Erik, 52

Meet Erik…

Even though I considered myself a cis-gender male, I helped many members of the LGBTQ+ community gain acceptance and understanding from other inmates that, quite often, embraced preconceived bias toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Erik, 52
Incarcerated: 7 years
Housed: Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Blythe, California

In the three years I spent fighting my case, I was the Head Trustee in the county jail dorm where I was housed. I was always doing my best for my fellow inmates and the jail staff alike, always letting my Hasidic beliefs guide me. Whenever a dispute arose, I would do all I could to bring the various sides together and help resolve differences. Through my actions, I gained respect, regardless of race, gender identity or creed. Even though I considered myself a cis-gender male, I helped many members of the LGBTQ+ community gain acceptance and understanding from other inmates that, quite often, embraced preconceived bias toward the LGBTQ+ community. One of my most profound interventions was when two inmates were preparing to fight. I brought the various groups rallying around their friends together and made a statement I know they will never forget, “You should settle this like men.” They took it as I imagined they would, thinking that I was promoting violence. After a dramatic pause I continued, “by talking it out.” I went on to explain the civilized way to settle differences is not through violence but dialogue. In their shock and awe many of those around stated they had never heard that phrase used like that before. I knew I had changed perceptions, minds and hearts for the better. I am happy to have contributed to a peaceful environment.

Before I became a trustee, there were fights every weekend in that dorm. After my appointment, we had roughly one fight per year in my two and a half years. I have found that by doing our best for ourselves and those around us we can make the world a better place, even while incarcerated.

 

A Love Everlasting

Passing through the realm of thought and action physical beings find a mutual attraction

Ride upon the pinnacle of sensuality, a culmination of geniality and rhapsody

Sense alive, pressed together, two bodies strive
Natural reaction to the spirit of Love inside
Eternity – a moment experienced at the same time

Protean movement, the climax they bring
Sentient emotions, desire and pleasure the well-spring

Souls born to this Earth at the right place and time
A euphoric, carnal connection
Their impassioned essence infinitely entwined

 

For the Sake of Love

If I look deep into those sky blue eyes. I can see the reflection of a dawning sunrise.

A brand new day to replenish our ways. A reprieve from what drew us apart.

The tumultuous road we found ourselves on. Past grievances and hurtful wrongs.

Our salvation knowing each other’s hearts. Find solace in casting aside the frivolous parts.

I go to her now to hold her hand. Fingers interwoven, like soft and lacy silk strands.

Bound together, our eternal true love.
A passionate kiss, two bodies pressed sung.

 

Remember the Night

In the heat of passion, bare skin glowing in the moon lit night.
Cool air and bright stars passing by, lost to the senses out of sight.

Skin soft and warm, supple to the touch. Eyes flash and shine tussles of hair lightly brush.

Every movement in unison and precise. Develop into feelings of mutual device.

Arms wrapped in a tangle of the love you both share.
Happy to use it all up, not a drop to spare.

The efficacious result a memory in time.
Renewed in the heart on a lonely, moon lit night.

 

Riding the Storm

On the shore of a raging sea
My thoughts are only of thee

As the tempest gains its strength
I hope for affection and peace, a love that shall never cease

In its height, crashing waves, high winds
can’t hear a sound
My voice so soft and timid, lost in the din, never found

Churning tides, whirlpool spin, icebergs collide
If only I could know the thoughts and feelings you hide

Boats capsize, lives gone by, breakers 100 feet high
Although you ignore me I still have to try

As the storm subsides, the clouds part, waters calm, the sun shines
Our love everlasting, overcome conflict and adversity all in due time

Ramon, 63

Ramon, 63

Meet Ramon…

The life of a death-row prisoner is harsh, restrictive, isolated, and lonely. So moving out into the mainline environment after 24 years of death row continues to shock and amaze me, most so because I had never been to prison before so I never knew what mainline had to offer.

Ramon, 63
Incarcerated: 27 years
Housed: Donovan Correctional Facility, San Diego, California

The life of a death-row prisoner is harsh, restrictive, isolated, and lonely. So moving out into the mainline environment after 24 years of death row continues to shock and amaze me, most so because I had never been to prison before so I never knew what mainline had to offer. So my experience is vastly more astonishing than someone who’s been in and out of institutions. Tidbits sneak up on me from time to time where I say to myself, “I can’t believe I’m doing this right now.” The decades locked away had conditioned me to not expect certain things and be content with nothing. Now the ice in my heart has started to thaw and sunshine begins to brighten each day. It’s pretty sunny now! I continue to marvel at the vast changes my transfer has provided me, like walking on grass for the first time in decades. I find myself in the dirt with a blossoming ‘garden’ of sorts enjoying touching the grass, soil, and pulling weeds. Who would’ve known? We have specific tables each ethnic group hangs out at, but my table has huge mint plant patches accompanied by a few green onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, flowers, and other random seeds I wanted to see if they would germinate. No other table compares, it’s the talk of the yard. Other inmates stop by to check it out while officers and free-staff make positive comments too. Maybe in my cynical death-row way of thinking someone will be malicious or vindictive and stomp my little garden to oblivion, but I have gotten a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction creating and nurturing something beautiful and unique that previously never existed. Death row consists only of steel and concrete, and the only dirt available is the dust that accumulates in the cracks of the cement when the wind blows. Now I have four acres of land at my fingertips that helps me pacify my days.

Death row is very punitive and restrictive. I have seen guys written up for ‘dangerous contraband’ for things as harmless as a paper clip, a metal envelope clasp, or a wooden ruler with a metal guide strip. Imagine my disbelief and awe when I’m outside swinging an aluminum bat at a baseball game. How about using a shovel and rake to tend to my garden? Real solid implements forged from sharpened steel. Is this legal? I always felt like I was doing something wrong. I recently worked on a ladder the other day, something a death row person would NEVER be allowed around let alone touch. There’s always some apprehension about handling ‘tools’ around my wrists every time I left the cell.  I haven’t touched a set of cuffs for the last three years. Imagine how liberating that now feels. My existence now is just normal everyday life here without the stress, worry, harassment. I have interactions where some officers and free-staff call me Ramon instead of Inmate Rogers. I am considered more of a human in my new environment treated with a semblance of respect and dignity. I jumped on an electric golf cart the other day to the other side of the yard to deliver supplies and part of me felt like I was making the great escape. Being condemned never in my thoughts would I imagine being able to do these things that I do now. On death row our day is done by noon, we are locked inside the remainder of the day. Someone asked what I was doing in the middle of the yard staring skyward. It had been decades since I saw the night sky, the moon and stars, to smell the night air, to hear the subtle cadence of nocturnal creatures and who would ever tire of the majesty and spectacular hues of those regal sunsets? Nature has its own unique and unmatched awe and beauty but all that has been taken away from the life of a condemned. Words cannot express how amazing and stunning the world is viewed through renewed eyes after being locked away from it for decades. It’s like a whole new world I’ve had the privilege to be invited into. I’m thankful for the invitation back into reality. As this uncertain journey continues my eyes will be opened wider each day, not taking anything for granted.

I’m sure you are aware that me and the other death row inmates who left on the pilot transfer program are still classified as condemned inmates. The amenities, privileges, freedoms, and programs are far superior but we are still death-row inmates just living in a different institution. Many inmates and staff think we will be off death row and no longer condemned, but that’s not true. Technically we are out of San Quentin, but our classification hasn’t changed. 

Rolando, 37

Rolando, 37

Meet Rolando…

I’m working on furthering my education. I am also in self help groups to better myself and to find my way out of prison.

Rolando, 37
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

I’m in prison on a murder charge. I like to stay busy and out of trouble. I love to play soccer and listen to reggae, oldies and rap. My favorite movies: Fast and the Furious, Titanic and Twilight. I like to cut people’s hair.

When I started my time, I didn’t know anything about prison. One day, I was standing next to three people fighting in the yard. When the officer came to separate them, he thought I was fighting too. I told him I had nothing to do with it, I saw a commotion and walked away. He then asked the officer in the tower what he saw, he said I had nothing to do with it. That was one of the scariest incidents I’ve been through. Another time an officer dropped something while talking to a sergeant. I waited for him to finish talking, and told him he had dropped something and that he could get in trouble. He was proud of me, because he said there are not too many people like me. He told me to keep up the good work. I felt proud. I’m working on furthering my education. I am also in self help groups to better myself and to find my way out of prison.

Juan, 58

Juan, 58

Meet Juan…

I shot two men in a Jack in the Box in Waikiki to defend her with the pistol she used to try to save our lives. I’m schizophrenic and my English is not good, but I’m thankful for you.

Juan, 58
Incarcerated: 33 years
Housed: Halawa Correctional Facility, Aiea, Hawaii

I shot two men in a Jack in the Box in Waikiki to defend her with the pistol she used to try to save our lives. I’m schizophrenic and my English is not good, but I’m thankful for you. Throughout all these years, I haven’t gotten a single write-up. Here, they consider me a model prisoner, but unfortunately, they attacked me, broke my teeth and I’m currently suffering in my liver, heart and kidneys. I work in the chapel Monday to Friday, but for no reason, I have more enemies than friends. However, most of the staff and prisoners appreciate me a lot. May God bless and be with you. 

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