Marques, 43

Marques, 43

Meet Marques..

“I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage.”

Marques, 43

Incarcerated: 10 years

Housed: California State Prison, Solano

What have I learned about myself in prison?

Since my conviction, my life has changed in so many significant ways. I am no longer the same person that I once was before coming to prison,

When I committed this crime, I was impulsive and acted first and thought later. Now, I know better than to do that. I’ve learned to think first before reacting. I currently practice self-control with incarcerated self-awareness, and I’m able to remain calm in the heat of the moment so I don’t let temporary feelings cause permanent damage. At the time, addressing violence with superiors seemed like the right way to handle the situation, but it wasn’t. I have identified my internal and external triggers such as feeling insecure, powerless, ashamed, unheard, vulnerable, and sometimes fearful. I was being ridiculed or threatened by people around me, being called a liar, being insulted, being yelled at, and called weak. I’ve also developed healthy coping mechanisms that prevent me from returning to criminal behavior whenever I’m tempted to do so. Some coping mechanisms include but are not limited to: 

1) Positive self-talk. When feeling insecure, I remind myself I am not a negative thought or feeling. I am more than my past, and I am learning while growing. 

2) No matter what is said, I stop personally taking people’s words or actions. 

3) I pause to observe and process my situation, feelings, and my body’s reaction (heart rate increases, breathing quickens) to remain calm and avoid reacting impulsively. 

4) Breathing: when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I pause to take deep breaths and meditate. 

5) Listening with understanding and empathy when others express their thoughts or feelings. 

6) Taking the necessary time to assess different opinions or conflicts in a given situation. 

7) Things I’ve learned in self-help groups also work for me: Thought stopping, thought replacement, walking away, speaking calmly, and exercising.

I’ve matured in areas of the utmost importance when it comes to my conduct and behavior. By completing several self-help classes, I’ve acquired the necessary tools to modify my behavior and rebuild my life from the ground up. I took the time to dig deep within and was able to identify my many weaknesses, turning them into strengths; rather than being problem-focused, I’ve become solution-minded.

Today, I’ve learned to identify the root causes of my choices to be violent and to trace back the origin of my criminal thinking, which was that violence and committing crimes were the best ways to address whatever external problems I was facing. I have learned to recognize my feelings and thought patterns, and by doing that, I’ve learned to control the impulses that triggered my violent behavior.

I’ve been incarcerated now for almost ten years; the last five years have been disciplinary-free. I’m housed here at CSP Solano in the programming facility yard, where I can participate in various programs and receive certificates of completion. They teach me life skills and how to cope with life on life’s terms. I do my very best and let God do the rest. I was baptized here at the prison chapel, where I confessed my sins, asking God for forgiveness. I attend service regularly, where I help mentor the youth by using my own life story and my trials and tribulations to serve as a living testimony to those younger men who look up to me. It helps keep them out of trouble and brings them closer to God, our creator. I take a correspondence course called PREP Turning Point that teaches me anger management, parenting, conflict resolution, listening, critical thinking skills, and more.I completed a yoga class where I learned breathing techniques and how to remain calm while always in control. I was also taught how to meditate and relax my body and mind. By thinking clearly before reacting, I can make better decisions.

I’ve been a married man for the last four years, and I get to attend overnight family visits with my wife and children, bond and socialize with them, maintain my family ties, and spend quality time with those I love most. I have a lovely home to return to and plenty of love and family support. It’s very important to have housing, reliable transportation, and financial support upon release. I have that. I also have a post-release plan of action that will help solidify my successful reentry into the community. I recently graduated from the DJ program at CSP Solano called Uncuffed and I created an hour-long radio set from start to finish. My completed set aired on KALW 91.7 FM in September 2023. The Radio station provided a platform for us to be heard beyond these prison walls, and I used it to become a voice for the voiceless. This was a huge accomplishment for me and has given me the confidence to pursue a career in audio engineering. When my family and friends heard my creation on the Radio, they were so proud of me. I’m currently enrolled in the Solano Community College program, where I’m pursuing an associate’s degree in sociology and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now that I’ve acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to be a positive, productive, and proactive member of our society, all that’s left is for me to be afforded the opportunity to do so!

Joel, 31

Meet Joel…

“Being gone away from the world that I once knew for so long will make you feel forgotten.”

Joel, 31

Incarcerated: 9 years

Housed: Arkansas Dept of Corrections, Grady

Being gone away from the world I once knew for so long, will make you feel forgotten. Learning that life doesn’t stop because I got popped is something that opened my eyes to a lot about life. I got in my jam a few days before my 22nd birthday and sad to say- I’m still stuck in 2014. Being incarcerated it seems that I don’t age mentally. In my mind, I’m still that 21-year-old about to turn 22 and still childish. I like to think outside of the walls that bind me to this place. Let me tell you this place will sharpen up your imagination after so long. You sort of become your own best friend cause you can’t trust too many people. I find myself daydreaming all of the time about when I was free or about when I got my freedom back. Like today,  I daydreamed about my first love and our first encounter. How I wish sometimes I could just stay in that thought forever. I see it all as clearly as I see it today. I mean Bre is so beautiful and happy. The music that was playing was Sure Thing by Miguel. I pull up in the car with my homeboy at the time, and I see her for the first time. I remember thinking that’s my sure thing right there and she was. I was shy back then,  so I didn’t know how to approach her, so I sent one of my little guys over to tell her that I liked her and to come talk to me and she did. It was crazy how we talked to each other. I remember us being so alive. I mean she was so outgoing compared to me. I loved that and wanted her around me all of the time. She was the total opposite of me. My better half. I love you Bre wherever you are. I find this to be crazy how being incarcerated, men tend to try and bury these kinds of thoughts and emotions in fear of looking soft or even weak but not me. I welcome them proudly!

 

Robin, 39

Meet Robin…

I have many flaws, insecurities, thinking errors, and so much guilt and shame, yet everyday I try to do better, to be better.

Robin, 39
Incarcerated: 5 years
Housed: Federal Correctional Unit, Waseca, Maine

“No amount of darkness can hide a spark of light.”

I am not sure where this quote came from or when I first heard it but this is what gets me through the day. This is not my first time in prison and I’m not going to lie, there is quite a bit of darkness in me. I am an addict in every sense of the word whether it is drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, exercise, money or any other form of instant gratification, I struggle on a good day. I have many flaws, insecurities, thinking errors, and so much guilt and shame, yet everyday I try to do better, to be better. I have been to a state prison in Michigan and this Texas federal prison is a different world. This place is ruled by a cash app and exclusivity. Probably the hardest things to get here is treatment, programming or an education, yet everyday I stay positive and focus on that spark of light. I am a mother of three beautiful children and my dream is to show them I can overcome anything, that they are worth fighting for and that my mistakes don’t have to define me. I work in education in the morning and I am a math tutor for GED students in the afternoon. I facilitate adult continuing education. I love to learn and I am trying to find a way to get a degree. I want to want to be good. It is hard with a long sentence to see light at the end of the tunnel or to find a reason to care. There are times when I embrace my darkness and like it, but I always find my way back to the light.

Doraine, 66

Doraine, 66

Meet Doraine…

Prison is not designed to change a person; only you have the power to change yourself; you have to want to succeed.

Doraine, 66
Incarcerated: 5 years
York Correctional Institution, Niantic, Connecticut

I am a gospel singer behind the walls with locked doors and razor wires. Here I became the executive-producer of a gospel CD titled, “Raise the Praise, Live In Concert.” Our gospel group have been nominated seven times by Holla Back Gospel Music Awards with CEO Mr. Jerry Green. I have won several music awards including the McDonald Gospelfest Music Guinness Award by the legendary, Cece Houston, the late music icon, Whitney Houston’s mother.

I am not defined by my accused crime, I am not a number. I have learned I can prosper in the worst conditions; I am a survivor! Mary K. Blige’s producer, Edwin Ramos, assisted in building a recording studio behind these prison walls. Prison is not designed to change a person; only you have the power to change yourself; you have to want to succeed. You can be liberated and succeed and never forget where there is hope, there is purpose. To every reader, never give up!

Chimezie, 40

Chimezie, 40

Meet Chimezie…

Through her letters, poetry, song lyrics, phone calls, visits, deep thought provoking conversation, and mental stimuli, Beauty helped me elevate beyond the wallows of my self pity.

Chimezie, 40
Incarcerated: 20 years
Housed: Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, Shirley, Massachusetts

In the early years of my bid, I never slowed down long enough to write letters. I was always in some form of trouble. If I wasn’t lifting weights, I was chasing someone who owed money. If I wasn’t in the hole, I was headed to the hole. An intellectual connection with a female was the last thing on my mind. I lived in a crime college, and criminality served as my solace. That changed when a friend introduced me to a young lady, I’ll call Beauty.

Beauty and I began exchanging letters, then phone calls, and eventually she came to the prison to visit me. I remained non-committal and detached. My primary focus was on the wrong things. In 2013, the Supreme Judicial Court denied my direct appeal, and the reality of a lifetime prison sentence became a realistic reality. I was devastated. I was on the floor y’all. I tried to pull away from Beauty, but she pulled me closer to her. Through her letters, poetry, song lyrics, phone calls, visits, deep thought provoking conversation, and mental stimuli, Beauty helped me elevate beyond the wallows of my self pity. My mind was able to transcend the imposed limitations of prison and depression, through Beauty’s otherworldly devotion to our bond. Beauty nurtured me back to form with love. When I was close to defeat, I rose to my feet. The universe sent me an angel that changed the trajectory of my life. I’m humbled and forever grateful.I’ve learned firsthand, love is the only emotion strong enough to override human nature. Love is divine power. Inspiration through love is a divine influencer.

To Beauty, you saved me from myself. To the women loving incarcerated citizens of our communities despite conventional wisdom telling them to do otherwise: You are the heartbeat of an often forgotten tribe. To my fellow incarcerated citizens, follow your hearts, and dare to love. Love truly conquers all. May peace be with you. Always and forever.

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