James, 55

James, 55

Meet James…

My future is bright, I will be released on December 28th of this year and I’ll celebrate a late Christmas with my family.”

James, 55

Incarcerated: 33 years

Housed: LaBelle, Pennsylvania

We took a plane to Lancaster, Ohio to visit my dad’s parents. Grandpa and Gram had a lovely farm with chickens, a couple of horses, cows, a roaster, and some sheep. I was so excited that day, coming from the city to play with the animals. I was so happy to spend time with Superman, my dad, and he was dressed in his army ranger dress clothes. I remember it like it was yesterday. Gram and Pop met us at the airport. After playing with the animals and running around with Dad, he took me down to a creek where he fished as a kid, then up over a little wooden bridge. I grabbed my superman sunglasses and off they went into the water below. I thought Dad, being Superman, could fly down and get them. Dad was mad at first, but laughed it off, tickling me and that was my day with my Superman! My dad did two tours in Vietnam and retired honorably as a sergeant with a purple heart, he’s my hero. Now, all I want is for my dad and mom to be proud of me. I used drugs and alcohol and I have been in and out of prison for so long. Today, I have been clean and sober for nearly three years. I write and call my parents weekly. I miss them both so very much. My future is bright, I will be released on December 28th of this year and we’ll celebrate a late Christmas. For New Years my 83-year-old dad and I will talk and watch a football game together, I can’t wait!

Nathan, 57

Nathan, 57

Meet Nathan…

“I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges.”

Nathan, 57

Incarcerated: 15 yrs

Housed: California Correctional Training Facility, Soledad

My mom Jamie was 16 and my father Abe was 31, neither were honest about their age. They both claimed to be in their 20’s when they met. Abe was a heroin addict and my mom’s parents were both alcoholics. They loved Abe. My grandma Vivian was beautiful with a great intellect, she was kind and thoughtful when sober. When drunk she could get really mean. She told me Abe was a good man, overly intelligent, he loved me and took care of me. My mom said he was the one to get up with me at night. Abe was from a wealthy Jewish family, I’ve never met because they disowned him over his heroin addiction. Abe fled the country to avoid prosecution when I was two. I have no memory of this, but have to imagine this must have been traumatic, as I never heard from him again. My mom has never been a drug user or drinker. She had to take care of her own parents and mothered them at an early age. She never had any judgment about others drinking or using drugs. My mom met Bob and he promised her he would never have any trouble with the law and he kept that promise. I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges. Bob had a jewelry store, pet shop, pawn shop, antique shops, he ran a hotel and bar when he met my mom. He dabbled in stocks, cars, and real estate. He was successful at everything he did. Bob was not affectionate, but he always helped out and gave good advice. Bob was a good man, a better man than I have been. He tried hard to instill his good character traits in me. Though he did tease me when I was young, calling me Suzy because I was wimpy. I was a very scrawny and sensitive child. He was never unkind, he just grew up during a less sensitive time. To him calling me Suzy was innocent, maybe a little humorous, but with no ill intent. I can look back now and see where that might have been a contributing factor to my own distorted self body image, where my fall began. I believe I can trace back my fall to its very inception. One single thought that I believed to be true but wasn’t. All it took was for one doubt to sink in: “That I wasn’t good enough as God created me, that I was too skinny.” My mom met Tony when I was eight. Both Bob and Tony have been good fathers to me, Tony and my mom are still happily married. Tony is also a man of good character, honest and always ethical, but very proud and stubborn. I have a great love and respect for him. My mom went to catechism and her first communion until she was 10. At that age, she saw a car accident where a little girl’s head went through a windshield. She couldn’t understand how the God she was being taught about could let such a thing happen. She told her mom church was a waste of time. She never gave God or the Church another thought. My own belief in God was innate, it was as if I was born with it. My parents never tried to influence me in any way, however, I have been inquisitive. As a small child, I would contemplate the universe and infinity. I couldn’t comprehend infinity, so I would have to imagine what was at the end of the universe, there had to be something. I would imagine a wall. But then if there was a wall, there had to be something on the other side of the wall. So, I not only couldn’t comprehend infinity, I couldn’t comprehend not infinity. I thought, if this is the case then I had to believe I was foreign, and limited in my ability to comprehend. I would try to imagine what the world would be like if I no longer existed in it, I tried to imagine my non-existence. My conclusion was it didn’t matter. I knew my mom didn’t believe in God, so every chance I got to talk to a priest, a Christian, or a Catholic; I would always ask the same question: what happens to someone who doesn’t believe in God? The same answer always comes back; they go to eternal hell. I would always answer back; “but what if they are a good person?” I would get the same response; I’m sorry, I wish everyone could go to heaven, but non-believers can’t. None of this changed my belief in God, and I am grateful that God is not how man would make him out to be; because if that was the case, we would all be in real trouble. What it did do, is give me an unhealthy disdain for religion, especially the way Catholicism and Christianity were taught. At 8, I had a friend Bobby, who invited me on a one-week camping trip. Late the night before we were to leave, his mom dropped off a list of things like games and cards that couldn’t bring. My Mom thought it was odd and told me that she didn’t think I should go. I was packing my magic tricks and things that I would not be able to bring. She said she had a bad feeling about this and I really shouldn’t go. I whined and cried telling her Bobby and I have all these great plans. She gave in, thinking how bad it could be. She said if I had any concerns to call her and she’d come pick me up immediately. When I arrived, I found out it was a Christian camp. Which was deliberately withheld from me, my mom, and possibly Bobby by his family. I was deceived intentionally. I refused to cooperate in their games and demanded to be able to call my mom to pick me up. For a whole week, they never let me use the phone. I was basically kidnapped under false pretenses, and held against my will. When I was brought back home, my mom said I must have had a good time because I never called her.  I said, no I didn’t, everyone including Bobby had to give their lives over to God and I refused, because I thought it was stupid, and I’m never speaking to Bobby again. Can you imagine if this was done to a child today? Don’t get me wrong, I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus. I love Him as an elder brother.  My mom and Tony always do right by others, not because of any religion,  it is the right way to be, they are just really good human beings. Much better than I have been. Neither believe in or give thought to God or an afterlife or think there is any kind of reward for being selfless. It is just the way they are. My mom believes when we die that is it, we no longer exist. I cannot even comprehend that thought. My mom’s Christian friends tell her that she is a better Christian than most Christians they know. She has always had a great wisdom about her, much greater than could be acquired in this lifetime alone. She is always so busy, she barely has time to do the things she would like to do. She belongs to a women’s club and they do charity work for the homeless, cancer and heart patients, and work with other charities that bring aid to foreign countries. She is always donating her time. They give scholarships away for kids to go to college. Something she never had the opportunity to do herself. She is just such a beautiful human being.

Michael, 40

Michael, 40

Meet Michael…

“What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family.”

Michael, 40

Incarcerated: 12 years

I’ve never felt so afraid, rejected, or abandoned in my life. The things I’ve endured no one, let alone a child, should have to experience. What makes matters worse is that my younger sister Connie, and little brother Josh, are also with me. We were in Sacramento, California, starving in an abandoned duplex our mother was renting before her arrest. The electricity was just shut off, there was no food in the refrigerator, and we were camped out in our mother’s room. The three of us were cold, hungry, and confused. What was I going to do? How were we going to survive? My 14 year old brain was overloaded with questions that I didn’t have answers for. My mother has been incarcerated for a few months now and our aunt, who was supposed to be caring for us, had abandoned us a couple weeks earlier. I was so hurt and angry at her. My other two siblings and their father had driven away leaving us all alone on the porch. I’m brought out of my thoughts by brother Josh’s voice, “I’m hungry, what are we going to eat?” Before I can answer, my sister Connie says, “Mike, I know where some money is. Remember when I dropped a dollar in one of the bedposts?” As she says this, she jumps up and heads to the room we shared before our lives were turned upside down. The three of us went to work on that white headboard with red trim as if we were a demolition crew. With the help of a wire hanger and some scissors we retrieved that dollar bill as it was a long last treasure. Along with some loose change we scraped up from all over the house, we were able to buy something to eat for the night. I’m not sure exactly what we bought from the store other than a bag of potato chips. What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family. I’ll never forget that night and 26 years later, myself, Connie, and Josh continue to beat the odds, we are there for one another, and we come out on top.

Tyrone, 53

Tyrone, 53

Meet Tyrone…

I’m proud of myself. I thought this dream was impossible”

Tyrone, 53

Incarcerated: 30

Housed: San Quentin State Prison

I really didn’t want to do this speech, but I’m learning to get comfortable with my un-comfortability.

But this is something I have dreamt of my whole life; walking across the stage with my cap and gown on with a smile on my face, like the graduates you see on TV. My dream of graduation came to halt at the early age of 14, when I derailed from the path my grandparents wanted for me; to get my education and to stay out of trouble. 

They didn’t ask for much, but I chose to follow in the footsteps of my father and uncles. That led me to become a gang member, and caught up in that criminal life style which lead me in and out of juvenile hall, county camp and youth authority.

I never stayed out of trouble long enough to get my education on the streets but before I came to prison, my grandparents asked me to make them a promise: that I would finish school.

I told them I would get my diploma if I was giving the opportunity. I came to prison July 1993, my grandfather rest in peace, died the following year

That day, I made a promise to myself that I would change my life and become a better person and that my grandparents would be proud of me. When I came to SQ state prison in November 2010, they had so many programs here including education programs. I told myself, this was the time to start working on changing my life.

I enrolled myself in as many programs as I could; like CGA, NVC, RSJ, Anger Management, Victims Impact, 12 step ministry, boot camp 1,2,3 Christian programs and many more. By taking these programs, I was now able to accept full accountability for my actions and behavior and to become the person I should have been, and the person who is standing before you.

I was given the opportunity to complete my dream of graduation and fulfilling the promise I made to my grandparents. I was accepted in to the High school diploma program and was told that I needed 33 credits to graduate.

Not knowing how challenging it was going to be, but I had made that promise to my grandparents, I would finish school no matter how difficult it may be and it was difficult, especially Algebra, which I still have nightmares about.

I am just grateful I have so many amazing people believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

My grandmother Teddies was the biggest supporter and loved me unconditionally. She was very excited and proud of me for getting my diploma, I sent her invitations and she was excited to come to watch me walk across the stage.

Unfortunately, She passed, June 10, 2023. She was a remarkable woman, loving and caring, she put everyone else’s needs before her own. She was a woman of God and I know she is in a better place. Her last words to me were she was proud of me and she could not wait to see me walk across that stage. This diploma is for you grandma, thank you for your love

Graduates, we have done it through struggles, ups and downs, even through the pandemic- – and we never gave up.

We should be proud of ourselves. Because we have succeeded by completing high school.

I know I’m proud of myself.

I thought this dream was impossible

I want to acknowledge some teachers for motivating me and encouraging me and being instrumental in helping me succeed as a student and reach my dream.

My teacher Lucas who has push me to reach my full potential and gave me the space I needed.

she pushed me to be better than I was content with being, thank you for being patient with me.

Sufi who motivated me to be myself and not to be afraid to ask for help.

My pride kept me from asking for help, but I knew I had to let go of that pride, if I wanted to complete this program, so, Sufi, I thank you for pushing me to be better and to hold my head up. My free to succeed mentor Karen, THANK you for your encouragement and always willing to help me with my assignments and being here when I needed someone to talk to. I thank you for your guidance.

I thank these amazing teachers for believing in us and pushing us to see our true potential

Getting comfortable with being un-*comfortable is a real form of growth and I thank everyone here in this chapel for showing up and witnessing our growth and determination to do better and be better.


Thank you and God bless you all


Audra, 53

Audra, 53

Audra, 53

Meet Audra…

My mistakes and crimes do not define me, my hurt no longer controls me.

Audra, 53
Incarcerated: 13 years
Housed: Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla

In my childhood dreams, I wanted to be a police officer so bad, in order to help people. Then with his dirty touch my dreams become nightmares. These things were seen but not seen, heard but not heard. As a young girl my soul was broken. My dreams and trust were consumed by fear, so my voice was no more. Anger and hate replaced my innocence. My granny tried, she cried, and prayed to my uncles to protect me, but the damage was done. I trusted no one, so I ran straight to her arms. I was seeking a mother figure or friend, but found my lover instead. Too young to understand, I was used, fooled by the pretty red painted dirty hands. I ran into many dead ends, then drugs came in. It was pure hell as a young girl. The money grind became my life, I was a hustler by nature, so fast, it kept me blinded.

For my lifestyle, my children paid the price, life in prison, twice. In here, the lion’s den, I began my destructive cycle, running, gaming and manipulating, only to pretend we were family and friends, just to fit in. As a young, broken, lost and damaged mother, how was I to provide from behind bars? It was just so hard, so now that is granny’s job. My soul had long ago died, 25 to life could break the broken. I thought I was too far gone to be helped, my hustle was grand, it could buy my freedom, but it couldn’t fix the pain. When death seemed like the win, I succumbed to seventy five Tylenol codines, chasing my end, to the peace I wanted more than anything. I heard the chaplain say, “Seek and ye shall find, He is the way, the truth and the light.”  So I gave God a try, and I put up a great fight. I lost, He won and a relationship began. I was blinded but now I see, lost but now I’m found, broken but now I’m healed. Once there was no hope, but today I am full of hope. My life is now enriched because of his grace and mercy. His love within me is never ending. My mistakes and crimes do not define me, my hurt no longer controls me. Though I was judged by man, I was saved by grace. The world sees me as nothing, but I know I’m a bride of Christ, heir to the most high.

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