Anthony, 58

Anthony, 58

Meet Anthony…

 “Warriors ethos

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.”

Anthony, 58

Incarcerated: 15 years

Housed: California Medical Facility, Vacaville

Anthony wishes to dedicate his work to the loving memory of his beloved wife, Mrs. Leticia Xochi Topete.

The Army lists its values as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I enlisted in 1986 during the Cold War and was deployed for a tour to Korea. Today, I’m serving a life term and am part of the Veterans Helping Veterans, an inmate group focused on building a brotherhood amongst us veterans to foster behaviors consistent with the values we learned while on active duty. During COVID I was elected to serve in the capacity of secretary as part of the executive body and I continue to serve with the Color Guard detail during institutional graduations and special events. The education department here under the direction of Ms. Bowman and the rest of the staff have been very supportive. I work as the principal’s clerk recognizing that while we may have made poor choices resulting in legal issues that have led to serious sanctions including incarceration. We are veterans who served our country and received an honorable discharge, seeking to use our skills to help others. Helping others makes a difference in our community. At our meetings we engage in indepth conversations shared with fellow veterans about both military as well as post-military experiences; these experiences are further illuminated by supporting each other with everything from applying for benefits to having your military training converted into college credit through the efforts of Ms. Vito, Ms. Clemens, and Ms. Bowman through the Joint Services Transcript program and we do this on a daily basis within these walls. These are opportunities for a process of healing, character building, and developing new attitudes and behaviors consistent with the values that we learned while on active duty. We find that service is an opportunity to learn how to forgive and be forgiven. When we start making restitution to people whom we have harmed, and we start giving back to other people, we improve our own spiritual life. I have come to realize through groups that spirituality is not mysterious. Rather, an opportunity to grow spirituality by practicing certain behaviors, such as helping others, especially helping fellow veterans, hence our name VETERANS HELPING VETERANS.

While continuing to serve our community of incarcerated veterans, as part of our mission, exploring connections between ourselves and the rest of the inmate population, in an effort to be of service as veterans and recover from post-traumatic distress many military veterans are seeking ways beyond conventional treatments to manage their stress injuries. An increasing number are turning to the VHV and building relationships with fellow incarcerated veterans. Many continue to benefit from medication and therapy but find that nothing can replace the sense of brotherhood we have found here which provides an additional measure of support, relief, and healing in our lives. Our group examines reciprocal interactions between veterans of all branches and service times as well as during post-conflict recovery with a focus on the experiences of our veterans who regard their personal recovery from stressful and traumatic military experiences as intimately tied to our carceral exposures.

By exploring the bonds of brotherhood experienced within the VHV, with safety, sense of purpose, and renewed relationships, this opportunity gives space to former soldiers’ stories and their individual realizations that their interconnections with other veterans provide alternative examples to their military training and combat exposure. The Veterans’ experiences within the group point towards an avenue of recovery that is little acknowledged in the mainstream, and as incarcerated veterans, we have shared life experiences that only we can relate to each other which are deserving of each other’s attention and respect. The overall commonality amongst our members and our varied branches and years of service has helped show many of us the way forward-the ways that life can continue beyond military experiences and incarceration. The veterans narratives in this space allows the former soldiers’ personal experiences to their embodied interconnections between those with alternative or similar military training and combat exposures. The rhythms of the outside world leave traces on each person’s story. Our brotherhood speaks through the veterans, and through our stories of experience we come to the realization that they not unique or few in number, as we enter into a relationship with one another and with the world around us and continue to program in order to promote a successful community reintegration of our veterans, upon release from prison. Let us never forget our; Warriors ethos.

 

 

Scott, 43

Meet Scott…

“I am a soldier in God’s Army and a strong prayer warrior.” 

Scott, 43

Incarcerated: 7 years

Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

My family are very strong supporters of St. Jude Research. I lost three family members to cancer and believe that no one should lose anybody to cancer. I am a soldier in God’s Army and a strong prayer warrior. My family has a strong history of serving in the military and one of my favorite memories is when my dad shared our family’s story with St. Jude Radio. This is what he shared, “On May 17, 1974 my son was born and I left for my tour to West Pac in July. When we reached Pearl Harbor I received a message that my son had cancer. He lived to be nine months and 18 days old. The day of his death he looked up at me, then his grandma, then his mom, then up to the ceiling, then back at his mom, waved bye-bye, then back up to the ceiling to say- I’m ready to die. In October of 1989, my wife was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and in June of 1992 she died. At her service I sang the song, “Remind Me Dear Lord.”

My mom was a loving, caring woman and she spent the last six months of her life helping my elementary school with anything they needed.  

Michael, 44

Michael, 44

Michael

Meet Michael…

I was a troubled kid and had experienced too much hurt and seen too many disappointments to give or receive love properly. Once I really found love, it would eventually lead to my incarceration.”

Michael, 44

Incarcerated: 23 years

Housed: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York

I ended up meeting a woman who was willing to let me live with her, under one condition; that I break up with Rose. Looking back now, I know the smartest thing to have done, would’ve been to tell Rose the truth of my plan rather than have her really believe I was breaking up with her. Especially when I had already proposed to her. Thinking back now, I’m really seeing how stupid and idiotic my plan was. Especially with someone like Rose. I was far from being a man back then, so I ended up going with my foolish plan and all hell broke loose. Events led to me being jumped by Rose, her mom and Rose’s step-sister; and even then I did not hit anyone. Rose was now 4 months pregnant at the time. When I tried to leave the scene, Rose grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, nor would anyone help me get her off me. Everyone just watched, friends, neighbors, everybody. I just wanted to leave, because I knew the cops were already out looking for me because of the fight Rose and I had earlier at her mom’s house. Rose had destroyed the woman’s car that I had driven over there, and I threw a car-jack through her house window in return. It was pure chaos earlier that day, but now all I wanted to do was get Rose to let me go without hurting her or the baby. I thought if I pointed my gun at her it would scare her into letting me go. That didn’t work. It just made her madder, and she started pushing and pulling on me. All I heard was the gun go off. I couldn’t believe it as I watched her body collapse in front of me. It was only when I got away from the crowd that I cried like I did the night I nipped her on the chin. I call this story “Unspoken Love”, because I never told Rose I loved her. This is a pain I have carried for a long time. If I had just been honest with her about my reason for needing to pretend that I broke up with her, if only I had told her how much I loved her. If only I could go back in time. If’s- have become the eternal burden I carry. Three lives were lost that day though the world only counted two. Rose, my son, and me.

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!

Todd, 60

Todd, 60

Meet Todd…

Education and my desire to be a better man became my saving grace. It allowed me to continue to foster a solid foundation with my daughters.

Todd “Silk”, 60
Incarcerated: 25 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA

Upon receiving a life sentence, I thought my life was over. When I got arrested I had four daughters ages 5, 7, 8, and 11. My greatest fear was that my girls would grow up hating me. After all, it was my selfish acts and irresponsible decisions that took me out of their lives. How would I be able to convince them of my love, after putting so many other things ahead of them?

In my journey of self-discovery, I found the one avenue that allowed me to build that connection with my girls, education. I always wondered why people volunteer and I chalked it up to ulterior motives. I decided to assist someone with their math homework. It was that day I understood the joy and fulfillment of giving back to someone, expecting nothing in return. I’d always been a whiz at math, so I immersed myself into tutoring others in the subject. I then became one of the founding members of a group solely dedicated to helping incarcerated men earn their high school diploma. I continued to preach the importance of education in my letters to my daughters. Somehow I knew just mere words would not be enough.

I got back into college myself, while working as a tutor. I now had three daughters in college and one soon to enter. We began a healthy competition amongst us when it came to college grades. I was earning A’s and B’s and challenged them to do the same. My girls were able to see I was striving to be a better person regardless of my circumstances. I watched my daughters excel in college as I beamed with pride. Little did I know they too beamed with pride at my accomplishments. It was education that kept me connected to my daughters.

I had one younger sister that was my best friend and biggest supporter. She was proud of my accomplishments, not only in education but as a person. She attended my very first college graduation here at the prison, and passed away shortly after in her battle with cancer. My heart was broken, as this was the fourth member of my family I had lost while incarcerated- grandmother, father, mother and sister. My hurdles seemed insurmountable but I refused to give up. To date I have earned four associates degrees.

Education and my desire to be a better man became my saving grace. It allowed me to continue to foster a solid foundation with my daughters. All my hard work paid off and I was found suitable for parole and will be released in September, 2023. Education and my determination allowed me to hold onto the love of my daughters and they look forward to meeting me at the gate, my day of release. Upon release, I will continue to make my life one of service and helping others because these very things returned me to the man I was meant to be, my authentic self.

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