Hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people. It’s been five years of insight. I’ve looked at the root of my troubles and dealt with them. Now I have a good relationship with my mom, son, and daughter. I love myself and feel I’m worth it. I’m a good person. I’m now a grandpa and it’s not too late. I feel I will get out soon and look forward to starting over and for once living life the right way. There’s always hope. Never give up. Even when you’re at your last rope and feel there is no hope, there is.

Jonquil, 36

Jonquil, 36

Meet Jonquil…

I’m a self-titled hopeless romantic. I see love as the most exhilarating thing any person can experience.

Jonquil, 36
Incarcerated: 13 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison

I’m a self-titled hopeless romantic. I see love as the most exhilarating thing any person can experience. Throughout my 36 years of orbit on this blue marble we call home, I’ve rode the roller coaster known as love. In past relationships, I’ve given all of me only to be handed the muddy end of the stick, time and time again. Women who claimed they wanted honesty, loyalty, and love – proved they preferred men labeled as “dogs.” By 24, after one heartbreak too many, I was on the brink of being jaded. I figured if I went down to the level of “dog” then I could have a woman stay loyal and truthful. I struggled with myself for the first three months of incarceration. The stain of incarceration does not make it easy to be looked upon as a candidate for love. Most women who learned of my incarceration assumed that I wanted them to take care of me; this was furthest from the truth. I was looking for someone to spend the rest of my natural life with, and as a Muslim, I wanted a wife that could help me complete half of my religion. It took 11 years of supplicating to Allah to provide me with my rib, and my prayers were answered. A beautiful and gentle soul that I knew, appeared after 13 years, and we’ve been stuck like glue ever since. Sure there are ups and downs because we’re human, but our love grows stronger daily. It took both of us to go through failed relationships to appreciate when true love is given. I thought I could slide over to the “darkside,” when I realized that it wasn’t me and I couldn’t allow a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. And look what Allah did – he gave me my equal!

Ronald, 48

Ronald, 48

Meet Ronald…

No matter how others may look down upon me because of my mistakes that put me in prison, they can never take this memory away from me. Trophies and medals become old and tarnished but love never loses its shine!

Ronald, 48
Incarcerated: 3 years

Taking care of my daughter Faith, who was born two months early, is my greatest accomplishment. She weighed less than three pounds and had meth in her system causing her even more complications. She was hooked up to hoses and wires, too many to count. I’ve always considered myself a pretty tough guy, but I cried like a baby at the sight of my daughter. She was so tiny and frail looking. Every breath was a struggle. With every visit I was expected to take on more duties. Feeding, bathing, diaper changes, and most important, I had to learn about machines that monitored her breathing and heart rate. It wasn’t any of those things that were a challenge. Not even learning CPR. It was stimulating her to eat no less than three ounces of formula every three hours. About two weeks into learning all these things, a light went off in my head. Faith would get extremely pissed when I changed her diaper. She fussed like mad when I used cold wipes to clean her up. So, I’d change her first thing instead of after her feeding and she’d eat like a little piggy. I can’t remember how many of the different nurses stood by to watch me begin what felt like the absolute scariest journey I would ever take. They each gave me a hug as I walked out the door. They actually clapped for me like I had won a medal or trophy in some sporting event. Things weren’t any less stressful, but she was eating what was required and going one and two on the regular. At home, the scariest part of it all is that no one would come to help me due to the fear that Faith might not make it. Looking back at this trying time in my life gives me such appreciation for the help I got along the way. I can’t give you the percentage of  the good and bad I’ve done in this lifetime, but without a doubt, if I’m ever having a bad day, I remind myself of this moment I am so graciously proud of and thankful to have had the strength to overcome the greatest feat of my life. No matter how others may look down upon me because of my mistakes that put me in prison they can never take this memory away from me. Trophies and medals become old and tarnished but love never loses its shine!

My Impressions of HoSQ by Eric

My Impressions of HoSQ by Eric

My impressions of Humans of San Quentin from: 

Eric, 62
Incarcerated: 35 years

On Wednesday, January 11, 2023, I was invited by Humans of San Quentin (HoSQ) for an interview following a donation of some of my artwork. My immediate impression was one of inclusion. I felt a warm, authentic welcome into the HoSQ fold from the moment Diane, Sid, Laurel, and the inside team introduced themselves and shared their vision with me. 

There was an atmospheric river-grade deluge that day and many programs were impacted by the inclement weather. HoSQ was not one of those. The outside staff overcame torrential downpours, sans umbrellas, without complaint. When I thanked Laurel for braving the wet conditions on our behalf, her humble response was that we suffer from worse for longer. That selflessness epitomized the ethos I saw embodied in the entire HoSQ team.

While I awaited my interview, I was afforded the courtesy of sitting in on their business meeting, during which I was never made to feel out of place. In fact, there seemed to be genuine interest in whatever input I and other interviewees offered. 

The eventual interview itself was a pleasant process, conducted by Sid, an outside staff member, and Henok, an inside team member. Unexpected circumstances, however, dictated that the interview be abandoned, to be continued at a later time. My subsequent interview, two weeks later, was equally as agreeable as the first. For continuity, Sid and Henok picked up where they left off with the same relaxed and capable style, qualities that seemed to be shared among HoSQ staff. Their conscientious listening carried over even after the conclusion of my interview. Thereafter, I became the appreciative recipient of meaningful feedback for a potential victims impact/amends project I am in the early stages of developing.

After all was said and done, I left the room feeling energized and, more importantly, heard. My overall impression of HOSQ was one of admiration. I am also indebted to Brew, the HoSQ inside team art director, who provided me with the materials to do the paintings in the first place. HoSQ definitely lived up to its promise of giving prisoners a platform for highlighting our humanity.

Eric

Jocelyn, 32

Jocelyn, 32

Meet Jocelyn…

I look forward to making a name for myself as an African American transgender artist.

Jocelyn, 32
Incarcerated: 9 months
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, CA

At 14 I knew I was different. I didn’t know what transgender was. I dreamt of  myself as an older female. My family was religious and being transgender was strictly forbidden. Finding the courage within myself to fight for my truth, I decided to take a stand and distance myself from my family in order to communicate my seriousness. After a year and a half, I called my mom and dad, they were over the moon to hear from me. They said, “Come as you are, we love you.” Today, I recognize when I transitioned, my family also made a transition. Everyone’s journey is their own and I choose to make mine special. I enjoy music, cosmetology and traveling. I am originally from North Carolina and have lived in New York City and Florida. Living in California has really tested what I am made of. My favorite tattoo is my compass and the feather transforming into a bird. I look forward to making a name for myself as an African American transgender artist.