Juan, 23

Juan, 23

Meet Juan…

“Fitness is an escape within these walls, it helps me deal with everyday situations and I get to stay healthy.”

Juan, 23

Incarcerated: 8 years

Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

My favorite song is called “Meet Me Halfway” by the Black Eyed Peas. Fitness is an escape within these walls, it helps me deal with everyday situations and I get to stay healthy. Faith in my higher power, it will always be a part of my recovery. My favorite verse is Jeremiah chapter 29:11. College has connected me to a greater community, “Reach one Teach one” as they say.  In three months, I’ll be blessed to be going home to begin a new chapter in my life. 

Pedro, 69

Meet Pedro…

“For me it’s a way to start giving back to my community. In my case, my community starts here.” 

Pedro, 69

Incarcerated: 25 years

I am in the process of rehabilitating myself. I am lucky to be in San Quentin, the right place where self-help groups are offered to address my drug and alcohol addiction. I started this prison sentence without a goal. However, there was one thing I knew I had to change, I decided “Enough is enough, I have got to stop doing drugs and alcohol, or I will destroy my life.” Then I made peace with the God of my understanding and for self improvement I set out to get my high school diploma. I also started going to Alcohol Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Then, I got transferred to San Quentin. At first I was worried because of its notoriety of being a hard core prison, but that all changed. I found San Quentin to be a rehabilitation and educational institution. Here I found so much to do, that I needed to choose which program to take. I enrolled in Mount Tamalpais college. Then the pandemic hit and all the programs came to a halt!  It was early in 2021 when the pandemic restrictions were lifted and I was asked if I wanted to help to set up the new college library. The library was going to be in B-building, in the existing storage area known as cage #1 and cage #2. There were thousands of books in boxes. I started working right away by dusting off the boxes and shelves, as well as sweeping and mopping a year of dust and dirt. Inventory needed to be taken. The books were to be classified and counted, the idea to display them like in a bookstore developed. It was an easier method to identify and categorize them. At the same time while putting together the new library, they did not have a porter to clean and maintain the building’s classrooms and study areas. The building needed to be brought to post-covid cleaning standard.  The education department did not have a gardener, so I also took on the duties of gardening. This experience, working as a volunteer has helped me to make indirect amends for the wrong and harm I’ve done to my victims. For me it’s a way to start giving back to my community. In my case, my community starts here.

Michael, 41

Michael, 41

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Meet Michael…

My name is Michael, I breathe air and I am not a monster. Thank you for giving me a face, a voice, and for seeing me as a person.

Michael, 41
Incarcerated: 23 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

Growing up in a poor household I can remember being different, sounding different, and feeling like I didn’t fit in. I came to learn I had a learning disability and stuttered. I felt less than, devalued and worthless. I was made fun of in my household, and with my classmates which reinforced my bad feelings about myself. I could not read, nor learn as the teachers wanted me to, so I acted out and became the bully, so I would not be bullied.

I began to use drugs to cover up my feelings of worthlessness, insecurities, and inadequance. My addiction progressed from pot, alcohol, to mushrooms then acid. By 15, I had been in juvenile hall and a boys ranch numerous times until I committed my life crime at 18. I was an out of control, extremely calloused and violent young man. While incarcerated from a young age with an extreme sentence, I continued my dysfunction in a maximum security prison. I had deflections and an aggressive attitude.

Ten years into my sentence I was stabbed eight times and removed from the yard for surrendering my life to my faith of Jesus Christ. I was shipped to another prison with more programs, self-help groups, and education. My mother passed away from her addiction, my life was in shambles, but I had my faith. I leaned on my support and coped in a healthy way. It was my first test in recovery and I passed. My job wanted me to get a high school diploma, and I barely knew how to read.

I was transferred to a new prison and met Ms. Drake, who saw potential in me. “I’ll hire you as a clerk, if you give me your word you’ll get your diploma.” This was the first time in years someone believed in me. I agreed. She helped me, gave me reading materials, taught me math, and assigned me a tutor. I poured all my time and energy into studying. I passed my test. Ms. Drake was proud of me and so was I. She said, “off to college now”.

One day a student rushed into the education department wanting to stab Ms. Drake. I intervened and placed myself in between them and deescalated the situation by using calm words and listening to his frustration, while protecting her. The officers came and took him away. I had protected another human being. I got a life saving certificate which could take time off my sentence or help in my parole board hearing.

My life began to get some normality. I continued my education, and my ministry and I started facilitating self-help groups. I will graduate in 2024 from Fresno State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies. Today I live my life as a memorial to my victims. My life is for service and giving back to my gated community. I hope and teach that one less crime equals one less victim. I honor God by living a sober life that praises Him with my words, actions, and service. I am a human that is kind, respectable, calm, loving, caring, and compassionate.

My name is Michael, I breathe air and I am not a monster. Thank you for giving me a face, a voice, and for seeing me as a person. God bless you.

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