Tony, 32

Tony, 32

Meet Tony…

To put it simply, I am scared. But more than scared I feel guilt. A guilt because me wanting a chance is unfair to those I’ve hurt.

Tony, 32
Incarcerated: 14 years
Housed: California State Prison, Corcoran, California

Fresh out of high school, a couple community college classes, and a sudden sharp turn to facing the Death Penalty. I came into the system at 18. I use the word system because each step of the way works in chaotic unison. Before my crime occurred, I had been in only one fight in my entire upbringing. A fourth grade brawl over a girl behind some classrooms. That was my share of violence. Before the System. Yet, if there was one thing I did do compulsively, it was lying. Lie to my parents about my herb habit, lie to girls about my faithfulness and lie to myself about who I really was. Today, I’ve tried to correct my actions. I’ve come to accept that I was a coward and I don’t have to continue being that person. The more I understand the extent and damage of my actions and inactions, the heavier the weight is. I see so many people ignore the reality of why we are in this system. We block out what we did and do so many different things except what we’re supposed to – accept responsibility and change. It’s understanding how a mother will never see their child how a person lives in fear in their own home; how pain and its scars never heal; how no matter how hard you try to make amends; you know it will never be enough.Trying to share these things with others here is like trying to communicate with someone who speaks a foreign language.

Nine out of ten people give up and the tenth one is fifty-fifty. The road is mine to take though. I made it after all. And after fourteen years, I’ve refused to give up. I’ve refused to accept this is all there is or will be. When I was found guilty, I didn’t give up. When my appeal was denied, I didn’t give up. When my countless self-written petitions were filed and denied, I didn’t give up. I feel like giving up is an easy way out. The craziest thing, though, is that I’m up for a possible re-sentence. A second look. A second opportunity. And I’ve struggled to keep my head up. I’ve fought myself to stay positive. I’m facing a fear I can’t control, a future I can’t predict. To put it simply, I am scared. But more than scared I feel guilt. A guilt because me wanting a chance is unfair to those I’ve hurt. I know most people don’t see it this way, they don’t even stop to think about their victims. I hear it all the time. It sounds like eating foil wrap. However, in the same way that one can find excuses for any given situation, you can also find solutions. Today, I am sentenced to life without parole. Knowing that my change can be the change that pushes me to make a positive impact. Hopefully along the way I can help others also.

Mauricio, 24

Meet Mauricio…

I ruined my life completely, it’s the end, there is nothing that can be done from here, they say I’m dead, I don’t even exist anymore.

Mauricio, 24
Incarcerated: 6 years
Housed: California State Prison Corcoran, California

I came to this country at 17 from El Salvador,  looking for better opportunities not only to help my family, but to have a sense of meaning. All that changed after I committed this crime months after I came to this country. It was a hard situation, not only because of the crime, but  because I didn’t know English or the laws in California. It felt like being blind. Some say that my life was over,  I ruined my life completely, it’s the end, there is nothing that can be done from here, they say I’m dead, I don’t even exist anymore; that’s all good, it has its truth in it.

When they said nothing can be done from here, I found that I can do a lot. When they said I was dead and I didn’t exist anymore, I started to live.  I have improved for the better and  found a new beginning. Two paths were open to me and I once heard a wise man say, “Choose the one that is less transited” and that’s my daily living. Being incarcerated hasn’t only been a challenge,  it has been a huge experience. It has helped me to mature as a person, as a man, to know myself in a way I couldn’t before, to understand why I think the way I do, and why I did the things I did. Most importantly, I came to know God not only as God , but I have a relationship with him. I owe everything I have accomplished in my life, everything I have and all I am today to him. I’m doing my best to make progress, to keep learning and educating myself to be the person I couldn’t be and to serve others. 

Samir, 52

Samir, 52

Meet Samir…

I felt helpless and alone as I boarded the plane for America. Life was worse than I had imagined and it aggravated my feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Samir, 52
Incarcerated: 13 years
Housed: California State Prison, Corcoran

At 13 years old, my parents sent me to America to live with my older brothers. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was forced to leave my parents, siblings, and the only home I ever knew to live in a  foreign country with estranged brothers I hardly knew. I was told it was for my safety, but I felt it was a punishment and a rejection by my parents. Despite my reluctance to leave my homeland, I suppressed my thoughts and feelings and did as I was told. I felt helpless and alone as I boarded the plane for America. Life was worse than I had imagined and it aggravated my feelings of loneliness and isolation. At home, my brothers were always busy and I hardly ever saw them. Left on my own, I began to use food as a way to alter my mood from feeling lonely and isolated. As a result, I became overweight and my brothers started calling me “cow.” In hearing their taunts, I felt hurt, angry and rejected. I wanted to fight back, but I couldn’t because they were older and I had to respect them, so I suppressed my anger. To avoid being teased, I ate alone so I wasn’t judged by my large portions. I hid snacks in my closet and ate them when no one was watching.

I became obese and struggled with my weight for most of my life. I felt ugly, ashamed, and less than others. These feelings led to frustration and extreme low self-esteem. I thought no one would ever want me and I would die alone. This belief along with earlier feelings of scarcity and instability would later manifest into possessiveness and controlling over my wife. Along with a rigid sex role belief and a co-dependency issue, I developed a compulsive/obsessive, perfectionistic, controlling, grandiose, blaming, righteous and all-knowing personality. Before I reached puberty  I was an undiagnosed narcissist without power and I normalized these behaviors within my sphere of influences because they altered my mood from loneliness and isolation. Based on these adverse childhood experiences, I had unconscious abandonment problems. On the day of the murder, I had hoped for a reconciliation, however, when I was coldly rejected, I was unconsciously terrified of abandonment and this feeling triggered me into a rage that I didn’t know how to manage. 

Billy, 58

Meet Billy…

I chose to lead a sober life and finally found my higher power. My higher power spoke to me, saying – I still love you.

Incarcerated: 17 years
Housed: California State Prison, Corcoran

Until I started committing crimes and got strung out on drugs, I had a good life. I didn’t care about anything. I got with different women, sex, drugs and the high life was my way. Once my wife started to have my children, I thought my high life would cool down. Unfortunately, my wife and I loved drugs more. I got a life sentence after my third strike. My life became a nightmare when I was forced to dry out, no drugs, no alcohol, the party life was over. I chose to lead a sober life and finally found my higher power. My higher power spoke to me, saying – I still love you. That night I cried, I needed the Lord. Ten years later I’m still in prison but the Lord is still in my heart.

Sean’s Gallery

Sean’s Gallery

Artist Sean, 34

At 17, I was transferred from juvenile hall to the county jail and held in isolation. The day after my 18th birthday I was moved into a dorm full of adult men. I was young and scared. I met two men who I would eventually be sentenced to more time than the two of them combined, life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), plus ten years for an enhancement; all for a crime I did not commit. During this time, I met an older Hispanic man covered in prison tattoos. His tattoos and prison experience made me nervous as he sat in the dayroom drawing. I was captivated by his effortless skill. After I got up the nerve to approach him, he was pleased to share his artistic knowledge. Using blank white paper and hair grease bought from the commissary, he taught me how to make tracing paper, then shade with graphite pencils, rolled up toilet paper, and elementary blending of colored pencils. My artistic journey began slowly and mostly consisted of simple cartoon images, but I was hooked. I enjoyed drawing and the peace it gave me.

Over the next several years, each new artist I met, I would ask for tips and advice. I found my passion in colors. I ordered books on colored pencils and studied them intently. I practiced their techniques, pushed beyond my comfort zone and began adapting my own techniques utilizing my accumulated knowledge.

Nearly two decades later I am sharing my artistic knowledge with others. Colors are still my passion and I see them in a way that allows me to blend them into vivid colors. I have always loved creating my art and sending it home to share with my family. I never thought I would be able to share my art on a platform such as Humans of San Quentin and I am honored to do so. There is very little beauty or color in prison, but even the concrete and steel cannot stop me from creating the colorful art I love to share.

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