Earnest, 56

Earnest, 56

Meet Earnest…

I actively participated in the genocide of my own race. I am a black man who has achieved blackness in prison.

I killed him on my 22nd birthday. My record accurately discloses that I acted with an unreasonable belief in self defense. It was clearly established, at the time the conviction became final, but was not legally recognized at the time of the trial, based on public outcry after the murders of Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor Marciori. It was not until 1994 when California recognized its legal mistakes and the state court did not make the defense retroactive for prior.

For 35 years, the Board of Prison Hearings commissioners have refused to believe my version of the case, the coroner’s autopsy report, the coroner’s testimony and an independent pathology report. For years, I have been litigating in the courts while attending college. I have been writing to law schools, lawyers and anyone who could help me to use computer animation to reenact the crime scene with the forensic evidence and coroner’s autopsy report to prove my innocence. I’ve written to numerous venture capitalists for seed capital and talent agencies for assistance. I have contacted an attorney and an expert witness from the Forensic Animation Services and I’ve filed motions in the courts to no avail. I believe my 35 year of incarceration was based on my job prior to prison. I was a photojournalist for the acquittal of Sagon Penn. He killed San Diego policeman Tom Riggs as Riggs and another officer used excessive force against him. It was San Diego’s Rodney King case.

I write this letter to ask for assistance from Black LIves Matter or anyone who can understand my plight. I actively participated in the genocide of my own race. I am a black man who has achieved blackness in prison. It is not my skin color, it is my conscious level.

 

Edward, 43

Meet Edward…

I have changed after the 12 years of being locked away, now I’m just angry because any longer is pointless.

For 12 years I’ve sat in an Oregon prison with another 11 to go. I am given no chance to earn good time credits, which would take time off my sentence. The Measure One Bbill  forces me to do a day-for-day sentence, even with years of good behavior! Oregon is one of the only states left with this mandatory sentencing law.

I feel that Oregon lawmakers are stuck in their old ways of thinking. They refuse to even vote on a Bill that could offer time off a conviction for good behavior. Meanwhile, Measure 17, forces us  into slave labor. Here’s how: every prisoner is required to work unless you have a disability. I think the Oregon Department of Corrections cares about the profit being made from me, while I work in the call-center. Yes, this prison works with outside contractors that employ prisoners to sit in a hot call – center for eight hours making marketing calls all over the United States and Canada.

Prisoners even build furniture for profit. We now build guitars within the Oregon State Prison that are sold for over $1,000.00. I must tell you that it’s voluntary to work for these higher paying contractors, yet one way or another,  prisoners are required to work. The lower paying kitchen job pays around $25 a month. Someone in the free world might think that is not bad, but with the price of phone calls, canteen items increasing yearly, prisoners can not afford to work for these contractors. unless you don’t care about calling family and friends, or brushing your teeth! I understand that I’m here as a punishment, but I should be treated as a human being and offered programs before I am released from prison, not after being released! Are you telling me I’m required to complete my full 22 year sentence and then Oregon wants me to attend counseling or classes as a requirement of probation? Let me answer for the clueless, the answer is Yes. I ask where are the high profile legal teams fighting for Oregon prisoners?

I will more than likely continue to watch the rich and famous be released from criminal accountability while I sit here having no hope. The prison has not offered me counseling or any form of rehabilitation since being here. The last point I want to make, everyone that has a discussion about how the prison system is broken does just that, they have a conversation that leads to the same conclusion, “It’s broken.” Where is the action? Give me a break and offer up a bill that proposes time off my sentence for good behavior and end Measure 11 & Measure 17. Take the profit away from mass incarceration and things will change. I have changed after the 12 years of being locked away, now I’m just angry because any longer is pointless. What kind of people do you want released into the community? Why not help make us prisoners better people, kinder, more loving and stop caring about profit made and how you can use us or our families. Massive change is needed, not more talk. I sent this article to several civil organizations and Oregon lawmakers.

I hope that whoever receives this will post it on social media and spread it until someone listens. Someone might jump on board with us, the fighters of positive change. It’s important to us, the poor and non famous. The people that have been locked up and forgotten. I’m not Bill Cosby or Martha Stewart.

Gregory, 46

Gregory, 46

Meet Gregory…

As I look back at the many times in my life where I should have met a certain death, I now know it was Jesus’ love and mercy that saved me from myself.

 I was the fourth and last child to be born to my 19-year-old mother. She had four kids, no education, no resources, and no father figure in our lives, it was rough. I never got to know my biological father, but I now know that he was dealing with mental illnesses and drug abuse. As I grew up, I went through and witnessed numerous mental, physical, and life-threatening abuses and traumas. I now suffer and struggle with PTSD. Fortunately for me I’ve been able to work with many wonderful psychologists who have taught me some great coping skills and techniques to survive. Today my greatest and most powerful ally is my Lord and Savior Jesus The Christ! It’s the relationship that I’ve built with Him that keeps me not only surviving but actually thriving (even while I’m here on Death Row!) As I look back at the many times in my life where I should have met a certain death, I now know it was Jesus’ love and mercy that saved me from myself. I live in His love, mercy, and grace and I try to share these things with everyone I come into contact with. I’ve been blessed with the joy and peace that comes through His Holy Spirit living in me. That’s the greatest gift that I have ever received, and it will only get better when Jesus makes His return. In the meantime, I’ve been staying positive and productive by writing a poetry book and taking a paralegal certification course. I try to grow mentally, physically, and spiritually a little bit every day. I’m still learning and growing, which is what I think is the whole point of life. To all of humanity, I send you LOVE WITHOUT A LIMIT! That’s my motto and creed. If you can be anything in this life – BE KIND! Peace to you always and forever.

Jose, 34

Meet Jose…

I listened as my daughter babbled through the phone to string along a bunch of words, formulating her sentences and thoughts. I revisit that fateful summer night with each new milestone my daughter reaches, with each question she asks, with each conversation and new picture capturing her growth.

The hardest part about doing time is being away from my daughter. I was arrested when she was nine months old. For those nine months, she was my daily side-kick. I learned how to change her diaper, comb her hair (really rubbing baby lotion in and calling it a day), packing a diaper bag and putting her to sleep every night. On the day she was born, I knew I loved her, from the second I held her, she looked at me as I spoke to her. That moment was trumped when, when I heard her first words, “Da-Da”. My heart melted. At that moment, I believed that I would love her in a way she deserved. That belief came to a head when I committed my regretful crime. I was hit with a gut-shot that if I truly loved my daughter as I claimed, I would have thought about the consequences of my actions. Impulse has no forethought. I was taken away from my daughter and all those incredible memories. It should have never happened. I watched my daughter learn to crawl, walk and run, through a glass partition. I listened as my daughter babbled through the phone to string along a bunch of words, formulating her sentences and thoughts. I revisit that fateful summer night with each new milestone my daughter reaches, with each question she asks, with each conversation and new picture capturing her growth. It’s painful because I care so much. I didn’t consider my actions and it’s impact because I didn’t know how to love my daughter. This is because I didn’t know how to love myself. I had a very difficult upbringing. The common themes of: poverty, instability, food insecurity, lack of education, lack of resources, domestic violence, abuse, compiled with addicted parents. I was taught not to address mental health issues but to bury them. This was a patch work fix for a dam, flooded with suppressed issues until the gates burst. I could’ve let my uncontrollable waters flood the valley. But that would only create more harm and destruction. I remember one of my last visits with my daughter. She was three and I sat behind a glass partition. She wanted to kiss me but the glass blocked her attempt to give me affection. After many failed attempts, she began to cry – painfully. That moment greatly affected me. It started a conversation with the man in the mirror. If I cared as much as I claimed, then I would have to make a change. There is an old Daoist story about monks who created beauty of a thing’s essence not by adding to it but by taking away from it. Before I could incorporate those virtues to make me a better human being, I had to identify and face my character flaws and remove them one by one. No easy process. I had to wade in the pain, anger and sadness and not drown in the abyss. I read incessantly and vigorously. I revisited my life with each new discipline which relieved each trauma. I persevered because I cared. As a bi-product of all my hard work, I garnered multiple college degrees, facilitated self-help groups, developed bonds with family members in new and improved ways. My relationship with my daughter is limited to phone calls, but it’s stronger than ever. I used to lament about this limitation but now I see possibilities. I pre-plan our 15-minute phone call conversations. I write to her in journals to preserve moments without her near me. I vent, talk about my feelings, dreams, fears, anything I feel would include her in my mind and heart. The other day she answered my call out of breath. I said “Baby, why are you breathing so hard? What were you doing?” she replied “I’m just out of breath because I ran to answer your call, Dad.” over ten years ago I couldn’t imagine what my relationship would be like with my daughter. But I knew what my behavior would demonstrate: that my sustained change, and my actions, proves my love for my daughter. We walked through the light of love for over ten years. My daughter can feel the love through the phone, in the way that I speak with her. She runs to the phone to hear my voice.

Lani, 41

Lani, 41

Meet Lani…

She taught me that no matter what my circumstances are, I could always make a negative situation into a positive one.

Years down: 19 year and 7 months

I was an active gang member from the “Hawaiian Playboy Bloods” in Los Angeles. I was sentenced to 30 years to life for “First Degree Residential Burglary” and a serious felony enhancement, under the California Three Strikes Law. I struggled with my excessively long sentence for a non-violent offense. Six years into my sentence, I met three teachers,  Lin, Vickie, and Pat from a self-help class, Alternative to Violence Project, at Ironwood State Prison. These three powerful women helped me see the importance of my educational goals, and they could be achieved if I put in the hard work. Pat was an administrative employee. She advocated and enforced a bill for incarcerated people to attend college through Palo Verde College and Coastline Community College. Pat inspired me to believe in myself. She taught me that no matter what my circumstances are, I could always make a negative situation into a positive one. Based on Pat’s mentorship and her encouragement to motivate me to further my education, I was able to follow my goals and dreams. The results of my commitment to my educational journey has given me three certificates in Business Literacy, Business Studies and Business Management. Then, in 2016, I graduated from Coastline Community College with three degrees, an Associate Arts and Science in Business Administration and General Business. Due to my educational accomplishments, this led me to be granted suitability for parole from the Board of Parole Hearings dated September 28, 2021. Once released I will have served 19 ½ years in prison.