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.

Ronald, 48

Ronald, 48

There’s absolutely nothing wrong for loving one from afar, when that’s the best action, to keep you on the path that God intended for you to travel.

Ronald, 48

Incarcerated: 3 years

Housed: San Quentin State Prison, California

Is there a point when even God loses hope in someone like me? Like the age old saying, ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Thinking back, trying to remember some good I might have done, is almost impossible, due to the dark cloud of wrong I’m reminded of daily, especially when the cell door locks for the night. That’s when things become dead quiet, leaving only you and your thoughts. 

Where did everybody go? What happened to all the friends I thought I had? I’ve learned most people surrounding you are only there because of what you can do for them. Whether it be money, drugs, protection or simply company to pass the time. 99% of the time you possess something they want or simply desire. Being raised by the father I was dealt with, was in one hand a blessing, and the other, a curse. Trying to constantly get one’s approval, will drive you to learn similar crafts hoping for an – ATTA BOY! Which seems to always never come, but learning multiple crafts will most certainly put you in a position, where others are drawn to you. 

Being an only child would somehow prepare me for years of solitude. Most people who find themselves without the slightest hope of ever being a free man once again, having the opportunity to function, as a law abiding citizen, might have thoughts of deep hopelessness or even contemplate suicide. I, on the other hand, completely accept my wrong doings and the time behind bars I have been allotted for breaking the law. I’m actually thankful for being, “Saved from myself.” But most importantly for keeping others safe that I could possibly hurt, whether the hurt was physical or emotionally. Sadly, the hurt usually affects people I love or care about. 

The time I spent trying to gain my fathers approval has given me some bad traits. Always being the total opposite towards people than my father was towards me, and people that seemed to be a part of my life for one reason or another. I would never see them for the people they truly were, because I didn’t want to pass on the hurt of not being good enough in my eyes, or constantly pointing out their flaws. This passive way of accepting would come back to haunt me, and rip open my heart out, because I believed people were good when they simply were rotten, broken souls. Clearly, two broken people aren’t good for themselves let alone each other. “Birds of a feather flock together,” the outcome is always bad for both individuals in the toxic relationship. There’s no balance. It’s either up or down. Truthfully mostly down, but low self esteem or some form of insecurities will give the feeling of: this is probably the best it’s gonna get, so having someone is better than having no one. I could find nine bad things in a person and one good but because of feelings like: I don’t deserve better because of all the wrong I’ve done, I’m lucky to receive any amount of love from anyone, I’ll take whatever I can get. Yet, when the other broken person’s mood swings are up, down and all around, you’ll develop even more insecurities, due to the lack of emotions that should be given from both sides in a healthy relationship. But when you don’t love the person in the mirror, you truly can’t love anyone else. I’ve told women over and over again I love you, yet my actions tell a completely different story. When there has to be some type of drug to stimulate emotional, physical or any type of affection towards one another the relationship will soon become more and more toxic and damaging to the weaker of the two. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing both the one being abandoned and the one running for dear life. Yet, the sickest part of it all is just for that one moment we felt loved, we’ll find ourselves returning to that horribly toxic relationship in hopes of a different outcome. My outcome was catching a life sentence grasping for every straw of possible hope. Do I blame her for the outcome? Absolutely not. My insecurities blindfolded my judgment of the relationship. And not only my shortcomings but her as well. I can’t think for a second I’m remotely capable of fixing another, when I’m broken as well. 

So, who do I blame?

My father never gave me the affirmation I seeked from him, or his mother, who treated him that way. Her father maybe. The blame can go back generations. One, two, three generations – who knows. 

Why was I so in need of his approval? 

Many people I’ve talked to could be perfectly okay without the approval of anyone. Well, hold on! Let me backup just a tad bit. Many have come to the same conclusion. Some sooner than others but if you’re right with God, you’ll start to like that person in the mirror more and more until the like becomes love for yourself. Then and only then, can you possibly love another, as God has loved us. Real love doesn’t keep a tab of what you’ve done for others, almost having the feeling of having to earn it. When random acts are freely given from real love, there’s too many to keep track of. Once you’ve learned to love yourself, loving others will come with the slightest of effort. Now comes the hard part. Loving others doesn’t mean accepting the parts of them that could be your downfall. Stand firm in what is right, because what is right and just will keep you loving that person in the mirror. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving one from afar, when that’s the best action to keep you on the path that God intended for you to travel. It’s okay to be a little selfish when it comes to loving yourself. Hurt people, hurt people! Love can heal all things but the healing must first start internally, with you and soon the love that you’ve generated for yourself will overflow to others for all the right reasons. The best reason is that, “Love doesn’t cost a thing!” But when you don’t love the person in the mirror,  you truly can’t love anyone else.

Sammy, 54

Sammy, 54

Meet Sammy…

I received a letter from my 19 year old daughter, Jazzy, asking me the most insightful question a father would ever have to answer, “Who are You?” And for the life of me, I could not write her a response.

Sammy, 54
Incarcerated: 22 yrs
Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

As a byproduct of the foster care system, I know what it is like to be frightened, saddened, and unbeknownst of what is to come. I know about the exhilarating feeling of being adopted and properly raised by a devout and loving Christian family. Unfortunately, since 18, I have been a career criminal gripped and enslaved to the disease of heroin addiction. And as a result, I mentally and physically wounded too many good-hearted people, especially those I made out to be victims when I needlessly took the life of another human being. I am currently serving 25-years-to-life. Even after that horrific and needless part of my past, I still continued with drugs and criminal thinking. In 2009, I received a letter from my 19 year old daughter, Jazzy, asking me the most insightful question a father would ever have to answer, ‘Who are You?’ And for the life of me, I could not write her a response. Instead, I was miraculously drawn, in tractor-beam force, to look in the mirror in my 8’x8’ cell. As I took an honest look – the image that gawked back, was just a shell of me. I then began to walk the journey of honest self-introspection, which allowed me to stop blaming others for my negative thoughts and behaviors. Instead, I took responsibility for the harm I caused by first abstaining from drugs. Since, I have become a facilitator for the Alcohol Substance Abuse Program, obtained college degrees and am working on my master’s. Do those accomplishments make up for all the harm I caused others – of course not. It is the only concrete way in which I can add substance to the words ‘I’m Sorry’ to all I have harmed. Today, the answer to my daughter’s profound question: I am an individual who is not defined by my bad decisions, yet my past experiences have molded me into a proud, loving, and remorseful Latino father of six wonderful kids and five amazing grandkids. I am also intelligent enough to know what my limitations are – and that recovery from the disease of drug addiction cannot be done alone. God has gifted me with the humane blessing of using my past to help others better themselves.

————-

Sammy, 54

Incarcerated: 22 yrs

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

Who am I?

I wasn’t born to be a heroin junkie, career criminal, or a murderer, yet the consequences of my deviant thought process and bad decision making allowed for my loved ones and society members to appropriately label me as such. The question that needs to be answered: Who Am I? Why would a young innocent child labeled as a “Mama’s boy, jokester, and decent kid,” turn out to cause so much harm to civilized members of society, his loved ones, and to himself?

At the age of four I was displaced from the care of my mother by the Bureau of Child Welfare, after it was revealed that my single mother was endangering the lives of her sons by physically and sexually abusing them. The blemish of that part of my story is that I had become a product of New York City’s foster care system. The unforeseen benefit to that sadden event was that I was chosen to be fostered by a loving, supporting, and devout christian family. I had adjusted well to being raised by a  Roman Catholic family of six (foster mother/father, and two older foster sisters and brothers); in fact, life for me was going extraordinarily well. I was nurtured, my immediate needs were met, my academic studies in elementary catholic school was good, and I was as happy as a kid of my age should have been. Unfortunately, that positive lifestyle drastically changed when a family court judge made the notice. I had developed the tendency of not voicing myself when addressed by my family, teachers, community members, and psychological medical staff whenever I committed a wrongful act. Soon thereafter, said caregivers had started to witness the beginning stages of my juvenile delinquency. For example, stealing snacks from the local neighborhood bodega, money from family members, and more frustratingly to them, I had developed the harmful tendencies of emulating the criminal behaviors that were associated with the hoodlums in my East Harlem housing projects. As a result of my poor school grades in elementary school, my parents had to enroll me in a public high school. They got me into the best one that had an R.O.T.C. program; and the plan was for me to go straight into the military after obtaining my high school diploma. Remarkably, that plan went extremely well throughout my freshman year. I had excelled in my academic studies, and I was enthralled with the dynamics associated with the R.O.T.C. program. That was until in my sophomore year when I had impulsively given into those negative childhood tendencies of emulating those neighborhood law breakers that my parents did their best to shield me from.

Consequently, upon getting a pass to go to the bathroom from class one afternoon, I had walked right into those same types of individuals my parents had warned me to stay away from. What was more troubling, they offered me to smoke marijuana with their crew, and my immediate response was, “Yeah!” Having never actually smoked weed before, as soon as I lit that joint and inhaled it too hard, everyone in attendance knew because it looked like I was trying to cough up a lung. And rather than run out that bathroom red-faced with embarrassment, I instead laughed right along with them. Instead of feeling like a loser from them ridiculing me, I ridiculed them back, and in that moment, I had finally lived out my mental fantasy of being accepted by a group of respected and feared bad-asses from my neighborhood. That same warped process of mine had led me to drop out of high school on the second day of my senior year; it had also been the beginning stages of the many negative thoughts and bad decisions of my youth, and ultimately my adulthood.

On my 18th birthday I tossed my clothing out of my parents’ 14th floor apartment so that I could run amok in the streets of East Harlem. And as a result, I caused my mother to painfully cry in a way that still haunts me to this present day. I had also defied the words of my father, when my mother had been pleading with him not to let me go, as he said “Let him go, he won’t last a day in those streets.” I had proven him incorrect, but it came with the cost of me causing too much hardships and harm to my family, friends, community and society members, and me. One of the proud moments from those years was the birth of my children, but they too ultimately were subjected to needles, heartaches and let downs from their dad. Aside from that, there were many times where I attempted to live according to the 9-to-5 working class norms, but it was short-lived, regardless of how good the job or life was. I had consciously decided to commit myself to a life of criminality.  I became chemically dependent on the nasal usage of heroin. I got arrested for possession of narcotics, with an intent to sell. I pleaded out and received five years probation. Again, I was arrested for the same charges two days before my youngest son’s 1st birthday – I pleaded out and was sentenced to serve two to five years in the state prison. I completed the Shock program and was back in the streets doing the same thing with the same people, places, and things, ten months later. While on parole, I was once again convicted of the same charges and sentenced again to state prison, in which I served two years with the same outcome. While on parole, my chemical dependency went to the extremes. I had a $100 a day heroin habit and nothing else mattered in my life except finding a way and means to support said habit. In fear of violating the terms of my parole, I successfully completed a detox program and went directly into a residential drug treatment program. Unfortunately, that program was located a block away from the same neighborhood where I harmed too many people. And as a result, I was confronted by a drug dealer that I had once robbed and it ended in a violent altercation that was not favorable to the aggressor who tried to attack me. Fearing the worst, I left the program because I did not want any of the residents getting hurt in case he came back to retaliate while I was in the program. Against the advice of the staff members, I went back to living in that neighborhood and I dealt with the matter at large. Consequently, I relapsed with my heroin addiction in the worst way possible. 

On April 1st 2001, I was out scheming for a way to get my first heroin fix of the day and I got involved in a situation where I needlessly killed a person who was once a friend of mine. The end result was as follows:

  • On April 11th 2001, I was violated by my parole officer, then picked up by the 32nd precinct homicide division and interrogated for over 17 hours.
  • On April 12th 2001, I was arrested for murder in the second degree.
  • On April 3rd 2003, after a jury trial, I was convicted of that crime.
  • In May of 2003, I was sentenced to serve 25 years -to-life in state prison.

Throughout the two years I ran rampant in Rikers Island, and the first six years running wildly in several state penitentiaries, I always found a way and means to continue with my chemical dependency with heroin, even though it came at the expense of risking the freedom and livelihood of others. After being found guilty for my fourth positive urinalysis offense, I was once again sent to solitary confinement to serve a 60-day sentence. At mail time in my cell one afternoon, I was delivered a note from my 19 year old daughter Jasmine. In that letter she challenged me to answer for myself the most profound question a father should ever be asked by his daughter – “Who Am I?” And for the life of me, I could not write her back an honest response. Jazzy challenged me with that profound question. It stunned me in such a way that I instinctively walked up to the mirror in my cell so as to take an honest look at myself. And because of me not accepting the image that gawked back at me, right then and there, I vowed to do an honest introspection of self, so as to get the answer.

Upon release from Rikers solitary confinement, I was transferred to Clinton Correctional facility where I began a self-introspection journey for  Narcotics Anonymous. One year later I was transferred to Sing Sing Correctional Facility where I utilized the rehabilitative self-help programs that solidified my efforts towards understanding who I am. In fact, the central part of my cognitive therapy treatment came from the Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) counselors in Sing Sing, and practicing the nine competencies of drug treatment. I came to the revelation that my flawed thought process and bad decision making need not define me but instead prove who I am today. Therefore, I formulated a plan of action that could transform those negative experiences of my past and transform them into a positive educational learning experience. I adopted the habit to always ask myself, “What can I do next towards the goal for positive growth and development?” This has led me down a productive path to a Master Degree in Professional Studies.

On completion of documenting my journey towards an honest introspection of self, I can now answer with confidence and certainty that profound question that my then 19-years old daughter Jazzy had once challenged me to answer for myself,  “Who Am I?” To begin with, I must accept the fact of who I am not. Today I am not a heroin junkie, I am not a career criminal, and most of all, I am a man who has learned to understand there will never be any justification for why and how I needlessly took the life of another human being, regardless of traumas that were associated with my past. The trials and tribulations of my life experiences have molded me to become a remorseful, loving, moralistic, and fun-loving person. I am also a goal-oriented individual who strives for personal success, while supporting the journey of others who are striving to better their lives. Moreover, today I understand that the words “I’m Sorry” have no sentimental value unless there is some concrete evidence to support such remorseful language; evidence such as converting the negative labels of my past and transforming them into credentials for my future endeavors. Credentials that can open the doors of opportunity for me to work with those that are presently fighting against risk factors that prevent them become better people in society. I know that I have what it takes to be a father to my children, a laudable son and family member, and a potential credible messenger who will always do my best to not repeat the bad decisions of my past, but use them as a harm-reduction educational experience for others.

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