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.

Todd, 60

Todd, 60

Meet Todd…

Education and my desire to be a better man became my saving grace. It allowed me to continue to foster a solid foundation with my daughters.

Todd “Silk”, 60
Incarcerated: 25 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA

Upon receiving a life sentence, I thought my life was over. When I got arrested I had four daughters ages 5, 7, 8, and 11. My greatest fear was that my girls would grow up hating me. After all, it was my selfish acts and irresponsible decisions that took me out of their lives. How would I be able to convince them of my love, after putting so many other things ahead of them?

In my journey of self-discovery, I found the one avenue that allowed me to build that connection with my girls, education. I always wondered why people volunteer and I chalked it up to ulterior motives. I decided to assist someone with their math homework. It was that day I understood the joy and fulfillment of giving back to someone, expecting nothing in return. I’d always been a whiz at math, so I immersed myself into tutoring others in the subject. I then became one of the founding members of a group solely dedicated to helping incarcerated men earn their high school diploma. I continued to preach the importance of education in my letters to my daughters. Somehow I knew just mere words would not be enough.

I got back into college myself, while working as a tutor. I now had three daughters in college and one soon to enter. We began a healthy competition amongst us when it came to college grades. I was earning A’s and B’s and challenged them to do the same. My girls were able to see I was striving to be a better person regardless of my circumstances. I watched my daughters excel in college as I beamed with pride. Little did I know they too beamed with pride at my accomplishments. It was education that kept me connected to my daughters.

I had one younger sister that was my best friend and biggest supporter. She was proud of my accomplishments, not only in education but as a person. She attended my very first college graduation here at the prison, and passed away shortly after in her battle with cancer. My heart was broken, as this was the fourth member of my family I had lost while incarcerated- grandmother, father, mother and sister. My hurdles seemed insurmountable but I refused to give up. To date I have earned four associates degrees.

Education and my desire to be a better man became my saving grace. It allowed me to continue to foster a solid foundation with my daughters. All my hard work paid off and I was found suitable for parole and will be released in September, 2023. Education and my determination allowed me to hold onto the love of my daughters and they look forward to meeting me at the gate, my day of release. Upon release, I will continue to make my life one of service and helping others because these very things returned me to the man I was meant to be, my authentic self.

Diana, 45

Diana, 45

Meet Diana…

I neglected myself and society as a whole, I couldn’t bear it. I took a step forward to change and I went against the odds.

Diana, 45
Incarcerated: 7 years
Housed: California Institution for Women, Corona, CA

I was five when my little brother and I were given our first drink of alcohol by my mom and dad. My upbringing was full of fear and anxiety. My dad was in and out of prison and abusive. All I saw was dysfunction. My mom tried to be a single parent and raised us in heartbreak, gang infested, poverty. At five I started running away from the lack of love and security in my life. For the lack of love, I grew up seeking it in relationships.

I settled down at 14, domesticated. I stayed home doing the wifely things, when I should’ve been in school, being educated. My own family was still upside-down as I tried to do all I could to help. Alcohol was my go to, before you know it, it was my all. At 18, I went to prison for the first time, scared and lonely. I couldn’t cope with the drastic mistake that changed my whole life. I became a person I never intended to be. In 2016, I was arrested again, this time I was broken into a million pieces. I neglected myself and society as a whole, I couldn’t bear it.

I took a step forward to change and I went against the odds. For the last seven years, I’ve been highly proactive in my personal self development and it’s permanent. I knew I wouldn’t remain in a life I wasn’t ever meant to live. I owe a lot to this community, they have tons of resources, education, jobs, self help groups , you name it. I feel like they are here to rebuild me from the inside-out. I want to build a bridge back to society and re-enter as an asset. My inner and outer freedom is priceless.

Wyatt, 23

Meet Wyatt…

I’ve battled with addiction and losing the most cherished person to me: my mother. What helps me get through this time is never forgetting the love and memory of my mother.

Wyatt, 23
Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: East Arkansas Regional Unit, Marianna, Arkansas

I’ve battled with addiction and losing the most cherished person to me: my mother. What helps me get through this time is never forgetting the love and memory of my mother. One day, it led me to wake up and tell myself that I’m through living like this. I want somthing better. I quit getting high cold turkey and continue to push myself further each day. I work out constantly, all in the efforts of making my mother proud, even if she isn’t physically with me. I have almost gotten my GED, (one test away) and will finally have completed a hard-earned goal.

I still plan to achieve more each and every day, not only to become a better man, but to show my mom looking down on me, she didn’t fail in raising me. So, I don’t only write to Humans of San Quentin or to my mother; I’m sharing to anyone who’s looking for that small light at the end of the tunnel.

Adrien, 29

Meet Adrien…

Make peace with the parts of your life. Making peace makes life easier.

Adrien, 29
Incarcerated: 1 year
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California

I was sitting in Reception, waiting to hear which prison I would go to, hearing what other guys were planning on doing when they got released. The last time I was arrested, I turned my life around: got my high school and medical assistant diploma, and worked for three and a half years in the medical field. I enjoy working in clinics, urgent care, primary care, giving injections, taking care of people. It made me proud, too. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to work in the medical field for a while, but I brought this on myself. Once I get out I will start looking and going back to school. I told them, “Anything and everything is possible. You just can’t doubt yourself.”

I was born on a reservation in Montana, in and out of country jail since I was 18. When I had my first child, a daughter, I wanted to show up for her. She inspired me. I wanted to be a father, different from other fathers who aren’t in their children’s lives. My dad didn’t. He was in and out of prison, not there. I was motivated to do it differently. I have siblings, younger than me. I didn’t have someone to push me to be a better father or a better son. I only had myself and I learned from my mistakes. When I was 10, I had to do that for my siblings when no one else did. It prepared me for being a dad. I didn’t have a childhood. And that made me the father and son I am today. People ask me, “Why do you talk to your dad? If he wasn’t there for you.” But I say, “Why not? Why be petty? I have to be the bigger man, even though he wasn’t there for me, he can be there for his grandchildren.” Make peace with the parts of your life. Making peace makes life easier. When I was going to school I was tatted up, looking just like another gangster. I wanted to prove them wrong. It was a good motivator.

When I first got to San Quentin in December, they thought I was Mexican not Native American. White Eagle, one of my elders, brought me closer to my native roots. I’m his cellie now. I’m proud to be Native American, being here made me connect with my inner roots. I know how to help people now. When one of my four kids is hurt, they come to me. “Dad, what’s wrong? Make it better.” With Covid I helped them not be afraid of testing, of getting sick. I talked with my daughter, my oldest, and told her, “Don’t grow up too fast. Don’t worry. Just be a kid.” I’m getting out in 12 days, so I can be there for her and my other kids. I just found out that my mom was in an induced coma after surgery and passed away after the surgery. So maybe I can get partial custody of my younger siblings.

This incarceration has made my relationship stronger with my fiance. I had doubts, but I see she really does care about me. I can’t wait to get married. She really stuck by my side through this all and I am so thankful to have her. I keep believing, anything is possible.

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