Alexander, 26

Alexander, 26

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Meet Alexander…

A friend is someone you can count on. Someone you share your thoughts with.

Alexander, 26
Incarcerated: 4 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

What is friendship and love?
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
A friend is someone you can count on.
Someone you share your thoughts with.
Having a caring and loving relationship can last a lifetime.
Time is something you can never get back.
It’s priceless.
What is love?
Love is unconditional.
Love allows you to be vulnerable with another human being.
Love is being comfortable and safe.
Some people spend their lifetime
trying to find it in materialistic things,
but the thing is
it comes from within.
It comes from the soul.
Being in prison makes me feel alone.
At the same time
I stay motivated knowing one day
I’ll be free.

Vasil, 43

Vasil, 43

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Meet Vasil…

My people are those whom I know, in their heart of hearts, have a place for me.

Vasil, 43
Incarcerated: 16 years
Housed: New Jersey State Penitentiary, Trenton, New Jersey

I am my people because I’ve shed blood, sweat and tears with my people, for my people. I am my people because I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the ugly with my people. I am my people because I’ve experienced strife and struggle with my people. I’ve been in toil, striving for success with my people. People aren’t your people because they simply say so. People aren’t my people when they have failed to show up in my time of need. Time and again the struggle for success is when your people need you the most. Actions make you my people. My people are those whom I know, in their heart of hearts, have a place for me. Talk is cheap, those who do without saying are the people to me; my people you are, I am yours. Together, we are the people!

Keith, 31

Keith, 31

Meet Keith…

I haven’t heard from Corey, but I talk to his mom and his sisters. I thank him for showing me true friendship, and installing a passion in me to help others.

Keith, 31
Incarcerated: 10 years
Housed: Sussex Correctional Institution, Georgetown, Delaware

My cousin and I walked onto the bus and immediately started acting like fools with this quiet, real chill kid in the back row. A couple days later, I’m walking down the street and the kid from the back row talks to me. He invited me into his home. I ate crabs along with his family. I met my best friend that day. His name was Corey. We hung out everyday after that, and stayed at each other’s houses. He knew he could do whatever he wanted at my house, and being around his family was a breath of fresh air for me. His household was one I’d only seen on TV, two parents, two sisters and dinner at the table every night. When my fridge was empty his mom welcomed me in and fed me. He never judged me for being dirty, wearing messy clothes, or my mom smoking crack. When I was down he always lifted me up. He showed me the real definition of friendship.

What I learned from him I carried into adulthood. He taught me to literally take the clothes off my back for others, to feed the homeless, and to pay for families to be housed at hotels. I was still out causing people harm, killing my community at the same time and building it up. I was a hypocrite. Twenty years of my life is taken away for those actions, yet my passion to help people has overpowered me as a whole. I haven’t heard from Corey, but I talk to his mom and his sisters. I thank him for showing me true friendship, and installing a passion in me to help others.

Leon, 45

Leon, 45

Meet Leon…

 We are both successful service dog trainers and recruited to be featured in fundraising videos, which have had thousands of views on YouTube. It was the sibling rivalry that ignited our ongoing competition…

Leon, 45
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington

It was in the depths of hardship and struggle when our unlikely friendship formed. Since 2007 we have lived, learned, grown, failed, and celebrated many successes together behind the fences of several different prison facilities. Most incarcerated people hold the philosophy that, “I came to prison alone,  I’m going to leave alone, and I’m not here to make friends.” We also felt that way, but over the years, we developed a brotherly bond as well as what you could describe as a sibling rivalry. We are both successful service dog trainers and were recruited to be featured in fundraising videos, which have had thousands of views on YouTube. It was the sibling rivalry that ignited our ongoing competition that led us to our current bet for which one of our videos will be the first to reach 20,000.

It became a daily taunting match. Mine has been out since 2016, so it had a significant number of views by 2018 when Randy’s was posted. Cleverly, Randy contacted a very popular dog rescue company in 2019, and they shared his video through their network. Randy’s video shot up to 9,950 views by 2020, while mine hovered at around 6,400. Calculating the current rate,  it will take Randy 21 years to reach the goal, but I will reach it in a little over 14 years. Randy still has some tricks up his sleeve and I have become wise. It is doubtful that our video views will continue to grow at the current rate, but what will remain the same is the unlikely friendship that we formed through commiseration during hard times. In addition, the competitive rivalry of our brotherhood will likely be with us for life. Therefore, the bet is on and the competition is unbending. To see the videos for yourself, go to Summit Assistance Dogs Monroe Partnership on YouTube.  (Leo’s is 2016, Randy’s is 2018)

Randy, 29

Randy, 29

Meet Randy…

It was the first time I felt peace. She sat close to me in the visitation room, her head on my shoulder. I felt safe, at home.

Randy, 29
Incarcerated: 14 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison

It was the first time I felt peace. She sat close to me in the visitation room, her head on my shoulder. I felt safe, at home. I grew up afraid and neglected. Beginning my life term at 16 impacted how I grew as a human. People say prison is its own little world; and that is where I learned about the world. I have spent nearly half my life locked up. Behind these walls I learned about people, relationships, and life. The problem is the only help offered to inmates involves drugs, gangs, and criminal behavior. It doesn’t teach self-respect, patience, confidence, or skills needed to be a good human. I wasn’t learning how to be a man, I was learning how to be an inmate. My institutionalization came slowly and subtly. I thought I was doing well. Staying out of trouble was my goal, and doing the right things. The problem was my values and beliefs were becoming shaped by prison culture. I didn’t realize this until Covid, when I began meeting people from the penpal-site, writeaprisoner.com. Talking to outside people showed me an entirely foreign caliber of humanity. One particular friend had no problem pointing out when I said something outrageous that only an inmate would believe, like normalization of violence, prejudices and anger. I began to see that my mind frame was that of a bitter inmate. My ideas on justice, society, and friendships were all corrupted. Luckily, that friend held me accountable for the things I said, helping to challenge unhealthy values and beliefs I had accepted. It helped just having normal conversations about things like having dinner with family, a job and having a dog. A wise man once told me the goal isn’t just to get out, or beat the parole board, but to prepare for success after prison. Today, my wife inspires my change by motivating me to be a better man and a better husband. I no longer focus on life here in prison. I see my future and who I want to be. That hope is now what teaches me about life. I have a bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m actually learning the skills of patience, work ethic, integrity, and self control so I can succeed on the outside. So Ashleigh and I can succeed together.

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