Shea, 36

Meet Shea..

“I don’t know if there is any direction or positive behaviour going forward that could help to atone for my actions that day, but I think it would be foolish to not explore anything that might rebalance the scales towards righteousness.”

Shea, 36

Incarcerated: 4 years

Housed: St. Albans, Victoria, Australia

I am currently four and a half years into a 22 year sentence for murder. Sadly, this lone fact has come to represent my identity to society at large and a stigma I shall likely wear until my own demise. As much as I would like to avoid that being my legacy, it is a reality. I took an innocent life and severely ruined the lives of those intertwined with them. The guilt will forever haunt my soul, and a portion of my heart is now irrevocably broken.

My story is not unique; it is possibly even a standard tale of loss, in all the forms it can manifest as within these walls. Loss of freedom, loss of comfort, loss of luxury, loss of love. At times it feels like all I have left to live is the final few chapters of a book that no one has bothered to continue reading. Ironically, as you feature in each and every national newspaper, and your name and face are plastered over each TV news bulletin, your personality and any opportunity for public expression are being stripped from you. Strangers begin writing the only real remaining narrative of your existence. The only word I ever uttered in court has come to define me. “Guilty.” In a world of black and white, wrong and right, I have become tarnished. A bad egg. I don’t know if there is any direction or positive behaviour going forward that could help to atone for my actions that day, but I think it would be foolish to not explore anything that might rebalance the scales towards righteousness. The anonymity of incarceration feels at times like a cloak of invisibility has been thrown over you. I am thankful for the efforts of those like yourselves and the newsletter, Paper Chained, who seek to give us a voice that can escape through the cracks in the walls and past the razor wire. Without the possibility of redemption; with no capacity for change, comes the allure of nihilism and defeatism. If our flaws and mistakes forever define our role in society, how are we to even consider reintegration? We are human, as capable of error as any other given the circumstances. As with anyone, we have needs and desires; though we are now often denied both. Should I ever walk free, the level of appreciation I have for the basics of life itself will surely be immeasurable. “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” All I hope for in the future is relative stability and a personal support network of friends in place of a defined biological family. There is still love and care in my heart for others, and I hope that I can find some in kind. Thanks for reading, and giving other prisoners an outlet.

Niiko, 34

Niiko, 34

Meet Niiko..

“God may not be there when you want him to be, but he’s always on time.”

Niiko, 34

Incarcerated: 17 years

Housed: Corcoran state prison, California

I’ve woken up for 17 years with the same hope and thoughts because my faith is the one thing that gives me hope. She always says, God is never there when you want him to be, but he’s always on time. I always told her if God cared about me, I would never have been sent to hell. We fought about this a lot, and then one day, her words rang true. She said, God let me stay here in hell because there was someone I needed to reach, that he would use me as his tool to give them his message. I thought it was BS. Then a friend of mine lost his family and mother within two days. He had been down for 10 years and the loss was so great he wanted out of this life. I had started to feel the same way but because of my mom’s faith, I knew it was wrong to end your life. I was too weak to do it myself. I started wondering how else to get this loneliness and pain to stop, so when I saw him giving things away and not getting high anymore, I just had a feeling. He sat down at the table I was sitting at, we didn’t talk at all. Then he said I could have his radio and seeing how this came from left field, I told him I wasn’t right in the head. How I had just lost my big brother and cousin and I felt like it was my fault because I wasn’t there to protect them. Then he opened up about his family and his mom and how he was planning to be with them again soon. I don’t know why seeing him so crushed made me change my mind. I grabbed his hand and we prayed for both of our losses and loneliness. I’ve since seen my mom’s words and faith play out. God may not be there when you want him to be, but he’s always on time.

Alexander, 26

Alexander, 26

humans_alexander_202308_valleystateprison_2
humans_alexander_202308_valleystateprison_1

Meet Alexander…

A friend is someone you can count on. Someone you share your thoughts with.

Alexander, 26
Incarcerated: 4 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

What is friendship and love?
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
A friend is someone you can count on.
Someone you share your thoughts with.
Having a caring and loving relationship can last a lifetime.
Time is something you can never get back.
It’s priceless.
What is love?
Love is unconditional.
Love allows you to be vulnerable with another human being.
Love is being comfortable and safe.
Some people spend their lifetime
trying to find it in materialistic things,
but the thing is
it comes from within.
It comes from the soul.
Being in prison makes me feel alone.
At the same time
I stay motivated knowing one day
I’ll be free.

Derrick, 46

Derrick, 46

Meet Derrick…

It took 15 years of incarceration and the death of my daughter for me to come to the reality that I was heading down the wrong path.

Derrick, 46
Incarcerated: 31 years
Housed: Hughes Unit, Gatesville, Texas

It took 15 years of incarceration and the death of my daughter for me to come to the reality that I was heading down the wrong path. I was raised by a single mother in a drug-gang infested environment. At 12 I joined a gang, started running the streets and becoming rebellious and selfish. I spent time in and out of juvenile detentions centers, reform schools and finally in prison. Entering prison at 18, all I wanted to do was fight and prove that I could hold my own without the homies. 15 years in- I started to be productive and wrote a book, which I’m trying to get published.

In the midst of me doing 28 years, I’ve lost various family members. It has left me extremely lonely and depressed which drove me to try to commit suicide. Society does not understand prison is a place of loneliness, broken promises and shattered dreams. It’s very depressing when you never receive mail during mail-call. We now have tablets with access to e-messages and a phone, yet what good is that when you have no one to communicate with? Today, I’m praying to the lord that he will provide me with someone. One of the things I regret the most, besides committing murder and breaking my family’s heart, is getting my whole body tatted up. I’m talking Travis Barker and Kevin Gates tatted up. I wish I could get them removed, they attract too much unwanted attention.

Thanks for reading my testimony, but most of all- a special thanks to Humans of San Quentin’s for giving those incarcerated the opportunity to share their stories and perspective. Thanks!

Morgan, 33

Morgan, 33

humans_morgan_202308_wyomingwomenscenter_1
humans_morgan_202308_wyomingwomenscenter_3

Meet Morgan…

Prison has been a roller coaster of self exploration and a chance to see the world around me with a clear mind.

Morgan, 33
Incarcerated: 2.5 years
Housed: Wyoming Women’s Center, Lusk, WY

I never felt good enough for a good guy because of my abusive past relationships. I had little to no self-worth. I’m trying to break the patterns now and it’s deeper than my relationships with others, it’s finding out who I am and what good I can put back into the world. It seems like my first experience with loss and heartache threw me into a dangerous self-destructive whirlwind and I’ve never quite been able to reel myself back in. It was like only other broken people magnetized to me and I guess that’s part of the law of attraction. Love has changed so much over the years.

When I was young it was new, bright, and airy. Love now feels like an achy, empty dark hole in my heart. I am a broken person, but I’m not going to waste the time I am here, leaving the pieces on the ground. I am doing my best to piece it back together into a beautiful mosaic of different chapters of my life. I’ve been through some crazy stuff since being incarcerated… Finding out I was pregnant, realizing my family and I could not raise her, choosing an adopted family, going through the heartache of not keeping my child after birth, being handed down a life altering sentence, and finding myself again. It has been a roller coaster of self exploration and a chance to see the world around me with a clear mind. I’ve realized most of my so-called friends were not going to be by my side, and I’ve learned to be okay alone. I’m in a different state where I don’t have one familiar face, but I’m alive and I know I will come out better on the other side. Thank you for letting me share. And to you, our Humans of SQ audience – thank you for being here.

Receive more inspiring stories and news from incarcerated people around the world.