Brian, 55

Brian, 55

Meet Brian..

“She was super-charged with neurotic twirling and jumping at the prospect of rejoining the humans or “tall dogs” with which she shared a mutual adoration.”

Brian, 55

Incarcerated: 31 years

Housed: CA State Prison – Solano, Vacaville

Even today, more than 25 years after her passing, I sometimes wonder if Princess thought that my mom and dad, my two sisters, and my brother and I were a pack of two-legged dogs? Did she believe she was the one special furry human on all fours that all of the less special humans catered to? This black miniature French poodle with a single white diamond-shaped patch on her chest was spoiled and loved. Princess was 16 when she died, and she might have lived longer if my dad hadn’t accidentally broken her hip pulling into the driveway, not seeing the overly excited small dog running around eager to greet him. She was super-charged with neurotic twirling and jumping at the prospect of rejoining the humans or “tall dogs” with which she shared a mutual adoration. There wasn’t much that Princess wasn’t invited to: our beds, the couch, scraps underneath the table, and even family outings usually reserved for human beings. One night, Princess and I were home alone and the darkness felt a bit thicker than usual. Having been admonished multiple times by my parents about wasting electricity I wasn’t paying for, I turned off every light and plugged in a nightlight. Princess’ dimly glowing eyes met mine in anticipation and supplication “Jump!” I offered her. She leaped first to the soft crescent shaped chair then on to my bed and immediately laid down, awaiting my sure affection. Either Princess didn’t know I was a smidgen concerned about being in the pitch-back house. I also didn’t tell her I’d allowed her on my bed should something happen.Then, something happened, we both saw it at the same time. There had always been stories of an apparition or two visiting our home. This time it was a little girl in a long white gown heading down the hall into my parent’s room. Princess jumped to attention, “Go get it!” I said. She dove from the bed, charging into the room barking ferociously. I turned on every light then searched my parents’ room. That type of fearlessness deserved a snack and several minutes of cuddling and scratches under her chin. I still love Princess, even in her absence.

 

Liliana “Lily”, 30

Liliana “Lily”, 30

Meet Liliana “Lily”…

I witnessed an awe-inspiring sense of beauty and tranquility…”

Liliana, 30

Incarcerated: 5 years

Housed: San Quentin

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 2015, I made it a point to travel to Japan, a land I’ve always been fascinated with since childhood.  I fell in love with the capital of Tokyo, from the fresh sushi at the Tsukiji fish market, to the nerd haven of Akihabara, and the bustling nightlife in Shibuya. I’d eventually make these trips an annual thing, but what truly stood out to me was in the spring of 2017, when my visit happened to coincide with the cherry blossom viewing season or “Hanami.” Throughout this two week period, I witnessed an awe-inspiring sense of beauty and tranquility, though one spot in particular stood out to me the most, Veno park, where picnickers gathered en masse between the grand aisle lined with cherry blossom trees. There everyone seemed so carefree within the festive vibe, a welcome respite from the stress of daily life. Local fare was in abundance from Yakitori noodles to Takoyaki octopus balls and Asahi and Kirin beers to wash it all down. One day, I’ll be back.

Joel, 31

Meet Joel…

“Being gone away from the world that I once knew for so long will make you feel forgotten.”

Joel, 31

Incarcerated: 9 years

Housed: Arkansas Dept of Corrections, Grady

Being gone away from the world I once knew for so long, will make you feel forgotten. Learning that life doesn’t stop because I got popped is something that opened my eyes to a lot about life. I got in my jam a few days before my 22nd birthday and sad to say- I’m still stuck in 2014. Being incarcerated it seems that I don’t age mentally. In my mind, I’m still that 21-year-old about to turn 22 and still childish. I like to think outside of the walls that bind me to this place. Let me tell you this place will sharpen up your imagination after so long. You sort of become your own best friend cause you can’t trust too many people. I find myself daydreaming all of the time about when I was free or about when I got my freedom back. Like today,  I daydreamed about my first love and our first encounter. How I wish sometimes I could just stay in that thought forever. I see it all as clearly as I see it today. I mean Bre is so beautiful and happy. The music that was playing was Sure Thing by Miguel. I pull up in the car with my homeboy at the time, and I see her for the first time. I remember thinking that’s my sure thing right there and she was. I was shy back then,  so I didn’t know how to approach her, so I sent one of my little guys over to tell her that I liked her and to come talk to me and she did. It was crazy how we talked to each other. I remember us being so alive. I mean she was so outgoing compared to me. I loved that and wanted her around me all of the time. She was the total opposite of me. My better half. I love you Bre wherever you are. I find this to be crazy how being incarcerated, men tend to try and bury these kinds of thoughts and emotions in fear of looking soft or even weak but not me. I welcome them proudly!

 

Michael, 40

Michael, 40

Meet Michael…

“What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family.”

Michael, 40

Incarcerated: 12 years

I’ve never felt so afraid, rejected, or abandoned in my life. The things I’ve endured no one, let alone a child, should have to experience. What makes matters worse is that my younger sister Connie, and little brother Josh, are also with me. We were in Sacramento, California, starving in an abandoned duplex our mother was renting before her arrest. The electricity was just shut off, there was no food in the refrigerator, and we were camped out in our mother’s room. The three of us were cold, hungry, and confused. What was I going to do? How were we going to survive? My 14 year old brain was overloaded with questions that I didn’t have answers for. My mother has been incarcerated for a few months now and our aunt, who was supposed to be caring for us, had abandoned us a couple weeks earlier. I was so hurt and angry at her. My other two siblings and their father had driven away leaving us all alone on the porch. I’m brought out of my thoughts by brother Josh’s voice, “I’m hungry, what are we going to eat?” Before I can answer, my sister Connie says, “Mike, I know where some money is. Remember when I dropped a dollar in one of the bedposts?” As she says this, she jumps up and heads to the room we shared before our lives were turned upside down. The three of us went to work on that white headboard with red trim as if we were a demolition crew. With the help of a wire hanger and some scissors we retrieved that dollar bill as it was a long last treasure. Along with some loose change we scraped up from all over the house, we were able to buy something to eat for the night. I’m not sure exactly what we bought from the store other than a bag of potato chips. What I do know and am sure of, is that night despite being discarded by family, left to fend for ourselves, scared, uncertain of our future, and up against the world. We banded together, faced whatever came our way, and prevailed as a family. I’ll never forget that night and 26 years later, myself, Connie, and Josh continue to beat the odds, we are there for one another, and we come out on top.

Bindhu, 43

Meet Bindhu…

My great aunt in her eighties wrote back with so much love and information about my family. We wrote back and forth several times, and she had a mind like an elephant.

Bindhu, 43
Incarcerated: 19 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

I wanted to know who my father was. I never met him. I was ten living in Crescent City. My mother put me on a plane to Denver to meet him. Arriving at the airport he was holding a sign with my name on it. Denver was nice. My father took me to his jobs and to the swimming pools on a regular basis. I missed my old life, friends, mother, and siblings. My father had a girlfriend with her own son. He told me that he was driving me back to California. I guess they didn’t want me. We were looking for my grandparents’ home in Watsonville and couldn’t find it. My father pulled over, said he was going for gas and food and never came back. I didn’t want to believe it was true.

While in prison, I wanted to make contact again. My sister gave me his address. He wrote back and told me that he was sorry and that his girlfriend made him do it. The counselor called me out of my cell to show me a returned letter that said “deceased” on it. I didn’t know what to feel. After some time, I wrote the address back to see if I could contact anybody on my father’s side because I didn’t know anybody. My great aunt in her eighties wrote back with so much love and information about my family. We wrote back and forth several times, and she had a mind like an elephant. I created a family tree, received pictures of my great aunts, grandparents, father, uncle, great grandparents, cousins, and more. She gave me all their names and details. Having the courage to write that letter brought some unexpected love into my life.

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