Raymond, 43

Raymond, 43

Meet Raymond…

…Like many, my environment was filled with drugs, gangs, guns, violence and bad decisions. I became a product of all of it. Falling in the trap of a system designed to destroy me.

Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Lawrence Correctional Center, Sumner, Illinois

My upbringing was a little rougher than the average. Don’t get me wrong, I came from a beautiful loving family, it was outside the home that the problems occurred. Like many, my environment was filled with drugs, gangs, guns, violence and bad decisions. I became a product of all of it. Falling in the trap of a system designed to destroy me.

Being locked up has been an unfortunate experience, yet I didn’t let it destroy me. I did the opposite and used this time to build a better me. Just like my mother and grandmother taught me, I chased after more education and knowledge. Watching them also taught me strength. I can actually say I got my strength from a woman.

I understand that I am not in the situation I’m in right now, and God has a wonderful plan for me. Before I got here it wasn’t all bad, I had life lessons and knowledge I gained from my single mother and grandmother. They continually stressed how important an education was and how I could achieve greatness no matter what life threw at me. They saw the potential in me at an early age. I had a fondness for reading and they kept me with a healthy supply of literature. Then, I found out that my real passion was writing.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, probably a few years after I learned to write a fluently constructive sentence. Simple basic poetry turned into playing with words and leaving people in awe, releasing passionate explicit emotion. A hobby that eased my mind and gave me serenity, something therapeutic to me has turned into my profession, my style, my life which I constantly try to perfect. I’ll have five books published this year, three of which are poetry books. I’m humble but overeager and anxious for people to hear my voice. God willing I’ll be home this year, ready for the world to listen to my testimony.

William, 58

William, 58

Meet William…

…They have shown me that I have worth and humanity irrespective of my crimes that I now seek to atone for.

Incarcerated: Life Without Parole
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Illinois

My bond with JoJo began when she was 10. Though she had no reason to, and despite my being Muslim, she sent me Christmas cards with the most heart-warming messages every year. Even as JoJo grew older, played sports, engaged in social and academic pursuits characteristic of most youth, she never stopped sending those beautiful cards. They continued even after she graduated high school and went on to college.

Now, JoJo is a wonderful, full-grown non-binary “Queer” human being! We continue to engage via email, and we recently started a book-club of two, where she and I read books together, discussing them at length, and just enjoy the depth and breadth of each others minds. JoJo says, they/them learn so much from our exchanges, but truth be told, I learn far more from them about unconditional love and acceptance of those deemed beyond redemption and value in our society. They have shown me that I have worth and humanity irrespective of my crimes that I now seek to atone for.

JoJo has never asked me if I was guilty or innocent. They just opened their heart and welcomed me as family. Today, just before I began writing this, JoJo sent me an email wherein she called me “Sweet”. Throughout my life I’ve been called many things, names that hurt, and diminished my humanity. The really funny part, I was raised in a very hyper-masculine and misogynistic environment where being called “Sweet” would’ve angered me.

Today, as I read JoJo’s message I smile, and my heart swells with joy, humility, and gratitude for my priceless friendship with this incredible human being! I have spent more of my life in captivity than I have in the “free world.” In 1994, while awaiting my death in Pontiac Prison in Pontiac Illinois, I met a white man who would become a life-long friend; and who would afford me a gift beyond measure, the friendship of his wonderful granddaughter, JoJo.

Abdul ‘Malik,’ 41

Abdul ‘Malik,’ 41

Meet Malik…

…I entered prison without knowing how to read and write, so I taught myself. I never understood the importance of education until I got locked up.

Incarcerated: 22 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Facility, Illinois

I have watched my relatives grow old – through pictures, then I had to watch those same pictures turn into obituaries. I no longer have a place to call home, I do not have a home to go home to. I have been incarcerated longer than I have been free. I have spent 22 years in prison for a crime I did not commit. I entered prison without knowing how to read and write, so I taught myself.

I never understood the importance of education until I got locked up. Recently I received an 8-0 a favorable decision from the Illinois torture inquiry relief commission. I was tortured and framed by a former sergeant. A person that the Federal courts have recognized as not having credibility. My court date is February 14, 2022, and I hope to prove my innocence. Judge Flood is presiding, here in Chicago, Illinois.

I am asking the global community to pray and come out to the courthouse and stand with me because I am afraid. Like so many others who have died in prison recently, I may never get the chance because of my pre-existing conditions – tuberculosis, hypertension and obesity, which places me in grave danger if I were to contract Covid-19. I am petrified! The outbreak here represents an unprecedented threat to men and women who are currently incarcerated. It is rapidly spreading among the prisoners and staff. 📸 Malik’s



Todd, 33

Todd, 33

Meet Todd…

…Isolated. Anxiety ridden. Helpless. Inhumane. All of these sum up how I’ve been forced to feel about myself over the past two years.


Incarcerated: 10 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center

Cry For Help

Deaths due to drug overdose have reached an all time high in America and there doesn’t seem to be any brakes on the runaway train. This is the reality we face in 2022, but the lost and forgotten in prisons across America deal with the same struggle. The difference? We’re property of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The cells we live in should be condemned! Cockroaches nest in the walls. The water we are forced to drink causes illnesses. IDOC says, “Nothing is wrong with the drinking water,” however staff and outside visitors are told NOT TO DRINK THE WATER. We need water to survive, but the commissary has not sold bottled water in 4 months. Dayrooms and yard times are denied due to short staffing. Just stay in your cells and dwell on Covid-19. Do not ask for help or complain. Stateville doesn’t care.

Christmas 2020 we weren’t allowed in person visits – the vaccines had not yet been distributed. Christmas 2021, Stateville goes on a “Medical Lockdown,” due to officers testing positive. No visits from my 73 year old parents. December 24th, I’m watching the Wizarding and escaping into childhood memories of Harry Potter. Stateville, supposedly “Short Staffed” due to another covid outbreak, somehow has the officers to do cell shakedowns on Christmas Eve. I do my best to go along, not make waves, but I COULD NOT COMPREHEND why I was being pulled out of my cell at this time.

As a man of faith I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, but what happens when you run out of cheeks? Taking “medicine” along with blood pressure pills was my remedy that night. Under the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve tattooed myself from head to toe, been to segregation twice, and had debilitating depression and anxiety. Prison itself brings about isolation. COVID cut off all in person contact with the outside world. The lack of humanity and personal connection has been crippling for me.

Will you help me keep my sanity in an institution that views me as nothing more than a product on a shelf that will expire and simply be thrown out? Will you step into my pain? Acknowledge my humanity and tell me that it’ll be ok?



Michael, 39

Michael, 39

Meet Michael…

I need someone I know to go with me, so I don’t feel all alone again. Someone I can hang out with and stay out of trouble with. 

Incarcerated: 14 years
Housed: Illinois Department of Corrections, Juliet

I was moved into a cell with Joshua. First thing he says, “If you’re going to be in my cell, then you’re going to be on probation.” He then asked me to shop for him because there is a $100.00 limit at the commissary. He would give me $20.00 if I did. I shopped for him and he told me that I owed him. I asked him what I owed him and he said he’d let me know. Out of the blue, he started asking me personal & sexual questions. I immediately asked the correctional officer on shift if I could get a cell change because my celly was asking me sexual & personal questions. When I got back to my cell, and our door was locked, he said I was not going anywhere and started beating the shit out of me. When the officer passed, I gave him a note, asking for a cell change. Nothing happened. I got my ass beat that night, my celly raped me, again and again and again. I wrote to the warden,  letting her know that my celly had forced me to have sex with him. It took them two days to remove me. I was taken to the health care unit, questioned and took a rape kit. The following day I was taken to a one man cell and was finally able to use the phone. I called my mom and told her what happened. I filed a grievance. I was interviewed again, but this time I was shown a letter from my ex-celly saying it was consensual. They believed him and covered it up. I ended up with six months in solitary confinement and transferred to where I am now. My new celly and I get along great. He is helping me fight my lawsuit and I am waiting for the judge to make his final ruling on my case! Since being here, I’ve gone to school and played lots of handball, I have a mean serve. I’ve met a lot of good players and made friends with all of them. Then I met Todd, who also plays handball, we talk & walk the yard together. Todd introduced me to “Humans of San Quentin.” I consider Todd to be more than just a good friend, he’s my brother from another mother. Someone I can talk to about anything! Recently, I went from a blue ID to a white ID which means I can go from a maximum security prison to a medium. For 14 years I’ve been in a maximum security prison. I put in for a transfer to be closer to my family, so I can get more visits. I’m also helping my brother, Todd to get moved to the same prison since he’s now eligible. I need someone I know to go with me, so I don’t feel all alone again. Someone I can hang out with and stay out of trouble with.