David, 33

Meet David…

“There is no means for me to get an education or make money to send to my kids. People here are either innocent or guilty and have made honest efforts to change, but it’s never enough. Once you are seen a certain way, it’s forever.”

David, 33

Incarcerated: 3 years

Housed: Grimes Unit, Arkansas

I had a loving mother; my biological dad was never there. I never even met him. My half siblings’ father was an alcoholic and abused all of us, but somewhere inside, you would every now and then catch a glimpse of tenderness and love. His demons were too much for him and traumatized me and my Mom mostly. I was a mistake. A burden. A financial strain with cancer. I was victimized by people close to me a lot growing up. At 9, I lost the closest friend I had and my Mom got a divorce. We moved from San Antonio, Texas to Russellville, Arkansas to live with and help my grandparents. Mom met my new adopted dad, he was in the military but loving.

I hide my trauma with addictions. I started using pills at 15, then graduated to alcohol at 16, weed at 17. Realistically, you could recognize the change. My Mom couldn’t or didn’t have time. My adopted Dad deployed, my sister would run away for days, and my Mom dealt with a lot. Though I hurt and suffered and was drowning, I still managed to love and watch out for my Mom as best as possible. I didn’t ask for help. I felt I couldn’t; it’d be selfish. It would send her overboard. I would not function correctly without some substance. My dad made it home, little siblings came into the picture and I got my first vehicle. At 19, two months after graduating, I got someone pregnant. Her family pressured her into abortion and she did it without me knowing. I found out and disappeared for days, graduated to Cocaine, got blacked out, and never once talked about it to anyone. To me, it was mine to carry. I didn’t want to be a burden. I don’t want sympathy or worry. I don’t want my folks to know that I am not ok. Who wants their parents to know that? All that I grew up with and dealing with, was screwed up. How others screwed me is how I screwed me. I stayed strong for those around me. Don’t be a burden. I suffered under the hands, morals, and views of others. Of the bad. I was my worst enemy. I didn’t want this, and I didn’t want it for those around me. I secluded myself. Away from all I loved, I worked hard at jobs that I knew I could be under the influence because I couldn’t be sober. I learned to work hard. I learned to love those around me. I had good feelings in life, and they showed when I was around others. I put others before myself. Suffering between two lives. I knew God, but I didn’t deserve him in my life. That was my mind. 

At 21, I impregnated a one-night stand. I grew to love her compassion and personality, but I didn’t see a future with the birth of my daughter, the only light in my life at the time. My inability to seek help caused me to push them away. I didn’t want pain for her or anything negative. I was doing what I thought was right. She was safe. I paid support. I kept drowning. Kept pushing myself harder, using more. I was trying not to think but to be numb mentally and emotionally. But choosing this and the company I kept, I committed my first felony at a party. I was given five years probation; I dealt with threats, relapse, and the loss of the chance to be in my daughter’s life again. I was coping how I knew best, with sex and drugs. I even started having life-threatening thoughts and dating someone as unstable as me. I couldn’t find a place to stay and couldn’t maintain one job for long. I did a lot of bouncing around, so much so, that I forgot to report to my probation officer just one day late. I tried to play it off but it didn’t work. My probation officer, fed up with me, revoked my probation, and the girl I was with was pregnant. I got an FTR and probation revocation with three years in prison. I was told I would only do six months. A year and a half, I pursued change – real change. Prison saved me from myself, my addiction, and my life-threatening thoughts but it also changed me. I saw things. Prison takes from you what you struggled with, you can even grow in faith but it takes so much mentally away from you.

I got out in 2019 with a chance to acclimate back into society. I didn’t feel safe in crowds or outside or comfortable in the shower. A real shower. I felt judged and misunderstood everywhere I went. My Mom had even moved back to Arkansas to be there. That was one reason she noticed I wasn’t the same. Like most people who get out, they want their past in the rearview. I lived with that belief. I wanted to live not defined by my past. I got a job and a second one not too long after. Managing more responsibly. I was with someone I loved dearly; I had that glimpse of happiness. Then, after a restraining order by her baby daddy, we were forced apart. I loved her and her kids like my own. They brought brightness into my life I hadn’t had in a long while. When they were taken, that is when I thought of relapse. But, I kept it together. I got a place with a friend (Good friend). He helped me stay responsible, and made sure I didn’t spiral. Two jobs, paying child support on one kid and medical on another (willingly), and connecting with family. A month or so later, just helping support my ex, her kids, her sisters, and their friends, her dad had me holding onto false hope. I knew it was false hope but, I don’t know… He encouraged her sisters and friends to visit and make sure I was ok. I mean, they were like family. It didn’t bother me. One night, I was invited to the mothers house of one of their friends. She got to know me and my past, no problem. I got concerned because she was a user, the people she was staying with were dangerous and just put those kids and her through hell. They found out about my prior and threatened my life and theirs. They denied knowing the mother and kids even though they did. I took off that night. I didn’t know why, but it was too much. I relapsed hard. I had to call a woman I worked with to pick me up. I was that off and scared of myself and my state of mind. She got a hotel for us. It took care of me for a couple of days, she even followed up every day. I began building a relationship with her (healthy and strong), and the only thing keeping it from being official was that I was ready to go home. I had gone to such a depressed state I was ok with death. She and one other person were the only ones who knew. I prayed for it. I used it excessively as I used to and hid it well. I worked my body into the ground and gave my all to care for everyone else. But not myself. My ex, her sisters and friends, their Mom. My ex’s kids started coming around more, so you can imagine; now back into old habits, giving money, buying things for people, and being around kids. To me, I was helping, looking out. Living selflessly towards others. But in others’ eyes, I was a creep and still defined by my felony. I wasn’t dangerous, but to them, I was. Things were unreviewed; taken the wrong way. 

On March 12,2021, I was being accused of rape. Mind you, all I’d ever done was look out, but because of my prior charge, I was what they called me. I spiraled. No one believed I did anything, including my ex, my parents, and me. I got a call from my ex’s sister’s friend, crying and saying that her dad was making her and that she was sorry. I didn’t know what to say. I hung up. That was at 4:30 pm. At 7:00 pm, I O.D.’d, got a hotel room and called my Mom, informing her I had been accused and she didn’t even let me say anything, she didn’t want to hear anything. Pain and anger took over. I hung up. I had voicemail texts and phone calls, all threatening my life and my family’s. I called the officer who called me and I didn’t want to hear anything. His exact words were, “If I didn’t own up to it, he wasn’t responsible for what happened to me or my family.” I did what I had to to save my family. When I found out days later they had moved back to Pennsylvania, I knew they were safe. I talked to a lawyer and explained all of it. And he tried, but they would not negotiate. He said if I took it to trial, it’s her word against mine and they would already have their mind made up. I made the hard choice, given no other choice. I was given 25 years. I don’t hear from anyone in my family. No friends. I have a religious figure that checks in frequently from time to time.

I’m three years into a crime I didn’t commit because of hearsay. I’m deeply committed to faith and physical growth. I’m on psych meds and my son is currently in foster care because his mother can’t kick her addiction. I hurt cause I should be out there for him. People out there have their obstacles, as do those in here. The justice system isn’t just. There is no means for me to get an education or make money to send to my kids. People here are either innocent or guilty and have made honest efforts to change, but it’s never enough. Once you are seen a certain way, it’s forever. We want to show we’ve changed but won’t be able to because of excessive sentencing. Families are stressed, children are without parents. Hearts are broken. Minds cracked, changed or warped because vengeance is the basis of justice. The guilty will do time even when released. I know, in my initial crime, I was guilty. I regret it every day and it eats at me. Even having been forgiven by the one I harmed. Forgiveness. Real justice.

Giving people an honest chance to show they have changed, putting families back together, reuniting parents with their children, lower sentences and percentages, open doors for educational opportunities and income opportunities. This should be what people out there seek, not to make things worse. When the shoe is on the other food, they are seen, but why wait until it gets there? Why not strive to make an honest change for the better now? See with pure hearts. We are not what you think. To desire more extremes or desire politicians in office that will promote crooked justice; to support wickedness only makes these people promote this very nightmare they see us as. The nightmare they fear. Seek change for the better.

There are genuinely great people in here, myself included. At least the three years I’ve done so far and I’ve made drastic changes. You want awareness, and there isn’t enough; the sick are dying. We get bread crumbs worth of food and we believe in people out there to enjoy better in all areas, even the prisons. Imagine prisons empty. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wicked people, but 95% give or take, of those in prison aren’t. We’ve all made mistakes. I don’t even know you and can say you are forgiven in my eyes, and I believe in you, please believe in us. Prison is like a starving country. Lost; and survive as best you can. 

Anyways, to David: Despite the hell you put me through as a kid, I forgive and love you. 

Kim: Thank you. 

My family and kids: I love you always, no matter what. 

Angel, Ashlie and Nathaniel: Thanks for your friendship when I had it. I wish you all the best. 

Realvida: Thank you. 

And, of course, Humans of San Quentin – thank you for listening to me.

Michael, 43

Michael, 43

Meet Michael…

After turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out.

Michael, 43
Incarcerated: 14 yrs
Housed: Alfred D. Hughes Unit, Gatesville, Texas

Months after turning 19 in prison, I was sick of trying to understand the wrongs I was witnessing. So I cut my throat on both sides so deep that I blacked out. By some miracle, I was barely breathing when they found me. After getting 16 stitches on both sides of my neck, I was sent for a mental evaluation. Back at my unit, I wanted to cry. I’ve never been suicidal! Looking at myself in a mirror, I realized I needed help. I’ve been raised up in the church, and that never got my attention. I’ve had homeboys and money, but still got into trouble. There were girlfriends in my life, but still something wasn’t right. I’ve gangbanged, been to parties and clubs, yet still I’ve had no peace. I’ve talked to doctors and counselors, still nothing good connected. Coming to prison, I’ve tried Islam, and my heart still felt troubled. It’s like I’ve done it all, and yet, nothing helps. In my desperate time of need, I felt hopeless.

Suddenly I felt an urge to pray. I didn’t know why, praying never done anything for me before. However, this urge seemed different. I fell to my knees in the middle of that cell and said, “If there’s really a God of all things, then I ask you Almighty God to help me understand the good and evil I’m going through, and I will give my life to you.” After saying amen, I got up not expecting anything to happen. Looking around my cell for some entertainment, my eyes landed on the Holy Bible and something led me to pick it up. I don’t know why, because I could barely read it. I’ve never understood it before. After picking it up, it fell open and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – there was a small image of a lightning display. It was just hovering between the pages. I assumed I was just hallucinating. So I closed my eyes and reopened them, and sure enough, it was still there. That’s when a notion came over me to attempt to touch it. So I led my left finger towards it in the hopes of feeling it, but to my surprise, it began to fade away. The urge came over me to go to the beginning of the Bible where I was led to read Genesis chapter one, two, and stopped at three. I hadn’t noticed how easy it was for me to read it as I’ve never done before until that moment. It truly scared me wondrously. My body didn’t feel the same. Something was happening.

I began to pray a new prayer. I said, “In Jesus’ name I pray, if you are real, then I’m asking you to help me beat my charges I’m indicted with. If you let me go home, I ask that you give me a son whom I will give to you. If you allow me to have a wife, please allow her to be someone you would come for, don’t let her be someone to impress the world with, and please let her believe in you. Then, give me a sign to know it’s her because I don’t want to be confused! Let our love join us together and take her away from the undeserving pain she’s receiving from perhaps her family, friends, or loved ones. In your mighty name I pray, Amen. I made it home. My brother Eric hooked me up with this Black girl days later. She became pregnant with my child, and we set a day to get married. But she went against the agreement once that day arrived, so I broke off from her, and told her I’d be there for my son when he arrived, but I couldn’t stand her lies. Days later, I met this Mexican chick who just out of nowhere came up to me and said, “I think you’d like my homegirl Scooter.” But she didn’t tell me what she looked like, or give me her number. Then she walked away. I didn’t dwell too much on it at the time. But three days later, I met a girl at my aunt’s place, and that whisper said, “She’s the one.” Me and the girl fell in love, then later I realized her a.k.a. was Scooter. The name was God’s sign to me. Then I found out that she’s not being loved by her family on her mom’s side, because her mom was full Mexican and her dad was a White guy. Scooter was only five years old when somebody in her family pushed her mom in front of a car and killed her because they were mad at her being with a White guy. It was hard for me to believe this at first until I met her family. Before, Scooter had told me how her Mexican grandmother had taken her into custody along with her two sisters and brother. She was not completely loved due to her being mixed. She said her grandmother allowed her mom’s brother to molest her. Then she told me that we had to elope if we wanted to get married. So we did! After getting married and God showed me he was behind our union, and finding out that she believed in Christ, I told her I was gonna take care of her problems, but she didn’t want me to go back to prison.

Now I’m doing 60 years. Sadly, Scooter is no longer with me, she has passed away due to being brokenhearted. My family thinks someone killed her, or perhaps she killed herself. And I’m wondering if I’ll ever know the truth.

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