Michael, 33

Michael, 33

Meet Michael..

I am forever grateful for finding the strength to shift my perspective by finding opportunities in unfortunate situations and turn that pain into the desire to be successful.”

Michael, 33

Incarcerated: 8 years

Housed: California State Prison – Solano, Vacaville

Being away from family, familiar faces, physical touch, and outside communication have not happened intentionally. Despite growing up behind these electric and barbed wire fences, being in prison has forced me to become a respectable man, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have a ten-year-old son I love beyond his physical appearance. I have enrolled in parenting classes to sharpen the tools I will need for this beautiful creature I created. Throughout these eight years, I have lost ten family members to overdoses, heart conditions, and a suicide. How do I cope with continuous tragedy locked in a concrete box with no visits because my family is too far away? I have had not one visit since my incarceration. When is there time for healing? Shutting down felt like the only logical thing to do, I cut off everyone I knew. The people I grew up with, females included. I felt like everything, and everyone was a distraction to me. I closed that door to companionship while focusing on self-development, proper etiquette, and financial freedom, which is imperative for my future success. I took the initiative of getting forklift certified while incarcerated. I still and currently enjoy the Solano Community College Rush Scholars program, majoring in business and technology, I graduated from Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute and was accepted into a chef program upon release. Being alone has its rewards. I am forever grateful for finding the strength to shift my perspective by finding opportunities in unfortunate situations and turning  pain into the desire to be successful. Now, that door to all beautiful things has opened for me once again, and this time, I am ready to walk through it with grace and confidence.

 

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!

Chris, 53

Meet Chris…

“It was about the six seconds of compassion that my foster sister showed me and the courage to let her compassion flow through me.”

Chris, 53

Incarcerated: 17 years

Housed: San Quentin

I was shocked. My words had betrayed me. Words that rose from a place I didn’t know existed, “I’ll cut your hair,” I offered, and with those words, I violated the hard knocks street rule of minding my own business. Yet, it didn’t feel like I had broken a cardinal rule. It felt, well … right, like I was connected to this man’s suffering in a way that reminded me of my own. He was thin and unimposing. He had an unkempt afro and a long, ragged beard. All he wanted was a haircut so he could appear presentable before a judge the next day. Yet, none of the barbers would touch him. He couldn’t afford to pay for the store items they wanted. That’s when those four fateful words leaped from my mouth and landed in his ear. He turned to look at me and told me that he didn’t have any way to pay me. “That’s okay,” I said. I then spent the next three hours meticulously trimming his hair and beard. I had no experience as a barber, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was to humanize him to the judge, to himself, and to the barbers who had written him off. I know what it’s like to be written off; to be forgotten. My childhood and prison sentence tell me so. He shook my hand and thanked me, expressing gratitude towards a man that not even I had ever met. Something shifted inside of me as a result of that experience. It blessed me with a life-changing glimpse of the man I wanted to become: compassionate, connected, and courageous. Fourteen years have passed since that day and I have been cutting hair for free ever since. Each haircut lures me deeper, more intimately into my humanness and that of others. Every conversation reveals our sameness and stirs within me a deep sense of remorse for the harm I caused to people who were just like me.

Jorge, 34

Jorge, 34

Meet Jorge…

“Whether my mom knew it or not, the seeds she planted long ago started to bloom later in life.”

Jorge, 34

Incarcerated: 15 years

I can clearly remember how proudly my mom’s eyes would glisten when she shouted in praise, while I won trophies in basketball, soccer, and baseball. As well as medals and ribbons in track and field. My mom always supported me and was thrilled with my athletic accomplishments. She would display my prizes on her living room walls and cabinets for guests to view. However, I struggled internally as a youth, with many dysfunctional qualities like being angry, resentful, and extremely insecure due to being abandoned by my father at the age of two. For a long time I viewed myself as an academic failure with learning disabilities. This intimidated me, adding to my uncertainty as a person. I felt like a child unworthy of my moms love and affection for what I did excel in. I lacked any emotional strength to connect with my mom or accept her tenderness and enthusiasm about my accolades. Whenever we had a dispute, I would selfishly try to hurt her by tearing my awards off the walls and breaking my trophies. In my distorted thinking, I lashed out to try to gain control of the influences of her rejections. My unhealthy communication skills made me approach situations aggressively without care of hurting others. No matter what I thought, she always pushed me to be better and find my authenticity. Whether she knew it or not, those seeds she planted long ago started to bloom later in life. Today, I’m in prison and in spite of my self-doubt I decided to go back to school to test myself, since I always cheated off others who I believed were smarter. Surprisingly, I passed when many in the class failed. A small grin came across my face, I found the spark I needed to pursue my education. Most notable, my G.E.D, a Computer Certification, an American Sign Language Certification, and finally two associates in arts degrees. My graduation ceremony will take place in 2024 and I pray my mom can attend, so I can see her beautiful eyes glisten with joy like they used to. I hope she proudly decorates these awards wherever she’d like, because I promise never to disrespect her admiration for my accomplishments again.

Vasil, 43

Vasil, 43

human_vasil_202307_SanQuentinStatePrison_1.jpg

Meet Vasil…

My people are those whom I know, in their heart of hearts, have a place for me.

Vasil, 43
Incarcerated: 16 years
Housed: New Jersey State Penitentiary, Trenton, New Jersey

I am my people because I’ve shed blood, sweat and tears with my people, for my people. I am my people because I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the ugly with my people. I am my people because I’ve experienced strife and struggle with my people. I’ve been in toil, striving for success with my people. People aren’t your people because they simply say so. People aren’t my people when they have failed to show up in my time of need. Time and again the struggle for success is when your people need you the most. Actions make you my people. My people are those whom I know, in their heart of hearts, have a place for me. Talk is cheap, those who do without saying are the people to me; my people you are, I am yours. Together, we are the people!

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