Mashudu, 23

Meet Mashudu…

I learned a man is someone who takes full responsibility for all his actions. I will admit when I’m right and accept when I’m wrong. In 2025, I’ll be free.

Mashudu, 23
Incarcerated: 6 years
Housed: East Arkansas Regional Unit, Brickeys

I was born on Thanksgiving Day, and on my mother’s birthday. As you read my name, I know you’re wondering how to pronounce it. “Ma-shoe-do” my dad is African. I am JR, he moved back to Africa when I was young. He abandoned me as a child, I had no father figure. While going to school I was made fun of because of my name. By the time I was 15, they never called me by my name anymore, I was deep in the streets robbing, and shooting. They ended up calling me “Shoota.” I was living it, my life was moving smoothly and fast, until I was 16. I got locked up on me and my mom’s birthday, November 25th, Thanksgiving Day. Instead of being at home enjoying my mom’s birthday, my cousin and I shot at a car at the hospital. I was in juvenile hall for a year and a half.

At 17, I got involved in another crime, I was facing adult charges for aggravated robbery and more. The judge offered me life on my first court date, then 30 years then he upped it to 40.  I ended up getting ten years from the faith I had from the age of 17 to 23. All I could do was think, snitching was never on my mind. They wouldn’t give me a bond, then I knew, I was not getting out. My homeboy told on me, and I looked at him like a brother, time flew by. I thought my family, friends, girlfriend and loved ones cared but they didn’t. No one had my back but me. I never gave up hope and faith. When I grew up I became a man. I learned a man is someone who takes full responsibility for all his actions. I will admit when I’m right and accept when I’m wrong. In 2025, I’ll be free. I accept everyone who turned their back on me cause it’s my fault I got locked up. They didn’t tell me to do what I did. I have number one that cares for me, so I’ll have to move somewhere else because I’m not with the fake love. I have nobody, all I got is myself, and my mom. Being in a cell 24/7 opened up my mind to see everything I never thought about, I just wanna be loved. 

Tiona, 26

Meet Tiona…

Hope is all I have; everything I dream of. Hope gets me out of bed and it makes me excitedly await tomorrow.

Tiona, 26
Incarcerated: 8 years
Housed: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York

If you ask me, hope is envisioning another day where you can capture the image of accomplishing our dreams and goals. Hope is believing that my Lord blesses me with his mercy each day and wants what is best for me. It is the feeling of excitement and longing. The feeling of humbleness in life that eases the negative thoughts. Hope is all the strength I hold onto in each hardship. Hope is waking up and thanking Allah for breathing air into my lungs. Hope is what keeps me striving to win in the end. Hope is mustering up all my courage to face whatever obstacles present themselves. Hope comes from within the heart and soul. Hope is a mindful awareness, hope is me being conscious of the realities of this world and still trying to conquer the world. Hope is seeking knowledge. Hope is all my thoughts of ending all oppression and inequalities.

Hope is overcoming the state of censorship that keeps many of us stuck. Hope is change, hope is love. Hope is realizing things could be worse and appreciating my circumstances. Hope is that feeling that tugs at my heart. Hope is being angry at what’s wrong and trying to make it right. Hope comes from the smile on my son’s face or hearing him tell me, “I love you mommy.” Hope is knowing that this won’t last forever. Hope to me feels like a random breeze on the hottest days of summer, or when I find a place of warmth as I’m tucked under my blankets in the freezing winter. Hope tastes like that first sip of water after fasting, hope is the rush I get in my body that soaks in my bones. Hope sounds like my favorite song on a bad day. Hope is all I have; everything I dream of. Hope gets me out of bed and it makes me excitedly await tomorrow. Hope looks like blissful moments that I am no longer restricted in any way. 

Jose, 50

Jose, 50

Meet Jose…

Doing time for crimes that came with gang life and drug use became a way of life. I did find love, but was never able to be loved or show love, due to the lack of knowing love.

Jose, 50
Incarcerated: 28 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

For most of us normality was not normal as we come from broken homes, drug addicted parents, gang infested and crime ridden neighborhoods. I’m in no way justifying my poor choices but sometimes we roll with the hand that was dealt us. I was all in. Home was just a place, there was no family unit or love. My mother ran from my father who was a very bad man to only end up with another man who wasn’t very nice. She was a drug addict and an alcoholic and my step father was a very hard man to please. I found no purpose for life as I turned to the streets for acceptance and purpose.

I joined a gang at 12 and was awarded to the courts by my mother at 14. Doing time for crimes that came with gang life and drug use became a way of life. I did find love, but was never able to be loved or show love, due to the lack of knowing love. I even had two daughters in hopes of becoming a better person, but I was too broken and by then, a full blown drug addicted gang member and an outlaw. I’ve lost so much to living a lie, and running from reality by doping myself up. I’m 28 years into a life sentence for a crime I’m not guilty of. I’m 50 and just now have been three years sober. I have a new hope in life and it is to give back to those I’ve hurt, including myself. And don’t ever give up on whatever your circumstances, the sun will shine. I’d like to thank you! Not many have empathy for those incarcerated for not abiding by rules of society.

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