Incarcerated: 3.5 years
Housed: Itagui, Colombia
Diane: Tell us about you.
Renee: I’m from Itagüí and have been here all my life. I don’t like to talk much about the crimes I committed because I’ve had a lot of issues in the past. I’m a musician and a composer. I play the guitar and that’s what I love the most. I’d love to be in touch with people around the world, perhaps through letters with people in jails in other parts of the world. I love that this interview will be seen by a lot of people. I’m also a poet, and that’s one of the things I love the most. I traveled through Brazil just selling poems. I’ve spent a lot of time in Cartagena selling poems and going to events with poets. When I was young, I used to sell poems to my friends that were having fights with their girlfriends. They’d pay a penny for a poem to give to their girlfriend who was really mad.
Diane: Do you have a poem memorized that you want to share?
Renee: Yes, it’s a poem I wrote for my girlfriend. I have a lot of poems, and this one is one of the biggest ones.
I don’t know why you’re in my path.
I don’t know why I met you.
I don’t know why God put you in my path,
but when I hold your hand,
I know God brought you into my life
because you are my destiny.
Diane: It makes me cry, I feel that.
Renee: That’s the first poem I wrote to my girlfriend. She’s 59 years old and I’m 33. I was 13 when I started dating her, and she was the wife of a very rich man. With poems and ice creams I won her heart. We’ve been together for 20 years. I had a foundation for animals, so I know a little about ethology.
Diane: What kind of animals did you take care of?
Renee: Cats and dogs because people in the neighborhood knew I took care of animals. Some people left an almost dying, skinny horse at my door. Some people left some dying chickens with their babies. One time someone left a pregnant dog. It’s because people knew that I had a big heart about animals. They’d always leave them at my door. I mostly had cats and dogs, but I always had my house open for any animal that needed a hand.
I want to tell you the most important part of my life.
Diane: I want to hear it.
Renee: The most important part of my life was my childhood. My mother was pregnant by this guy from Africa who refused to recognize me. In the old days with my grandparents, if one of the girls got pregnant, she had to marry. Because the guy was from Africa, he denied the child and didn’t show any interest, so she couldn’t get married. Her grandfather threw her in the street pregnant, and she lived on the streets. She went into labor and some paramedics helped her give birth in the street. I lived all my childhood in the streets. We used to live under bridges, eating from trash, waiting for the restaurants to close so we could dig in the rubbish. Then I went into foster care, and lived from house to house. I never had my own house, watched TV or did anything like a regular kid. Throughout my childhood, I worked informal jobs selling candy or asking for money in the street. I spent my teenage years in foster homes. Then, when I got to prison, my mom told me I have double nationality: African and Colombian. I have the possibility to go to Africa, but I have to talk to my father to do that. I don’t want to. My father was never there, so I don’t feel comfortable reaching him right now and telling him to sign the papers for me to go to Africa.
Diane: Have you had any contact with your dad whatsoever?
Renee: No, never. I’ve never told anyone this before, just you: Sundays are one of most difficult days because it’s a busy day, and everyone gets to see their dads. Every time I hear the word “dad” it feels like a stab in the heart. Last Sunday, there was this guy who was super excited for his dad’s visit. He said in a full sentence the word “dad” four times, like, “Hey, how’s it going, dad …dad…dad…” It was so hard for me to feel the absence of my own dad that I had to go to the bathroom to cry. When I was in the streets I never actually thought about my dad, but being in prison has made me think a lot about him and the roots I have of him that I don’t know about.
Diane: Talking about it, and talking about it with us today really helps healing.
Renee: I might not feel the healing at the moment, but I feel the trust to talk about things that I wouldn’t have the space to in any other area. To come here and to see both of you and feel like I can let it out. Also, I dream about going to North America to sing with the highest of the highest like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre… because I think I’m on the level of rap and music that they do. Because I’m here in this situation, I’m unseen, but I think I have what it takes to be in the highest of the highest. I dream about being in North America and being seen as a musician.
Diane: Humans of San Quentin, we can be your platform. We can put up your poetry, we can put up your rap… anything you want to send us or put on tape we will put out there on the internet for people to see.
Renee: I’d really really really like to receive letters and the dynamic of sending and receiving letters. Like “I don’t know you, I don’t know your crimes… but I love you.”