Derrick, 45

Meet Derrick..

“I know I can’t do it alone because I’m new to this spiritual journey. But I can visualize myself entering back into society, sharing my testimony in church, standing at the podium on stage in front of a crowd of believers.”

Derrick, 45

Incarcerated: 28 years

Housed: Hughes Unit, Texas

At a young age, around eight years old, I witnessed my mom shoot and kill her boyfriend for being abusive while we struggled with poverty living in the projects. That incident opened up some dark places in my life. I grew up running with a gang committing jackings, drive-bys, shoot-outs, and murder. I was actually in and out of juveniles, state schools, and even foster homes. I was beyond broken. I was deemed the worst of the worst. I knew how it felt when the adults in my neighborhood often told me that I wouldn’t live to see 13 or 14-year-olds, which led up to my incarceration.

I was banging and creating havoc in my own city over a color I didn’t even possess ownership of. When I came to prison back in 1995, I was so naive and lost in the sauce. I wanted to show boys I was good with my hands by fighting and wouldn’t back down from anybody. My mentality caught disciplinary cases repeatedly and was confined in administrative segregation for staff assaults and inmate assaults. I would not listen to the ol’ school convicts telling me I need to sign up for the law library and fight my murder case and try to give my 50-year sentence back. I was numb to the fact that it hadn’t been digested yet. I lost my first child while incarcerated and not being able to attend their funeral because my behavior forbade it; now that torture! That’s when I truly understood the definition of suffering, depression, loneliness, and suicide.

I’ve been in prison for 28 years and have nothing to show for it. I have no G.E.D. No trade. I haven’t attended programs to better my situation even though I haven’t accomplished anything propitious. At least I can say that I’ve surrendered my life to God. I got tired of being the problem. I got tired of being self-destructive. Instead, I chose God to take control of my life. I am tired of all the bitterness and darkness in my heart. I got tired of being labeled as that gang member tatted up. I want to be labeled as a child of God. None of the homies ever took the time to introduce me to Christ. None of them are going to lead me up to heaven, either. I’ve been doing the devil’s work all my life. I think it’s only fair to serve the lord now because I want peace in my heart. I pray that God provides me with a lady friend to come into my life. I promise I will serve him faithfully. I know I can’t do it alone because I’m new to this spiritual journey. But I can visualize myself entering back into society, sharing my testimony in church, standing at the podium on stage in front of a crowd of believers. This is a glimpse of my testimony. I hope you can relate to it. 

James, 51

James, 51

Meet James..

“Growing up too young, my life was defined by fixing items that most of society considered trash. This became my therapy, filled my pockets, and quickly became my favorite hobby.”

James, 51

Incarcerated: 21 years

Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, Illinois.

Today, I can wear growing up poor as a badge of honor, though I didn’t always feel this way. My parents were the too-busy type, allowing me to be a free-range latchkey kid happily. This enabled me to meet people from all walks of life. Our family of seven had a lovely home in Hoffman nestled between the affluent homes in South Barrington and Inverness, Illinois. In grammar school, we needed to help our parents keep the light and water on. My two brothers and I did this with many newspaper routes. Once I was done rolling up the papers, I would go garbage picking while they delivered them. The pickings were good in Barrington and Inverness, and the benefits of giving trash a second chance were better.

I was a resourceful WHY-WHY-WHY kid who saw all my neighbors as a network of knowledge that raised my profit margin. My neighbors taught me how to problem-solve and about diagnostics, what a drip of solder on contact will do, and glue under a screw is cheap. I learned what a $14 fuse, a new switch, or a power cord can do, or simply a little cleaning. If I couldn’t fix it, I researched the repair. I was selling my friends and neighbors fixed TVs, video equipment, curling irons, blow dryers, radios, stereos, toys, and vacuums. Most of all, I liked fixing bikes, power tools, and yard equipment. After all our hard work, the power in our house still got cut off occasionally. I noticed being handy attracts older friends. In junior high, one of my neighbors, Yaakob, loved my WHY-WHY-HOW questions. After answering all my questions, he dropped me twenty dollars in cash. I had a blast helping him with side jobs customizing limos and van upholstery. He would hold a coffee and cigarette in hand while racing me, cutting foam and material for the seats and winning. I loved hearing about his homeland of Turkey. Although, I wanted their cultural dinner leftovers more than money.

Skateboarding past my neighbor Wendel’s home one day, I gained another mentor by helping him hang a punching bag. He told me how loud my skateboard was on the sidewalk next to his window and that my girlfriend’s car was loud dropping me off at midnight. I would drop by to hit the heavy bag and weight lift and help him with home projects. While discussing planning a family and his career, it didn’t take long for my 14-year-old arm to outdo his 24-year-old machinist arm.

I got many invites, having my garbage-picked dirtbikes and having my own money. Having my booze and weed certainly helped, too. Volunteering to help a high schooler fix his truck got me invited on their camping trip. The older ladies were a tough crowd! They all picked on me until Todd told everyone I was his mechanic who fixed his truck; I enjoyed conversations with older people, even today. I received many life lessons on this trip. A guy, Dave, sat next to me on the picnic table, telling me how embarrassing it was for his Dad to hit and kill a pedestrian while driving home drunk. He went through all the emotions as I put myself in their shoes. My eyes were opened to the reality of our actions. He was telling me how unfair the system was not allowing him to interact with the victim’s family. Someone declares from the next campsite over, “HEY-HEY, I remember you!” starting over at me; my gut sank further when he yelled over,” I was in sixth grade when you were in first!” This got everyone’s attention from all four campsites. Laughing now, he yells, “We were playing tether ball while you were sitting on the curb with David’s sister Kim french kissing, fingers tangled in each other’s hair.” Everyone burst into laughter, including the tough crowd of ladies. I didn’t receive a single jeer being dragged to the lake by a group of female mentors who wanted to give me a swimming lesson.

When I went to high school, I kept in touch with some of them, although I kept all the memories and life lessons. As a hyper high schooler, age didn’t matter; it was all about daily celebrations of life. I happily jumped in between many uplifting groups of friends, keeping the vibes positive, staying busy, learning, helping, and fixing trash because the rewards were more significant. I loved fixing anything with an engine. It was easy to replace it with a bigger engine and make it stop faster. When my parents divorced, my Dad was stingy with his money, so I helped by renting a garage bay from my mom. While in high school, I opened a mechanic shop with all the tools I had accumulated. Cash was good, with my many legit side hustles and one organic one that wasn’t. Many would guess when I grew up, I would’ve become a mechanic, appliance repair man, or garbage man; however, I loved remodeling more and restoring homes to better form and function. I built room additions and custom homes bigger than I would ever want to live in.

I once added a bunch of classrooms and a gymnasium to the school. I built a vast medical center in Tucson, Arizona. Nonetheless, restoring and depositing the checks were more rewarding at the end of the day. I enjoyed fixing basements, kitchens, and bathrooms, adding entertainment centers, bunk bed shelves, custom closet cabinetry, libraries, studies, home offices, and wet bars, and many customers were happy to pay me. Working in oversized homes, I learned first-hand why garbage picking was so good in a disposable society that loves filling garbage bags and landfills. My excellent customers would pay me to remove construction debris like cabinets, wood scraps, appliances, granite vanity toppers, expensive faucets, and other trash; I would then recycle or sell them. If their generosity wasn’t enough, they would ask me if they could fill my construction dumpster with a broken mower, vacuum, electronics, and some of my other favorite trash to fix and sell. Some of the stuff I didn’t even need to fix. Growing up too young, my life was defined by repairing items that most society considered trash. This became my therapy, filled my pockets, and quickly became my favorite hobby. However, today, I’m rotting away in the Stateville Prison Dump in Illinois, hoping to be recycled or fix my situation by showing the courts the value of the truth of my wrongful conviction.

Gerardo “Jerry” “Junebug”, 39

Gerardo “Jerry” “Junebug”, 39

Meet Gerardo…

Prior to prison I was a college athlete running track and playing baseball. I had a full time job as a fitness counselor and had a beautiful, kind loving pitbull named Eva.

Gerardo “Jerry,” “Junebug”, 39
Incarcerated: 16 years
Housed: Centinela State Prison, Imperial, California

Prior to prison I was a college athlete running track and playing baseball. I had a full time job as a fitness counselor and had a beautiful, kind loving pitbull named Eva. My life was tied together by sports. I always felt it was my ticket to a brighter future. I constantly found myself surrounded by friends having a good time. Today I realize I never had any real friends because every one of them has turned their backs on me. Being alone has been the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make, now I understand the true meaning of family and friendship. I truly value those who have stood by me during these hard times. It’s easy to take things for granted, but I can’t do that. I embrace the things I don’t have and honor the things I do. I’ve spent many days and nights searching deep inside myself to find where I went wrong and why things turned out this way. I’ve made a lot of changes for the better to become the best version of myself and to praise those who walk this journey by my side and if I’m ever given an opportunity to regain my life, the first thing on my list is to show people how much I appreciate them. We all make mistakes in our lives and sometimes there are consequences for our poor choices. It’s what we do in our efforts to change and learn from our actions.

Even though I am locked up, I’d like to think I can do some good and lend my voice to someone out there in hopes my story can make a difference. My new voice is spoken through my art. It is also the sole reason Humans of San Quentin came to hear of me, through my platform on, Art For Redemption. I came into prison scared and confused and only worthy of drawing stick figures. I was sitting in isolation and my neighbor came to check on me and saw I wasn’t doing well. He suggested I try drawing, but I had no skills. He continued to visit me and each day he gave me tips and showed me his techniques enough to where I could fly on my own; that was 16 years ago. Today, my art has touched every corner of the globe and it’s how I’ve become inspired to continue with people out there in the real world picking me up with praise, letting me know I matter and I’ve done something to draw their interest. My passion lies in the emotions I put on paper, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. It all translates to the same language when a piece is complete. 

Rolando, 37

Rolando, 37

Meet Rolando…

I’m working on furthering my education. I am also in self help groups to better myself and to find my way out of prison.

Rolando, 37
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

I’m in prison on a murder charge. I like to stay busy and out of trouble. I love to play soccer and listen to reggae, oldies and rap. My favorite movies: Fast and the Furious, Titanic and Twilight. I like to cut people’s hair.

When I started my time, I didn’t know anything about prison. One day, I was standing next to three people fighting in the yard. When the officer came to separate them, he thought I was fighting too. I told him I had nothing to do with it, I saw a commotion and walked away. He then asked the officer in the tower what he saw, he said I had nothing to do with it. That was one of the scariest incidents I’ve been through. Another time an officer dropped something while talking to a sergeant. I waited for him to finish talking, and told him he had dropped something and that he could get in trouble. He was proud of me, because he said there are not too many people like me. He told me to keep up the good work. I felt proud. I’m working on furthering my education. I am also in self help groups to better myself and to find my way out of prison.

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