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

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Albert “RU-AL”, 59

Albert “RU-AL”, 59

Meet Albert…

Albert “RU-AL”, 59

Incarcerated: 30 years

Housed: California Death Row, San Quentin

I am a success story. I’m Albert “RU-AL” I’ve been on Death Row for 27 years. I’m the author of ten self published books. When I first got to San Quentin in 1996 I knew this was going to be a long and slow ride to getting my freedom back for a crime I didn’t commit. I knew I had to find something to do  knowing the state wanted to execute me and 600+ other people. I heard a few guys had written books so I knew there was no gang banging here. I decided it was time to write my autobiography. I’m going to be the only black man on any death row in the world with ten self published books. I’m going to make history as well as leave a positive legacy for my great, great, great grand kids.

Below is a little bit about each one of my books. 

“Put On The Shelf To Die” A trilogy about my family, my trial and my conviction and my first 15 years on Death Row.

“10 Toes Down” My gang life on the streets, told like no other gangsta books before this one.

“Behind These Walls” After being in six other prisons before this one, my ganglife in these prisons.

“I’m In God’s Confinement” How my faith in Jesus has kept me safe in this hell hole of a place. The real me.

“S.O.D.R Spiritual Testimonies” I collected real testimonies from men about how their religious beliefs have helped them in this dark place. These testimonies are powerful and can be inspirational. .

“Our Last Meals?” I asked guys for one or two of their best recipes. Good cooked meals.

“I Survived Covid-19” How so many guys got sick and 19 on Death Row died.

“S.Q.D.R. College Graduate 203 G.P.A. ” It took me 11 years to finish but I didn’t quit. I have a double major in Social and Behavioral Science and Business.

“My Last Meals” The meals I cooked in the 25 years I have been on Death Row. .

All my meals.

“Eugene and Emeire” A four book series about my two oldest grandkids, Christian Children books, Bedtime stories and Sunday School Stories.

Lyle, 45

Meet Lyle…

Within a few months the classes on death row were eliminated. The rehabilitative ideal was purged. Central Prison became an increasingly violent place.

Lyle, 45
Incarcerated: 26 years
Housed: Death Row Central Prison, North Carolina Department of Corrections, Buncombe

We received a new warden. His predecessor was supportive of programs and even allowed psychotherapeutic classes on death row. We had just finished our last performance of 12 Angry Men, not the sort of activity one expects a group of condemned prisoners to be engaged in, but North Carolina’s death row is a congregate confinement unit. We are not locked down in our cells, instead moving around the block much like general population prisoners. The new warden wanted none of it. Ordinarily, shaking hands with guards or prison officials is forbidden. It can mean solitary confinement for the prisoner and firing for staff. There are very few exceptions. There is also the taboo amongst prisoners that you don’t fraternize with staff. Our last warden who allowed programs on death row, who infused the prison with the rehabilitative ideal, was an exception. He shook everyone’s hand, looked them in the eye, and treated every person as an equal. A human. I walked over and stuck my hand out, the warden shook it, thanked me for participating in the play, and wished me luck on my appeals. Feeling the moment, I turned to his replacement with my hand out and said I hoped the classes were something he supported. He looked at my hand. Then at me. Then at the new unit manager, a guard who climbed the ranks to make management and who had said he wanted to see sentences carried out. “We’ll see about that,” said the new warden. And so we did.

Within a few months the classes on death row were eliminated. The rehabilitative ideal was purged. Central Prison became an increasingly violent place. We look back on that time when we had classes and performed in plays with a sense of nostalgia. For a while, at least one warden remembered we are human.

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. 

Anthony, 38

Anthony, 38

Meet Anthony…

She told me I was a great writer and that my pen would get me out of the… pen.

Anthony, 38
Incarcerated: 20 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison Death Row, San Quentin, California

I wrote and recorded my first song at 11. From there, I became passionate about my goal of one day being the best rapper. I worked hard to achieve that title, but I also worked  harder at the “gangster” half of the gangster rapper. It eventually ended my life as I knew it. I was in jail facing the death penalty at 25. There was a lot to unpack and adjust to. I had been arrested a lot, but never had to do a lot of time. The thought of having to go through a trial that was expected to take a few years was a lot. I had the pressure of having thrown my whole life and career away and the frustration of not being able to be the best father I could. I was just a young angry person with an F the world attitude.I met a guy who had been in jail since before I was born and was on appeal from death row. He helped me see that getting into it with the police all the time would only make my time harder. As he got me to calm down, we got to know each other and I would let him hear my raps. We would talk about life but he was the one who pushed me to get started on  writing my book. My paralegal who came to visit every week offered to make a copy for me. Instead of returning it, she gave it to my lawyers who decided, although it was fiction, there was too much of a criminal element which could possibly hurt me in trial. It took me two years to get the pages back. It took me forever to get back into the story and dive back into the characters and emotion. I finally finished the first draft, but that was only half the battle.

By this time, I had been sentenced to death and was at San Quentin. Publishing the book has been as hard as it was to write it, if not harder. It’s been a blessing in disguise because I got to learn this business. When I began this project it seemed like I was alone. I knew it would be a special someone that would help me execute this plan. Not long after I finished that first draft I met the lady who would later become my wife. She has been that special someone to help me with anything and everything, like making phone calls, copies, emails…Things that may seem insignificant until you need them done and don’t have any way to do it. I am extremely grateful to have her by my side every step of the way. Unfortunately tragedy has been the driving force to push me across the finish line. In 2020 I lost my great grandmother who was very dear to me and implored to continue writing. She told me I was a great writer, and that my pen would get me out of the… pen. I never could have imagined I would one day write a book. Recently. I lost my big cousin who was influential to me. She was a teacher and librarian and I know she would be very proud of me. I dedicate this to you.

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