Gunner, 32

Meet Gunner..

“To anyone I have hurt carelessly or under addiction, I pray you heal and learn to forgive. I never forgave those who hurt me, and it turned into poison. An apology is made through my life actions. NO ONE is truly free who cannot control themselves.”

Gunner ‘GT’, 32

Incarcerated: 7 years

Housed: Valley State Prison Chowchilla, California

Imagine if everything you have ever experienced was abnormal and nothing was normal by society’s standards. You just stepped into my shoes. From the age of one to the age of four, I lived with my poor drug-addict mother who loved men and needles more than me, leaving me alone to starve and get molested. Cops showed up and stripped my little fingers from the only thing that made me feel safe. I was taken from her like a state of emergency. I was taken to a place where I was held down, given shots, and told it was okay. Then, I was given to a stranger called father, and people I didn’t know who said “I love you” but yelled when I did anything. My father was a broken man. He had a wife and two sons, but she ran away to protect herself and the boys. I was this fix, but I had my trauma already. I was young, angry, and exposed to too much. My father inconsistently lost jobs by dropping liquor down his throat and meth through each nostril. How would anyone expect shit to go down?

One day in the winter of 96, I was in New Mexico, staying with my dad’s buddy and his two kids. One day while my dad was at work, we broke a window playing ball. His buddy duct-taped our hands and feet behind our backs and put us in the corners of separate rooms. Eight hours later, my dad came in from work: I’d pissed my pants, and my hands were numb. My dad beat the dude up and asked if I wanted to live with people I’d never met; I said yes. It was the only time my dad did right by me. Aunt Brenda and Uncle Ronny were bikers. I had my room, bed, and a home for two years. I went to school, and I had friends. It was my best life, regardless of whether it was still wrong. While I was living with them. I was almost killed four times by a dog attack; involved in a drive-by shooting, I was kidnapped and raped and nearly thrown off a building.

In the summer of 1998, my dad took me back, he wanted me, but he had nothing to offer but some bullshit. I fought at school every day. He would beat me; I would lie to authority about my black eyes. My family covered for him. One day, my dad came home, blacked out from drinking too much, and beat me to the point where I ran to 7-11 and called the cops.

From 12 to 18, I was forced to pretend to be perfect when I was broken. Years passed in that brokenness, and I lost the feeling of happiness and comfort. If things weren’t wrong, I felt something was wrong. I got kicked out and moved around to 17 foster homes. I needed help, not abandonment. At 18, I was indeed full of hate, looking for expressions to participate. I got arrested selling drugs and got lucky. It was the only time my skin got me out of an adverse fate. I used sex, alcohol, and drugs to silence the insecurities I called demons. I literally avoided my past, which caused a destructive present. I had no men who would teach me how to be a man, so I watched TV and made my own James Bond plans.

I did what I wanted, right or wrong. I was a raw street boy trying to be a man on my own two feet. Failures showed me how much I hated myself, so I gave up caring. When things went wrong, I shrugged, not giving a fuck, because I self-sabotaged, not trying pathetically in every way. Sad, angry, and fueled through aggression.

From 18 to 25, I was having fun doing what I wanted because of my youth’s lack of exposure and trying to make up for lost time. I was stunted in maturity. If I’d had direction, I would have been working in a union job, but I never knew what people called obvious. I never saw a way out to be successful. I tried two times to be a good guy. The first time she dumped me was when I was in the US Army. The second time, I blacked out and hurt a girl; it was 100% my fault. I take 100% responsibility for the harm I caused. I blame no one, factor traumas. I should have stopped out of fear and faced the pain. I spiraled in 2016 after my girlfriend moved out; I wrecked my truck, lost my job, lost the apartment, and was homeless, fueling my addictions. I was arrested for blacking out and hurting an innocent soul who didn’t deserve my stupidity of actions.

In county jail, I was given a razor blade and a bible, and for 28 days in isolation, I faced a crossroads: end myself or change. I prayed to God to change all of me and give me strength. On the wall was Romans 8:28. I have been sober since. I went to college and graduated with a 3.0 GPA, not bad for a high school dropout. I took every class to parent myself for everything I lacked or never knew. I seek to be loved and accepted; I desire to be the gap for the lost, outcast, rejected, and those who have made choices from factors related to unhealed trauma. To anyone I have hurt carelessly or under addiction, I pray you heal and learn to forgive. I never forgave those who hurt me, and it turned into poison. An apology is made through my life actions. NO ONE is truly free who cannot control themselves.

 

Marques, 43

Marques, 43

Meet Marques..

“I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage.”

Marques, 43

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: California State Prison, Solano

What have I learned about myself in prison?

Since my conviction, my life has changed in so many significant ways. I am no longer the same person that I once was before coming to prison,

When I committed this crime, I was impulsive and acted first and thought later. Now, I know better than to do that. I’ve learned to think first before reacting. I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage. At the time, addressing violence with superiors seemed like the right way to handle the situation, but it wasn’t. I have identified my internal and external triggers such as feeling insecure, powerless, ashamed, unheard, vulnerable, and sometimes fearful. I was being ridiculed or threatened by people around me, being called a liar, being insulted, being yelled at, and called weak. I’ve also developed healthy coping mechanisms that prevent me from returning to criminal behavior whenever I’m tempted to do so. Some coping mechanisms include but are not limited to: 

1) Positive self-talk. When feeling insecure, I remind myself I am not a negative thought or feeling. I am more than my past, and I am learning while growing. 

2) No matter what is said, I stop personally taking people’s words or actions. 

3) I pause to observe and process my situation, feelings, and my body’s reaction (heart rate increases, breathing quickens) to remain calm and avoid reacting impulsively. 

4) Breathing: when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I pause to take deep breaths and meditate. 

5) Listening with understanding and empathy when others express their thoughts or feelings. 

6) Taking the necessary time to assess different opinions or conflicts in a given situation. 

7) Things I’ve learned in self-help groups also work for me: Thought stopping, thought replacement, walking away, speaking calmly, and exercising.

I’ve matured in areas of the utmost importance when it comes to my conduct and behavior. By completing several self-help classes, I’ve acquired the necessary tools to modify my behavior and rebuild my life from the ground up. I took the time to dig deep within and was able to identify my many weaknesses, turning them into strengths; rather than being problem-focused, I’ve become solution-minded.

Today, I’ve learned to identify the root causes of my choices to be violent and to trace back the origin of my criminal thinking, which was that violence and committing crimes were the best ways to address whatever external problems I was facing. I have learned to recognize my feelings and thought patterns, and by doing that, I’ve learned to control the impulses that triggered my violent behavior.

I’ve been incarcerated now for almost ten years; the last five years have been disciplinary-free. I’m housed here at CSP Solano in the programming facility yard, where I can participate in various programs and receive certificates of completion. They teach me life skills and how to cope with life on life’s terms. I do my very best and let God do the rest. I was baptized here at the prison chapel, where I confessed my sins, asking God for forgiveness. I attend service regularly, where I help mentor the youth by using my own life story and my trials and tribulations to serve as a living testimony to those younger men who look up to me. It helps keep them out of trouble and brings them closer to God, our creator. I take a correspondence course called PREP Turning Point that teaches me anger management, parenting, conflict resolution, listening, critical thinking skills, and more.I completed a yoga class where I learned breathing techniques and how to remain calm while always in control. I was also taught how to meditate and relax my body and mind. By thinking clearly before reacting, I can make better decisions.

I’ve been a married man for the last four years, and I get to attend overnight family visits with my wife and children, bond and socialize with them, maintain my family ties, and spend quality time with those I love most. I have a lovely home to return to and plenty of love and family support. It’s very important to have housing, reliable transportation, and financial support upon release. I have that. I also have a post-release plan of action that will help solidify my successful reentry into the community. I recently graduated from the DJ program at CSP Solano called Uncuffed and I created an hour-long radio set from start to finish. My completed set aired on KALW 91.7 FM in September 2023. The Radio station provided a platform for us to be heard beyond these prison walls, and I used it to become a voice for the voiceless. This was a huge accomplishment for me and has given me the confidence to pursue a career in audio engineering. When my family and friends heard my creation on the Radio, they were so proud of me. I’m currently enrolled in the Solano Community College program, where I’m pursuing an associate’s degree in sociology and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now that I’ve acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to be a positive, productive, and proactive member of our society, all that’s left is for me to be afforded the opportunity to do so!

Michael, 56

Michael, 56

Meet Michael..

“Everyone in life has dues to pay. Paying dues means being part of the solution rather than part of the problem and finding a way to get to “yes.”

Michael, 56

Incarcerated: 20 years

Housed: California Medical Facility, Vacaville, California

“Swimming in Circles”

Everyone in life has dues to pay. Paying dues means being part of the solution rather than part of the problem and finding a way to get to “yes.”

Sentenced to death, some twenty-five years in the making now, I’m compressed in what can only be described as a time warp, and not the “Beam me up Scotty” type either, but a not-so-simple paradox, learning to survive and endure with purpose in an ugly old run-down place where society chose for me to die — literally.

An underlying connection exists between indifference and irony that routinely transcends the bitter, biased, semi-tolerant humanity we all pretend to share – a kaleidoscopic oxymoron of elastic pretense and conceit around every corner. Just turn on your evening world news; it’s staring you in the face.

With ample time to make up for, you might imagine my being heavily dependent upon clock management. I’d be remiss to admit that there have been enfeebled (even squandered) moments where I’m found mentally- adrift against the futility of an oppressive current without a life jacket, much less a paddle. Society suggested that time is plentiful when locked away in prison for the convicted offender, the sanctioned duration for reconciliation and rehabilitation. Time seems friendly enough on the surface, but finding purpose aligned with promise means surrounding yourself with people you become decidedly- committed to investing in whatever remaining civility, humility, compassion, and grace you might muster from the depths of your already hollow empty soul. If you allow it, prison will sneak up on you and take the wind right out of your sails. Only in recent years have I tasked myself with reconciling how best to invest in an otherwise grim reality that no doubt intends to outlive me. Public character assassination, even ostracism as it were, is a very real concern for guys (and gals) in my shoes. But hope is not yet lost. That’s entirely up to you. The key is to determine where you are going and how you intend to get there from where you are sitting right now. First, you must reconnect with where you have been, what you’ve learned along the way, and most notably, how you utilize all of this on your adventure into tomorrow. I can only illustrate what continues to work for me most of the time. I’m comfortable doing so because with some 99% certainty (okay, maybe less), I know that every one of us has had our confidence shaken to the core and our security (heads, hearts, and egos) threatened at some point. As humans with real emotions, tragedies of every shape and size shatter even the slightest sense of control we thought we once owned. Undesirable circumstances beyond our control cause us to question things like faith, love, patience, and our ability to endure these rough patches. I didn’t crawl from beneath the confines of my prison issued wool blanket one lonely morning and choose to co-author a California state senate Bill (SB1419);  there was a cup of coffee or two in there somewhere. This process became an unavoidable byproduct of a terribly long and arduous dance with acceptance after the unnecessary death of my father in 2016. Nothing alters the state of mind and shifts the personal narrative, like discovering one’s purpose on the heels of a family tragedy. The strength to endure with pride, morale, and self-confidence during one of life’s lowest moments can renew your power, courage, sense of empathy, and comfort in others. Every stage of life carries with it its beauty as well as its burdens.

I’m grateful today for the tireless volunteer commitments from like-minded, impassioned people going the extra mile behind the scenes, continuing to foster the purpose discovered along my wayward journey. Purpose creates action, leading you away from your ashes of atrocity and into empowering flames of growth and healing.

State prison health care policy reform is my “coup de grace,” my final destination. I can’t stand idly by until state prisoners across this nation are permitted to voluntarily (inducement-free) donate LIVING vital organs and bone marrow to biological, match-worthy, immediate family members in need. Where a meager 10% +/- of the entire national prison population remains behind bars, federal prisoners enjoy a legal right to make the ultimate restitution with the “gift of life.” In 2016, the California Department of Corrections  denied my request to provide a lung to my dying father. This is justified by their lack of a living inmate organ donor protocol. He died shortly after that. No families should be subjected to this, especially when stigma-free donor supply outstrips demands. We are working to create a LIVING organ and bone marrow donor protocol for STATE prisoners nationale, one which promises to share the lectern of inalienable equal rights with federal prisoners.

If you’d like to learn more about this meaningful initiative/campaign, the introduction of fresh legislation meant to benefit state prisoners, ask your friends and family to visit us online, where they can show their support in several ways to those (yours and mine) biological loved ones whose bravery and dignity continue to inspire us.

Facebook: Inmate Organs

Instagram: inmate-organs

Twitter: inmateorgans

Reginald, 35

Reginald, 35

Meet Reginald..

“What I have learned about myself in prison is I should have stayed true to myself because under the mask I was gentle, smart and caring.”

Reginald, 35

Incarcerated: 15 years

Housed: California Health Care Facility, Stockton

In 2009, I committed a home invasion robbery expecting to find large sums of money, but instead, I almost lost my life. I was sentenced to over 30 years. Prior to coming to prison at 21, I was in and out of juvenile hall. My teen years were riddled with bad decisions and hopelessness. I was born in Oakland, California, to a single mother hooked on drugs and living in one of the most dangerous cities in the USA. Unfortunately, I went from juvenile detention to prison and never really understood or realized the harm I was causing myself, my community, and my family. I left for the streets very early in my life, searching for what I didn’t get in my household: acceptance and love. I found acceptance and love but from distorted and manipulative people. People say you are what you eat and who you hang around, which is very true. Let me be clear, prison can be dangerous, especially on high levels, but once I got down to lower levels, I started to benefit from many of the programs that were offered. What I have learned about myself in prison, I should have stayed true to myself because, under the mask, I was gentle, smart, and caring. I have learned that I don’t need to do stuff to impress other people. One of the most influential groups I attended in prison was empathy and manhood. I had never heard of the word empathy and had no idea of what productive manhood looked like; this group was life-changing, to say the least. While being in prison has been challenging. I will admit there are good things we can do to prepare ourselves to be successful once we’re released. Once, I got serious about my life, it was like my world lit up, and I started to discover new things. For example, who would’ve thought I would have found my passion here in prison? Masonry class was foreign to me, but I really got into it and ended up becoming certified, and now I love it. Peace can be the hardest thing to attain, especially in prison, but it’s mind over matter, right? Or is it mind vs. matter?

Larry, 69

Larry, 69

Meet Larry..

“One man’s love for the Lord, who shared his testimony with me changed my life forever.”

Larry, 69

Incarcerated: 20 years

Housed: Lancaster, CA

I grew up in a Christian family. Over time, I gradually moved away from the church. I felt I didn’t need it. I began to put myself first above God, my family and friends. I thought I could do it alone. Due to the bad choices I made and horrifying actions I committed, I ended up in the San Mateo County Jail in 2004. I started attending all religious services, mainly just to get out of my cell. Something amazing happened to me at one of these services and I almost stayed in bed. I had never attended a bilingual service before (Spanish / English). I didn’t understand much. The guest speaker was a short bald-headed, 60-year-old Mexican Christian named “Jame.” He shared his testimony in Spanish. I really wasn’t paying much attention. I was the only non-Spanish speaking person in the room. Eventually, he turned to me and in broken English described a crime committed against his family and him. It was nearly identical to the terrible crime I did, but he was on the receiving end of it. He talked about all the pain and hurt his family and he experienced. The ruined and changed lives. I began to cry quietly. Then, he continued to tell how he had forgiven the person. I could tell he meant it. He was staring at me the whole time, no one else. It touched me deeply. I started to sob uncontrollably. My life changed forever at that moment. I decided then and there I’d accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior and put him first in my life and I truly repented. Since that day, peace and comfort has filled the hole in my heart. I now have a reason to keep going, a reason to live and a reason to love. Since putting God first in my life, instead of my selfish self, everything has fallen into place. My spiritual walk with the Lord continues to grow daily. One man’s love for the Lord, who shared his testimony with me changed my life forever. I truly believe he was an angel sent from heaven. God works in mysterious ways! Any time and anywhere! 

                                                   

A Heartwarming Christmas Story…

My wife and I used to purchase one nice present for our children and one nice present would come from “Santa.” Every year our three children woke up early on Christmas. Usually, they just ripped the paper off the gifts to see what was inside. This one year our oldest daughter, April noticed our wrapping paper was the same as “Santa’s” wrapping paper. She put two and two together and figured out our secret. I took her aside and asked her not to tell our two younger kids. In exchange, next Christmas she could be my “elf” and help me fill the stockings. She agreed. The following year as we were hanging up the stockings I said, “I hope Santa and his elf put a lot of candy and small toys in them!” I looked at April and she had a huge smile and a twinkle in her eye. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone! 

 

Story #3

The above picture was taken 11 years ago at a Half Moon Bay Christmas tree farm. Since then, April has graduated from the University of Oregon, Gina is a sophomore at San Diego State University and Joey is at Riordan High School in San Francisco. I’m enjoying all the groups and classes offered here at Lancaster. I’m learning new things and staying busy. A dog program started on June 1st. The ten dogs actually live in my building! We train the dogs that were scheduled to be euthanized. Now because of us, they are adopted. Their barking is music to my ears! My after-dinner dog strolls continue to be exciting and locating the constellations and various planets is fun!

Merry Christmas and a happy new year! God bless you all.

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