James, 55

James, 55

Meet James…

My future is bright, I will be released on December 28th of this year and I’ll celebrate a late Christmas with my family.”

James, 55

Incarcerated: 33 years

Housed: LaBelle, Pennsylvania

We took a plane to Lancaster, Ohio to visit my dad’s parents. Grandpa and Gram had a lovely farm with chickens, a couple of horses, cows, a roaster, and some sheep. I was so excited that day, coming from the city to play with the animals. I was so happy to spend time with Superman, my dad, and he was dressed in his army ranger dress clothes. I remember it like it was yesterday. Gram and Pop met us at the airport. After playing with the animals and running around with Dad, he took me down to a creek where he fished as a kid, then up over a little wooden bridge. I grabbed my superman sunglasses and off they went into the water below. I thought Dad, being Superman, could fly down and get them. Dad was mad at first, but laughed it off, tickling me and that was my day with my Superman! My dad did two tours in Vietnam and retired honorably as a sergeant with a purple heart, he’s my hero. Now, all I want is for my dad and mom to be proud of me. I used drugs and alcohol and I have been in and out of prison for so long. Today, I have been clean and sober for nearly three years. I write and call my parents weekly. I miss them both so very much. My future is bright, I will be released on December 28th of this year and we’ll celebrate a late Christmas. For New Years my 83-year-old dad and I will talk and watch a football game together, I can’t wait!

Nathan, 57

Nathan, 57

Meet Nathan…

“I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges.”

Nathan, 57

Incarcerated: 15 yrs

Housed: California Correctional Training Facility, Soledad

My mom Jamie was 16 and my father Abe was 31, neither were honest about their age. They both claimed to be in their 20’s when they met. Abe was a heroin addict and my mom’s parents were both alcoholics. They loved Abe. My grandma Vivian was beautiful with a great intellect, she was kind and thoughtful when sober. When drunk she could get really mean. She told me Abe was a good man, overly intelligent, he loved me and took care of me. My mom said he was the one to get up with me at night. Abe was from a wealthy Jewish family, I’ve never met because they disowned him over his heroin addiction. Abe fled the country to avoid prosecution when I was two. I have no memory of this, but have to imagine this must have been traumatic, as I never heard from him again. My mom has never been a drug user or drinker. She had to take care of her own parents and mothered them at an early age. She never had any judgment about others drinking or using drugs. My mom met Bob and he promised her he would never have any trouble with the law and he kept that promise. I never saw them fight or argue. One day they just decided to be friends, which they stayed until Bob passed away, while I was in jail fighting murder charges. Bob had a jewelry store, pet shop, pawn shop, antique shops, he ran a hotel and bar when he met my mom. He dabbled in stocks, cars, and real estate. He was successful at everything he did. Bob was not affectionate, but he always helped out and gave good advice. Bob was a good man, a better man than I have been. He tried hard to instill his good character traits in me. Though he did tease me when I was young, calling me Suzy because I was wimpy. I was a very scrawny and sensitive child. He was never unkind, he just grew up during a less sensitive time. To him calling me Suzy was innocent, maybe a little humorous, but with no ill intent. I can look back now and see where that might have been a contributing factor to my own distorted self body image, where my fall began. I believe I can trace back my fall to its very inception. One single thought that I believed to be true but wasn’t. All it took was for one doubt to sink in: “That I wasn’t good enough as God created me, that I was too skinny.” My mom met Tony when I was eight. Both Bob and Tony have been good fathers to me, Tony and my mom are still happily married. Tony is also a man of good character, honest and always ethical, but very proud and stubborn. I have a great love and respect for him. My mom went to catechism and her first communion until she was 10. At that age, she saw a car accident where a little girl’s head went through a windshield. She couldn’t understand how the God she was being taught about could let such a thing happen. She told her mom church was a waste of time. She never gave God or the Church another thought. My own belief in God was innate, it was as if I was born with it. My parents never tried to influence me in any way, however, I have been inquisitive. As a small child, I would contemplate the universe and infinity. I couldn’t comprehend infinity, so I would have to imagine what was at the end of the universe, there had to be something. I would imagine a wall. But then if there was a wall, there had to be something on the other side of the wall. So, I not only couldn’t comprehend infinity, I couldn’t comprehend not infinity. I thought, if this is the case then I had to believe I was foreign, and limited in my ability to comprehend. I would try to imagine what the world would be like if I no longer existed in it, I tried to imagine my non-existence. My conclusion was it didn’t matter. I knew my mom didn’t believe in God, so every chance I got to talk to a priest, a Christian, or a Catholic; I would always ask the same question: what happens to someone who doesn’t believe in God? The same answer always comes back; they go to eternal hell. I would always answer back; “but what if they are a good person?” I would get the same response; I’m sorry, I wish everyone could go to heaven, but non-believers can’t. None of this changed my belief in God, and I am grateful that God is not how man would make him out to be; because if that was the case, we would all be in real trouble. What it did do, is give me an unhealthy disdain for religion, especially the way Catholicism and Christianity were taught. At 8, I had a friend Bobby, who invited me on a one-week camping trip. Late the night before we were to leave, his mom dropped off a list of things like games and cards that couldn’t bring. My Mom thought it was odd and told me that she didn’t think I should go. I was packing my magic tricks and things that I would not be able to bring. She said she had a bad feeling about this and I really shouldn’t go. I whined and cried telling her Bobby and I have all these great plans. She gave in, thinking how bad it could be. She said if I had any concerns to call her and she’d come pick me up immediately. When I arrived, I found out it was a Christian camp. Which was deliberately withheld from me, my mom, and possibly Bobby by his family. I was deceived intentionally. I refused to cooperate in their games and demanded to be able to call my mom to pick me up. For a whole week, they never let me use the phone. I was basically kidnapped under false pretenses, and held against my will. When I was brought back home, my mom said I must have had a good time because I never called her.  I said, no I didn’t, everyone including Bobby had to give their lives over to God and I refused, because I thought it was stupid, and I’m never speaking to Bobby again. Can you imagine if this was done to a child today? Don’t get me wrong, I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus. I love Him as an elder brother.  My mom and Tony always do right by others, not because of any religion,  it is the right way to be, they are just really good human beings. Much better than I have been. Neither believe in or give thought to God or an afterlife or think there is any kind of reward for being selfless. It is just the way they are. My mom believes when we die that is it, we no longer exist. I cannot even comprehend that thought. My mom’s Christian friends tell her that she is a better Christian than most Christians they know. She has always had a great wisdom about her, much greater than could be acquired in this lifetime alone. She is always so busy, she barely has time to do the things she would like to do. She belongs to a women’s club and they do charity work for the homeless, cancer and heart patients, and work with other charities that bring aid to foreign countries. She is always donating her time. They give scholarships away for kids to go to college. Something she never had the opportunity to do herself. She is just such a beautiful human being.

Bindhu, 43

Meet Bindhu…

My great aunt in her eighties wrote back with so much love and information about my family. We wrote back and forth several times, and she had a mind like an elephant.

Bindhu, 43
Incarcerated: 19 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

I wanted to know who my father was. I never met him. I was ten living in Crescent City. My mother put me on a plane to Denver to meet him. Arriving at the airport he was holding a sign with my name on it. Denver was nice. My father took me to his jobs and to the swimming pools on a regular basis. I missed my old life, friends, mother, and siblings. My father had a girlfriend with her own son. He told me that he was driving me back to California. I guess they didn’t want me. We were looking for my grandparents’ home in Watsonville and couldn’t find it. My father pulled over, said he was going for gas and food and never came back. I didn’t want to believe it was true.

While in prison, I wanted to make contact again. My sister gave me his address. He wrote back and told me that he was sorry and that his girlfriend made him do it. The counselor called me out of my cell to show me a returned letter that said “deceased” on it. I didn’t know what to feel. After some time, I wrote the address back to see if I could contact anybody on my father’s side because I didn’t know anybody. My great aunt in her eighties wrote back with so much love and information about my family. We wrote back and forth several times, and she had a mind like an elephant. I created a family tree, received pictures of my great aunts, grandparents, father, uncle, great grandparents, cousins, and more. She gave me all their names and details. Having the courage to write that letter brought some unexpected love into my life.

Clayton, 31

Clayton, 31

Meet Clayton…

I learned to face my past head-on by writing, speaking, and accepting all that happened, I could have done this so years ago and prevented a life sentence.

Clayton, 31
Incarcerated: 6 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison

As I crunched the paper, twisting it into a cross to place into my dad’s open casket, I never assumed I’d be made fun of for it. The bullies at school made sure to remind me of the open casket legacy which my father left behind after his overdose on heroin. While their dads were at ‘Meet the Parents Day’ all I had to present was a picture of a tombstone. Though their dads were important, I was belittled to live up to the curse my father left behind for me. Whether reality set in or not, one thing I knew for sure, “Like father, like son.” Addiction plagued my father. He passed it on to my siblings, and they passed it on to me. At age 16, my sister told me that by the age of three,  I was exposed to meth’s intoxicating high. Through tears she told me, and through anger I went forward. This admission was all I needed, to dive deeper into my progressing addiction. Years into my life sentence, I realized something. Rather than face the fact that I am resilient, I withered away behind the trauma. The young man who stroked his father’s cold, pale skin one last time.

Now, with nothing but time on my hands to think, I made a huge discovery. I found the source of my anxiety, fear, and discomfort stemming from the traumas of my childhood. Every day we choose, and these choices define our lives. I chose to perpetuate the trauma and the pain I carry, by passing it on to others. Just as I learned to face my past head-on by writing, speaking, and accepting all that happened, I could have done this so years ago and prevented a life sentence. Had I been strong enough back then, I would have spared so many undeserving people from so much suffering. I realize today that I am my father’s son, and my Father is God. Through the transformation which has occurred while walking in the fire, I will be able to reach others still trapped behind the tempest of trauma. To all the people I have harmed over the years, I owe my transformation to you. I will honor your lives everyday, as I continue to learn, grow and change; as I work to leave behind a new legacy on this Earth.

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.

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