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.

Troy, 57

Troy, 57

Meet Troy..

I have been clean and sober since October 26, 1999, and serving others is a massive part of my recovery.”

Troy, 57

Incarcerated: 26 years

Housed:Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

My favorite memories here are of the young men I have mentored and tutored and helped them earn their G.E.D. Many have been released and are out of gangs. They have landed their first real jobs, most enrolled in community colleges, and some have earned university scholarships. They proudly sent me copies of their first paychecks, library cards, college enrollment papers, and parole early parole discharge papers. Several parents have tearfully thanked me over the telephone. As rewarding as it is to help young men in prison, transform their lives, and break the cycle, I would much rather go into schools, juvenile detention facilities, etc., to prevent as many men as possible from ever coming to prison. I have learned that the young men I have helped are good people who wanted to do better; they just needed someone to show them how that looked or make them aware of their worth and potential. My life has been filled with many blessings and miracles, and I must pay them forward. As an addict, I committed lots of property crimes, which harmed so many people, left communities in fear, funded neighborhood terrorists, and took so much from cities, counties, the state of California, and the taxpayers. I now give back and make amends in every way I can. I have been clean and sober since October 26, 1999, and serving others is a massive part of my recovery. I will never harm another person. And to everyone I have harmed in any way, I am so genuinely sorry and remorseful!

 

Michelle, 41

Meet Michelle..

“Just because I am wearing green and hidden from society, inside this cell, does not make me a monster or a bad lady.”

Michelle, 41

Incarcerated: 2 ½ years

Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York

As I sat in this eight by ten-foot cell, locked in for daily count, I began to ask myself, “Where did I go wrong?” I’m aware of my crime and who I’ve hurt, and I take full responsibility for being incarcerated. Yet the same question blows around in my mind like a storm. Was it when I was born on drugs, taken from my biological mother, and placed into the foster care system only just a first few breaths in this world? Was it when my mother’s boyfriend was molesting me during unsupervised visits at the age of eleven? I was afraid to tell because I would never see my mother again, so I endured his abuse for years. Was it when I and all my belongings were in another CPS worker’s trunk, and I was off to another foster home family? As I looked out the window each time, I’d ask myself, “Will this family care? Will I be able to trust anyone?” Was it when I lost my brother in the system that separated us? He was adopted, and his name was changed, never to see him again?! Was it when my biological mom pushed on the plunger of a syringe and released drugs into my system at 13 years old, and all I wanted was her love? Was it when I felt so alone in this big world and had no one I thought I could trust? Was it when my biological mother passed from liver failure, and I could never tell her, “I forgive you, Mom, and I love you?” Was it when the one man I believed loved me broke my ribs? Was it maybe when I stood outside my home of ten years and watched everything  I worked so hard to burn to ashes? Or perhaps it was when I walked into my daughter’s room to see the man I laid next to for 13 years molesting my firstborn daughter? He was immediately put into jail, where he is today! Sometimes I ask, “God, why am I here?” Why was I put through so much pain, hurt, and disloyalty? Since I was in prison, I have found God, and he is my higher power. He helps me get up and put my feet on the floor each day, the strength to embrace whatever or whoever may cross my path each day, whether in prison or the world. I can’t quite pinpoint when or where it began to go wrong for Michelle, but what I can do is move forward. I want to be a good mother, a trustworthy friend, a loyal wife, a patient listener, an on-time employee, and an average citizen. I want to be someone I’ve never tried to be, and that’s a WHOLE NEW ME! Sitting in this cell, my own little hell can be turned around into a place of growth, my own little sanctuary, a place and a time to be a better woman today than I was yesterday. Just because I am wearing green and hidden from society inside this cell does not make me a monster or a bad lady. It’s giving me time to heal and be a new, more beautiful woman every day moving forward. I am not what I’ve been through. Thank you for listening to my story.

 

Eric, 30

Eric, 30

Meet Eric..

She was unique and beautiful on a celestial level, and I was privileged to have been humbled and tamed by such an amazing woman.”

Eric, 30

Incarcerated: 12 years

Housed: San Quentin, California

At times in our relationship, I felt all kinds of emotions about her, but I didn’t know how to tell her in person. She treated me kindly and loved me in ways I had never seen or felt before. This beautiful poem was inspired by my amazing fiance, Ana. I want the world to know how much she means to me through my words, plus I want her to know I truly love her. 

That Special Beauty

My temperament made some people uncomfortable, but it inspired confidence and trust. The geometry of domestic simple life is what I crave. So much of the time, we all live out our existence, each at the center of our own stories. They say good music evokes an emotional response that triggers a memory—excited by her eroticism. I owned up to the attraction of her beauty and intensity. The vision, the brilliance of mind, the compassion, there was something extraordinary about this woman. Great minds are rare; great hearts are even rarer. Knowing her is a blessing. I spoke her name like a whispered supplication. She was magical, a free spirit, my opposite in every way. I never knew someone could kiss in a different language, but she could. She is soft with concern and full of understanding. Beautiful in her delivery, warm, wet, and necessary as water. She frightens me on more levels than I knew I had, feeling resonated through her as if she’d spoken. I had trouble getting enough oxygen in her presence. She was unique and beautiful on a celestial level, and I was privileged to have been humbled and tamed by such an amazing woman.

Happy Valentines Day, Ana.

Eric

 

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